By Vishwanathan Krishnaswamy
THE OPENING Ceremony had every British icon and legend save the one they needed the most: Sherlock Holmes. He would have found out who the mystery woman was with the Indian contingent at the march-past; and would have found out how and why the Chinese, South Korean and Indonesian badminton players were conspiring to tarnish the Olympic spirit. He would have foreseen the problem of empty seats and transport logjams — “Elementary, my dear Watson. People have left London and London’s transport is old and creaky,” he would have deduced.
Sadly, he was forgotten and not invited. If he had been around, we would have popped a question or two from our side: as to why India still has its sports federations run by a bunch of people who are anything but good for our sport.
The indian contingent seems to be made up of two kinds of athletes: those who arrived in London with hopes of winning medals, and those who are here to make up the numbers. Those belonging to the latter category are by-and-large sticking to their roles, while a few from the other side have also crossed over to the ranks of the also-rans.
With the first week done and dusted, the medal rush has stayed a mirage, save that sole bronze from Gagan Narang. The first week belonged to the shooters, while shuttlers Saina Nehwal and Parupalli Kashyap have made it to the quarter-finals of their individual events.
At Beijing, Narang missed out on making the final of the 10m Air Rifle event and then watched Abhinav Bindra gun down the gold. This time, the roles were reversed. Narang, shooting in his third Olympics, entered the final as third best and then kept his nerve through a tense final to grab the bronze.
“It’s a huge stone off my chest,” exclaimed Narang. Before coming to London, he had won everything in terms of medals and accolades, save the Olympic medal. And that was indeed like a stone crushing him down. Now that he has a bronze, he can breathe more freely.
But having won a medal, will Narang break free from the shackles and do something spectacular in his remaining two events? Similar questions are being asked about Ronjan Sodhi, who is here for his first Olympics. So far, Sodhi has had to live in the shadow of Rajyavardhan Rathore. Now is his time.
Meanwhile, Saina continues to dominate the badminton court. The 22-year-old, who made the quarter-finals in 2008, is seen as the only player whom the Chinese fear. The Hyderabad girl has been most convincing in her march to the quarter-finals at the London Games.
Shuttlers pay for foul play
Eight players disqualified for throwing matches to gain a favourable draw
LET’S NOT pretend that it has never happened before or that it will not happen again. Countries that dominate a certain sport are known to fix results of matches played between their own players to manipulate the draw. It is known to happen in badminton, table tennis and can happen easily when the format is league-cum-knockout. Even a dropped set or a game could decide which team progresses on the basis of number of sets/games won.
On 1 August, the Badminton World Federation disqualified eight players (two pairs from South Korea and one each from China and Indonesia respectively) for trying to throw matches and manipulate favourable quarterfinal draws.
Top seeds Yu Yang and Wang Xiaoli (top) repeatedly hit wide or long shots or served into the net against South Koreans Jung Kyung-eun and Kim Ha-na, who went on to win 21-14, 21-11. The result ensured that Yu and Wang would not play the No 2-seeded Chinese pair till the final.
Similar incidents happened in the match between South Koreans Ha Jung-eun and Kim Minjung and the Indonesians Meiliana Jauhari and Greysia Polii. The Koreans won 2-1. Even as the farce was being enacted, referee Thorsten Berg had warned the players of disqualification.
London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) Chairman Lord Sebastian Coe described the behaviour as “depressing” and “unacceptable”.
This is the first time Olympic badminton is being played on a group stage-cum-knockout format. In the past, every match was a knockout.
Interestingly, last December, online magazine Badzine published some startling statistics. It showed that out of 99 matches played between Chinese pairs, 20 ended in walkovers or retirement. What more evidence does one need?
Saina was always expected to get close to the medals and maybe win one, but Kashyap is the man of the moment. The 25-year-old is also being trained by former All England champion Pullela Gopichand and is a training mate of Saina. He has become the first Indian men’s player to make the last eight.
