Mary Kom and Saina Nehwal were always expected to add to India’s medals kitty but Vijay Kumar’s surprise silver makes up for disappointments elsewhere
By Vishwanathan Krishnaswamy
TUCKED SOMEWHERE at the bottom half, India does figure in the medals tally. It is not as obvious as China, the only country with a greater pool of people than India, or the host nation Great Britain, which is having a great time. Shooter Gagan Narang ensured India opened its account in the first few days, but since then, in the past week, a quiet and unassuming Vijay Kumar shot a silver and two highly popular women — Saina Nehwal and MC Mary Kom — won a bronze each.
One silver and three bronze medals are not going to set the Thames on fire, but this has been India’s best ever haul. With 2008 bronze medallist Sushil Kumar and his wrestling colleagues yet to take the stage, things can only get better.
Not many tipped Vijay Kumar to pick a medal in the 25m rapid fire pistol event. Yet his nerveless display in the final was extraordinary. He came fourth in the qualification round but when the finals began, it was on a clean slate.
The final round was a bit of a Russian roulette and ironically one of the early victims was Russian Alexei Klimov, who despite a world record score of 592 in the qualification round, was the third shooter to bow out in the elimination stage and ended without a medal. The gold went to Cuban Leuris Pupo and the bronze to China’s Ding Feng.
Vijay’s medal may have surprised a lot of people, but he wasn’t one of them. “I have been the National champion since 2004. I won two gold medals at the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games; a gold and bronze at the 2006 Doha Asiad; a silver at the World championships, three gold and a silver at the 2010 New Delhi Commonwealth Games and two bronze at the 2010 Guangzhou Asiad. So, if my medal has still surprised people and the media, I can’t help it,” said Vijay.
“Not being in the limelight was a blessing in disguise because I was able to concentrate on my event and the result is there for all to see,” he said.
“People say, one should perform and you will be noticed. Well, I have been performing for the past eight years. It amuses me,” he said with a tinge of irritation. “It is not my job to go talking or bragging about my achievements. I’m an armyman, not a PR man.”
“Once I made it to the final, I had a feeling that I would win. I was surprised that making the cut did not ruffle me or make me lose my nerve. I went into the final like I was shooting before. My composure helped me,” he added.
Saina Vs China
In badminton, when Saina Nehwal was the only non-Chinese player left in the semi-final draw, there was a feeling that she could be squeezed off the podium. After she lost her semi-final to World No. 1 Wang Yihan, it was expected that Saina would be up against Li Xuerei, a relative newcomer. But Li shocked World No. 2 Wang Xin, leaving Saina to battle Wang in the bronze-medal match.
Wang was tipped to overcome Saina and even led 20-14 in the first game before the ace Indian shuttler fought back to make it 18-20, at which stage Wang suffered an injury. Wang prevailed in the first game but could not continue beyond the first point in the second game. Finally, it was a medal won by default, but considering the number of times Saina has beaten some of the Chinese players, it was richly deserved.
“The medal is important because Saina has worked hard for it for the past four years,” said her coach P Gopichand. “It will give a big boost to Indian badminton. Indians had won medals at every major meet except the Olympics. Now we need to look further and we have good depth to build on.”
For her part, Saina said: “Four years ago, I was just 18, and shattered when I did not win a medal. I could not sleep for a month. So it means a lot.”
“I’m sorry I could not win a gold for my dad and mom, who have done so much for me. But I will work harder for a better medal next time,” she added.
Last Shot At Glory
Considering that she has been among the best in business since the World championships in women’s boxing were introduced in 2001, Mary Kom seemed to be running out of time when it came to winning an Olympic medal.
Throughout her career, she had fought in the 45 kg, 46 kg and finally, the 48 kg categories. But at the 2012 Olympics, where women’s boxing was making its debut, there were only three categories and the lowest was 51 kg. So Mary Kom made a conscious shift to 51 kg. Only boxers and those in the know can understand how difficult it is to gain weight to fight in the higher categories.
For one, she is naturally built small and stands at just 5 ft 2. In her semi-final against Nicola Adams, a local favourite, she was three inches shorter and that showed in her lack of reach as a result of which she scored few hits and points. Also, Adams had fought almost throughout her career in the 51 kg and 54 kg, so this was a natural category for her.
