Look who’s playing spoilsport

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Sarita_Devi
No support system There was no one to help or console boxer Sarita Devi in her hour of need

A series of ugly exchanges between the Indian Olympic Association, the Sports Authority of India and the sports ministry dominated the headlines even before the Indian contingent had departed for the Asian Games. One would have imagined that the euphoria of a fine showing at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow would have put the sports fraternity in an upbeat mood, but it just was not so.

The bureaucrats had laid down some senseless rules — teams should not be sent more than five days before the competition; they would have to leave within 24 hours after the event; and teams could do without managers. Then again, the federations that enjoyed enough clout managed to get things their way, while the others were left to fend for themselves. Indeed a pitiable state.

In such circumstances, it was only to be expected that there really was no one to help or console boxer Sarita Devi in her hour of need. It was universally acknowledged that she got the worst decision at the Games, yet she got the least help. In the end, she was made to look like a villain.

The government may have talked tough about reducing the number of freeloaders, but if you counted the number of officials in Incheon, it was pathetic. Virtually everyone in every federation was there — either as a representative of the Indian contingent, or as an official of the Asian or World bodies or as observers and so on.

It would be interesting if the government decides to ask for an explanation as to how and why they went and what was their contribution. It does not matter who paid for the trip, whether it is the government or state associations — in the end, it was taxpayers’ money.

Coming to the medal tally, the Indian team was not expected to win as many medals at the Asian Games as they did at the Commonwealth Games in Galsgow because of the presence of heavyweights such as China, South Korea and Japan as well as West Asian countries with imported African athletes and former Russian states make it a tougher competition.

Yet, the count dropped from what India had achieved in 2010. From 65 medals, including 14 gold, in 2010, India ended up with 57 medals, including 11 gold, in 2014. Not a very happy figure for the world’s second most populated country, especially when the most populated country, China, had 342 medals, including 151 gold.

India won gold medals in nine disciplines this time as compared to seven in the previous one, but in 2010, India won medals in 18 disciplines and it was only 14 this time. But then three of the disciplines in which India won medals the last time — chess (two bronze), roller sports (two bronze) and cue sports (one gold, one silver and two bronze) — were off the programme this time.

So, India is still where it was four years ago. Certainly a poor commentary as the rest of the world is marching on.

There were just four individual gold winners. Shooter Jitu Rai’s gold on the first day of competition gave rise to heightened expectations, but the contingent had to wait for almost a week to get a second. Apart from Rai, the other individual gold winners were wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt, boxing legend MC Mary Kom and discus thrower Seema Punia, who was left out of the 2010 Asian Games. Then there was the high-profile Sania Mirza partnering a near-tyro Saketh Myneni in mixed doubles tennis.

The women’s 4×400 quartet, comprising 400m bronze medallist MR Poovamma, 800m silver winner Tintu Luka, besides Priyanka Pawar and Mandeep Kaur, ensured a fourth successive gold in the longer relay.

The men’s kabaddi team created a record with a seventh successive gold medal — no other country has won a gold in the discipline since it was introduced in the 1990 Asian Games. The women added to the supremacy with a second successive gold medal.

The triumph of the men’s squash team made up for the gold that Saurav Ghosal lost in men’s singles after almost winning it by getting to match-point and then losing to Kuwaiti Abdullah al Mezayen.

For India, this Asian Games’ best story was the group of compound archers — both men and women. The men’s trio included Abhishek Verma, a smiling Income Tax Department assistant, who trains the Hansraj College team in his spare time. His teammates were Sandeep Kumar and Rajat Chauhan.

In the women’s competition, Trisha Deb was initially part of the recurve team. She was at a crossroads without a job and hope, but made it in compound with an individual bronze and a team silver. She gave full credit to her coach Jiwanjot Teja, who convinced her to shift from Kolkata to Patiala and pursue a degree and the sport. She has succeeded, but is still looking for a job.

The government awards will give some succour to her modest family — her father is working as an assistant at an old-age home, and her mother is a housewife — and that may well be the story of the Games for India.

And finally, a word or more and a lot of fist pumping for the hockey team, which beat hosts South Korea and defending champion Pakistan to the gold. And, what’s more, the win ensured a ticket to the 2016 Olympics.

Jitu, Yogeshwar & Co are all set for Rio. They will inspire more as long as the officials don’t become a greater impediment than what they are now.

