Fever Pitch


As the curtains go up on the 2012 Olympics, London is hoping that the high-voltage action will overshadow all the glitches dogging the Games

By Vishwanathan Krishnaswamy

In high spirits Indian athletes and delegates are welcomed into the Olympics Village with much fanfare
In high spirits Indian athletes and delegates are welcomed into the Olympics Village with much fanfare
Photo: Getty Images

A SENSE of uneasy calm prevails in London. A lot has been achieved but there is still a lot to be done and many things have already gone haywire. The host city received plenty of unwanted attention as security agency G4S was unable to deliver the number of trained security personnel it had promised. This led to a near-panic situation with the organisers requisitioning the services of army personnel, many of whom had just served in Afghanistan.

That has been compounded by other glitches, which might seem small to start with, but each, if not sorted out early, has the potential to tarnish London.

In the beginning, such problems always seem bigger than they actually are. A cable car over the Thames breaking down in normal circumstances would not have led to panic, but on the eve of the Games, it seems to add one more question mark in the long list of glitches.

The Olympic Games come with plenty of baggage. A baggage that includes rules and regulations regarding ambush marketing, which might seem inexplicable to the common man, but look normal to sponsors, who fork out huge sums, and to the International Olympic Committee, which receives all the money.

Each of the dozen or so worldwide partners, called The Olympic Partners, pay anything between $50-100 million for each Games. This is different from the 10-odd London 2012 partners and an even larger number of ‘supporters’, ‘providers’ and ‘suppliers’.

Under normal circumstances, Wimbledon would not allow anything but white, but this kind of restriction is removed at the Olympics and then again what is Wimbledon without Pimm’s (an English summer drink). But Pimm’s won’t be served at Wimbledon because they are not one of the sponsors.

The Olympics is a different kettle of fish. Yet, it is the one stage that everyone craves for: sportspersons, sponsors, television channels, spectators and the media. Each party has its own litany of complaints, many of which I have already listed and many that I haven’t. Yet, if we can help it, we all want to come back every four years. At least I do.

The Ultimate High
This being the biggest sporting stage, the mega sponsors are all here. And it is success at this biggest stage that all athletes dream about. Many know that this might be their last shot at glory. The younger ones may come back once or maybe twice more. Some already have.

There are exceptions like Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi who are competing at their sixth and fifth Olympics, respectively. Or Abhinav Bindra, who is here for a fourth Games. And Vijender Singh, will compete at his third. Paes has a bronze and so does Vijender but only Bindra has a gold. Others want to join that exclusive club.

After Beijing 2008, hopes of Indians winning medals have risen and the seriousness is there for all to see.

The archers, who have World No. 1 Deepika Kumari as their spearhead, may be a good bet for more than one medal. They were among the earliest arrivals at London. But before this current hot weather, they braved some chill. Deepika was among those who were down with a touch of fever, but they have continued to practice at Lord’s, a venue hitherto reserved only for cricketers.

“The whole squad fell sick because of the change in weather,” says Tarundeep Rai. “I was the only one who was alright. But I got scared and protected myself.”

Practice sessions have been limited, but as the cricketers will testify, wind plays a big role at Lord’s. If the ball swings, the batsmen are always in trouble, and at the Olympics, it could be the archers’ turn to be worried.

“Lord’s has been a lucky ground for our cricket team. I’m hoping that it will continue with archery,” says Rai, who hopes that NRIs will throng the stadium to see the archers in action. “They can cheer for us and also see the venue where their favourite sport is played.”

Lords of The Ring
At Beijing 2008, Bindra won a gold, grappler Sushil Kumar won a bronze, but it was boxer Vijender Singh who hogged the limelight. It was probably because Bindra and Sushil are media-shy. But Vijender’s outgoing nature and appearances on television shows have helped build the profile of Indian boxing. The result: as many as seven men and one woman boxer qualified for London.