Yet, Mary Kom, one of the icons in women’s boxing and whose face was used to get the sport into Olympics, ensured her resume would not be without an Olympic medal. “I’m sorry I could not get a gold, but at least I have an Olympic medal,” she said. “For years, I would think when would women’s boxing come to Olympics. Now it has and I have a medal.”
Mary Kom is 29 and has twin boys aged five, who she has hardly seen grow, for she has been boxing around the world, winning five World championship titles and one silver and countless other Asian titles.
The icon got her due and this could well be the beginning of a new era in women’s boxing in India.
Down In The Dumps
Following in the footsteps of the Indian archers, the hockey team has had a forgettable outing in London. The team lost all their five matches and were left to fight for the 11-12th place. They scored a mere six goals and conceded 18.
Coach Michael Nobbs not only claimed the Indians were physically weak but also added, “They have let themselves down, let us down and let the Indian people down. I apologise for that because it is something that we have got to fix. What’s coming is a lot of hard work and a lot of pain.”
Great Britain is having one of its finest outings at the Olympics. In 1908, when it first hosted the Games, Britain won 56 gold medals out of 146 and topped the tally. But those were the days when neither China nor the Soviet Union cared much about the Games. When London hosted the Games again in 1948, Britain won a mere three gold and a total of 23 medals. They already have 22 gold so far.
With less than a week to go, the Games that started off on a mesmerising note thanks to Danny Boyle’s theatrics have been incident-free. So, what if the food has been insipid and expensive; or the transport a bit edgy and scratchy. Everything has been hunky dory since the initial hiccups. A few more days like these and British could beam with pride for hosting a great Games.
Kobe Cheers Fedex
Tiger Woods counts him among his good friends. Sachin Tendulkar never misses an opportunity to watch him in action. And last week, NBA star Kobe Bryant turned up at Wimbledon to watch Roger Federer play the longest three-set match in the Open era. Bryant sat through the four-and-a-half-hour match in which Federer beat Argentine Juan Martin del Potro 3-6, 7-6 (5), 19-17 to reach the final, where he lost to local favourite Andy Murray.
Wu Minxia became the first diver to win gold in three successive Olympic Games. But her joy was cut short when she discovered, after her victory, that her grandparents had died a year ago and her mother has been suffering from breast cancer. Her father said he withheld the information so that she could focus on winning a gold medal. Wu, 26, had been virtually cut off from the outside world for the past 10 years
Blast From The Past
Wu Chengzhang, a basketball player who represented China at the 1948 London Olympics, visited the city again last week. Wu, 88, was taken around the sights of London and he said, “I visited the Big Ben, Westminster Bridge and River Thames. Everything is still the same.” China defeated Great Britain 52-25 in 1948 but Britain got its revenge, winning 90-58 this time.
Love Is In The Air
Italian volleyball player Antonella del Core, who was thwarted by an injury in 2008, fulfilled her dream of playing at the Olympics and also found love in the process. It happened on the night Italy upset Japan and del Core scored a career-best 16 points for her team. At the end of the match, she went to meet her boyfriend, Francesco, in the stands. In front of hundreds of spectators, he proposed to her with an engagement ring. Del Core, 31, was stunned and moved into tears. With fans and teammates egging and cheering her, she said, “Yes.”
Bolt From The Blue
After defending his 100m title in a blistering sprint that lasted for 9.63 seconds, and spending two hours giving interviews, Usain Bolt returned to his room in the Olympic Village, not alone but with three stunning Swedish handball players. He even tweeted a photo posing with the ladies who were apparently Jamima Roberts, Ulrika Agren and Isabella Gullden. The Swedish team lost all their matches. But who cares. They had Bolt for the night.
Rowdy Rower Fined
Aussie rower Josh Booth was fined £1,400 for breaking two shop windows on a night out drinking following the final of the men’s eight competition. The 21-year-old was detained by the police at Egham High Street, Surrey, and reportedly fainted at the local police station. He was not charged but fined and the Australian contingent admitted it was an embarrassing situation.