Golden Harvest: Four Indians — Seema Punia, Jitu Rai, Yogeshwar Dutt and Mary Kom — won individual gold medals, while the men’s compound archery team, the women’s 4x400m relay squad, the men and women’s kabaddi teams, the men’s squash team and the men’s hockey team brought joy to the 500-plus Indian contingent

ARCHERY
Men’s compound team: This amazing team comprised Abhishek Verma, an Income Tax Department employee who is a part-time coach at his alma mater, Hansraj College, armyman Sandeep Kumar, who admires Abhinav Bindra and wanted to be a shooter, and Rajat Chauhan, a jobless youth from Jaipur, who has failed his Class XII examination three times and whose mother pawned her jewellery to buy him an imported bow. The trio won the event, which made its debut at Incheon.

ATHLETICS
Seema Punia: The Asiad gold is the high point of a chequered career, which began with a disqualification back in 2000 after winning the World junior gold — she was reported to have used a banned substance. At the 2006 Asiad, she withdrew at the last minute amidst rumours of a failed dope test though the athletics body cleared her, and missed the 2010 Games due to poor form. After playing second fiddle to Krishna Poonia, she struck silver at this year’s Commonwealth Games and gold at Asiad with her husband-cum-coach Ankush by her side.

4x400m relay team: Anchored by MR Poovamma, a bronze medallist in the 400m race, the other three in the quartet were Priyanka Pawar, 800m silver medallist Tintu Luka and Mandeep Kaur, the only member from the 2010 Asian Games gold medal-winning team. The event has been dominated by India, who have won it every time since 2002. Back in the days of PT Usha and Shiny Wilson, India were the dominant force in the 1980s before the Chinese took over for a while.

BOXING
Mary Kom: After five World Championships and an Olympic silver, an Asian Games gold seemed to be missing from Mary Kom’s collection. Despite controversy surrounding Sarita Devi, Mary Kom did not get distracted and went about her job clinically. Even as the biopic on the Manipuri is filling cinema halls, she has continued to add medals and sees the Olympic as her next stop despite being 31 years of age.

HOCKEY
Men: Despite 10 other gold medals, this is the one that sent the whole country into raptures. The last time the Indian team won at the Asian Games was in 1998 and the last time they beat Pakistan in a gold-medal match was in 1966. So, this gold medal, which gave Sardar Singh and his men a ticket to the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro was indeed sweet. It also vindicated Australian coach Terry Walsh’s belief that India can be a worldclass team.

KABADDI
Men: After being introduced as a demonstration sport in the 1982 Delhi Asiad, the event made the main programme in 1990 and India has triumphed every time, making it seven times in a row. With two of the players, skipper Rakesh Kumar and Navneet Gautam, winning the gold a third time, the men had to fight hard to beat the emerging Iranian team.

Women: The achievement by the women’s team was no less impressive. They won gold for a second successive time after the sport was introduced in 2010.

SHOOTING
Jitu Rai: The Nepal-born star from the Gurkha Regiment has rightly been christened as the “man with the golden gun”. Rai has been amazingly successful in world shooting this year. Medals at the World Cup, World Championships and Commonwealth Games were followed by a gold in the men’s 50m Pistol on the opening day of the Asian Games. It took almost a week for India to win a second gold. Rai also won a bronze in the men’s 10m Air Pistol team event.

SQUASH
Men: There were few losses for India more heartbreaking than the men’s singles final in which Saurav Ghosal held a match-point before losing to Adbdullah al Mezayen of Kuwait, whose natural talent is the talk of the squash circuit. In the team event, Ghosal exorcised the ghost, beating al Mezayen in his one-on-one clash as India beat Kuwait in the semi-finals and then overccame Malaysia in the final. Ghosal’s teammates were Harinderpal Singh, Mahesh Mangoankar and Kush Kumar.

TENNIS
Mixed doubles: After answering the question, “Will-shewon’t- she” with a “Yes, I will”, tennis star Sania Mirza turned up in Incheon within days of winning a WTA event in Tokyo. Sania, who had six medals before she came to South Korea, added two more — a gold with rookie Saketh Myneni in the mixed doubles competition and a bronze in women’s doubles event.

WRESTLING
Yogeshwar Dutt: Competing in the men’s 65 kg freestyle, Yogeshwar Dutt may have lived under the shadow of Sushil Kumar, but his Asian Games gold gave him a star status of his own. After winning gold at the Commonwealth Championships, Commonwealth Games, Asian Championships and the Asian Games, Dutt has established himself in the club of legendary wrestlers, of which Kumar has been an important member.

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