India still hopes of winning medals from the boxing ring. So far, only two have been eliminated. Those still in the hunt such as Vijender Singh and Vikas Krishan could get into the medal rounds. Barring Vikas, who got a bye, all the others have won a fight, and one more win could take them into the quarter-finals.
The medal tally was never going to exceed the personal tally of Michael Phelps or Ryan Lochte by much, if at all. Yet we did expect to smell medals in archery, where the Indians failed to deliver. The challenge in judo, weightlifting, table tennis and rowing was always going to be token and they did not disappoint, all athletes making a quick exit.
The archers had dreamt of a medal and said it could do for archery what the 1983 World Cup win at the Lord’s did for cricket. Alas, what we have aren’t medals but a long list of excuses, ranging from lost equipment, fever, cold and non-availability of practice facility.
The archers came with huge reputations, especially Deepika Kumari, who actually proved to be a bit of a prima donna without reason. The men and women’s teams went out in the first round and no archer won more than one round, if at all. The archers’ dreams were blown away by the wind at Lord’s where many an Indian batsman has come to grief over the years.
Hockey returned to the Olympic competition after four years and promptly started hurting its fans immediately. The Indian team started with two losses, which has virtually put an end to the faroff dream of coming close to a last-four berth. Now the team will be hard put to fight for the fifth-to-eighth places after a 2-3 loss to the Netherlands and a 1-3 shocker against New Zealand.
At no stage did the Indians look like a winning outfit. The classy Sardar Singh seemed an aberration in the side.
And finally the mystery story of the week. In a paranoid metropolis where every two minutes a recorded message on public transport tells people that any unidentified bag will be confiscated, an unidentified woman in a red top and blue slacks confidently marched alongside the Indian contingent’s flag-bearer.
The world watched in stunned silence as the contingent marched out of the tunnel at the superb Opening Ceremony directed by Danny Boyle of Slumdog Millionaire fame. No one knew who she was as her pictures were beamed across the world. Then it went viral via newspapers, television, Twitter and Facebook. She was “found out” in less than 24 hours as a Bengaluru girl, who had come to the UK to study and had found a place in Boyle’s cast.
The ceremony itself was a showcase of what Britain is. Its history, fabled countryside, landmarks, writers such as JK Rowling, comedians such as Rowan ‘Mr Bean’ Atkinson, singer Paul McCartney and, of course, legendary super agent James Bond, whose entry with “the Queen” was the piece de resistance.
The ceremony also celebrated British games such as cricket, badminton and football, alongside farms, which together made for a giant montage of the rural English life, complete with wild flowers, stone cottages with smoking chimneys, poppies, and farms with cows and goats.
Finally, the organisers took two days to apologise to India for the “mystery woman” incident with Sebastian Coe promising that no such slip will happen the next time London has an Opening Ceremony. Wry Brit humour at its best.
The Greatest Ever
The Guardian did an interesting story titled, “If Michael Phelps were a country…” soon after the US swimmer won his 19th medal (a gold in the 4x200m relay) at the Olympics. That helped him leapfrog USSR gymnast Larisa Latynina, who had won 18 medals, including nine gold. Phelps now has 15 gold, two silver and two bronze medals. If he were a country, he would be 59th in the table of Olympic medal winners.
Back In The Swing
Aussie golfing great Greg Norman says the late Seve Ballesteros should get credit for getting golf back into the Olympics. “He had contacts with (former IOC chief) Juan Antonio Samaranch, so he planted the seed,” said Norman. Golf was last played at the Olympics in 1904 and will make a comeback in 2016. “To be the first athlete for your country to hit a shot off the tee in Rio would have been great,” added Norman.
Aiming For The Best
Medals at the past three Olympics have not only raised the profile of Indian shooters, but also helped them net a high-profile sponsor in Beretta, an Italian arms manufacturer. Buoyed by India’s performance and the growing possibility of India becoming a major force in shooting, Beretta has signed a deal under which it will provide Indian shooters sponsorship and technical support for the next four years.