Vijender feels that when Indian boxers talk about winning medals, it’s not bragging but a sign of confidence. “Our seniors only wanted to get to the Olympics. Now the younger crop wants to win. The mindset has changed,” he says.

The wrestlers were all slated to train in Belarus, but Sushil was stuck in India with a single-entry visa to the Central Asian republic. So the designated flagbearer stayed on in India and will arrive in London just in time for the opening ceremony and will then proceed to join the other wrestlers in Belarus and come back for his event, which is towards the closing stages of the Games.

Saina Nehwal, Sania Mirza, Ronjan Sodhi and Gagan Narang are others from among the 82 Indian athletes who will be here on the opening day and they must be feeling as tense as London.

Last hurrah Leander Paes will get a last shot at glory, while Vijender will be competing in his third Olympics

Photos: AP, AFP

Officially Yours
Generations of archers have come and gone. Limba Ram, who was discovered in the 1980s, played a big role in the growth of Indian archery through the 1990s before calling it quits. In the past decade, he became a coach and has overseen the growth of the past two generations of archers in the country.

Long before Limba arrived on the scene, Vijay Kumar Malhotra was at the helm of the Archery Association of India. He has been there for almost twice the number of years that Deepika Kumari has been on this planet. Malhotra is now also the boss of the Indian Olympic Association. Malhotra is but one example, for there are many more like him, though no one has lasted for this long.

Finally, lest somebody else points out, sports journalists, too, stay on for years. But then, that is their bread and butter. Meanwhile, the officials contend that they are at the helm only in an honorary capacity. So, either they really love their sport, or a bigger lie has not yet been uttered. Take your pick!


Olympic Sideshow

Cable Car Fiasco
The cable car ride over the Thames was supposed to be a major attraction, but on 25 July, it turned out to be a major embarrassment. More than a dozen passengers were stuck midway up in the air in the cable car, built at an estimated cost of £60 million. Ironically, the ‘incident’ became public because of a tweet. @cassimlooch tweeted, “Breaking news. Cable car has broken down! Passengers stuck up there. Rumours of it being too hot. Jeez.”

Lochte’s Got Wings
US swimmer Ryan Lochte will find it tough to overshadow compatriot Michael Phelps, but Lochte’s shoes are already making a splash at the Olympic pool. Lochte, who has six Olympic medals, including three gold, is a flashy athlete and his special shoes pay tribute to the American flag. They are designed with stars and stripes — blue on one foot and red on the other — and they have wings for good measure.

The Voice Gets Heard
Last week, I had mentioned how The Voice, Britain’s biggest black newspaper, had been denied accreditation. Now a week later, their voice seems to have been heard as the British Olympic Association (BOA) has finally given them accreditation, allowing them access to the Olympic Stadium. The initial refusal led to a wave of protests from various quarters, forcing BOA to budge.

Nutty Business
Beach volleyball is one of the popular disciplines but the bikini-clad lovelies are facing a strange problem — that of stepping onto nuts in the sand. Squirrels have found the sand at the practice venue near Buckingham Palace ideal to bury their nuts. And the players are getting sore feet and left grimacing when they step on the beechnuts and acorns. That has had the groundsmen raking the sand courts before the matches. Luckily, the 15,000-seater main competition arena in Horseguards Parade has not been affected.

An Ode To The IOC
This week, London Mayor Boris Johnson read a specially written ode for the International Olympic Committee. The poem, written by Dr Armand D’Angour of Oxford University, is to be engraved in bronze at the Olympic Park. Johnson can also be heard on a recorded message on London buses, where he has urged people to be patient and bear with delays, of which there have been many. He has also requested them to use public transport only when necessary.

Firemen On Alert
Of all the bets, this one is sure catching on like wildfire among British punters. Bookmakers William Hill had started out with odds of 100-1 that Mayor Boris Johnson, who has wild hair, will accidentally set his hair on fire with the Olympic torch. But the mayor has since got a haircut and the odds have dropped to 66-1.


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