India’s showing in Asiad Nothing To Rave About
Indian sports officials are like Planning Commission economist. They know how to play with the data while hiding the real picture. The story of India’s so-called success in the Asian Games here is one such example. The beleaguered Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and some sports ministry officials are raving about the much touted record 64-medal haul by the country in this Asiad. But the fact is there is nothing to be euphoric the medal tally, which no doubt is the highest by India in Asiad history as it bettered the 1982 haul in Delhi of 57 comprising 13 gold, 9 silver, 25 bronze.
However the in-depth analysis will come as a shocker to those who got carried by the “historic “performance of our sportspersons. Just have a look: 28-years and seven more Asiad, India managed to get only one more Gold and eight bronze extra while getting two silvers less and if this is to be called best showing then only God can help Indian sports. The country finished sixth on the leader board with 14 gold, 17 silver and 33 bronze medals.
Iran with 20 gold (total 59 medals) finished fourth after China 416 (199, 119, 98), Korea 231 (76, 64, 91), Japan 216 (48, 74, 94) and Kazakhstan was fifth 79 (18, 23, 38). China tally is also their best-ever medal haul, improving upon what they did in 1990 at Beijing when they claimed 341 medals (183, 107, 51). The Chinese dragon consumed all in its wake and though Korea and Japan, to a much smaller extent, tried to slow down the progress of the Juggernaut, they could not arrest the hosts’ relentless march.
The 64-medal tally is much less than the 101-medals India won at last month’s Commonwealth Games in Delhi, containing 38 gold which helped India finish second for the first time in those Games. Compared to China’s whopping tally, India—the second-most populous nation in the world and aspiring also to become economic power—performance here can only be called less than satisfying. To live in a world of make believe is good, to justify expenditure of over Rs 700 crore in statistical terms is fine but the ground reality remains that we are no where near a sporting power which we hoped to be this year after the Commonwealth and Asian Games.
The sixth spot on the medal podium is the best India has attained since 1986 at Seoul, where with modest haul of 5-9-23 country had finished fifth. Since that campaign nearly a quarter century ago, India have finished no higher than 8th, with their worst-ever show coming twenty years ago when they finished 12th in the 1990 Beijing Games.
The Asian Games, the second largest after the Olympics, clearly showed that the majority of the Indian contingent had no reason to be here. But the IOA keeps sending them over the years and the flop show continues at the tax payer’s expense. The Indian officials were ready with their excuses, according to them the smaller medal tally should be considered in proper perspective as this Asiad had came immediately another big event. Guangzhou Games was much stronger in several disciplines than in the Delhi Commonwealth Games.
In the Indian medal hunt, the shooters and wrestlers who were the toast of the nation at Delhi flopped and the spotlight was hogged by the athletes, boxers, India’s No. One tennis player Somdev Devvarman and the kabaddi men and women teams who put up a good show in this third biggest city of China. Another big success story came from rowing, where desert-man Bajrang Lal Takhar, who improved from bronze to silver to gold in three editions of the Games for India’s first title in the discipline in the Games and that too with borrowed old boats.
Other inspiring contributions were made by gymnast Ashish Kumar, who won the floor exercise bronze for the first-ever medal in the sport and swimmer Virdhwal Khade. Archer Tarundeep Rai claimed country’s first-ever individual medal. Young Khade provided India with its first medal from the pool since 1986, Seoul when he bagged the men’s 50m butterfly bronze. Khazan Singh Tokas was the last medalist in swimming for India, winning silver in 200m fly in the Korean capital.
India also won a silver and three bronze medals from little followed and practice games of wushu, the Chinese martial art, and roller skating (2) that was introduced here as a medal sport. Apart from the flop show by freestyle wrestlers, another major dismal performance was by the men’s and women’s hockey teams. Men’s team which was hoping to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics from here by winning the gold ended up with a bronze after stunning lose to the Malaysia in the semis through an extra-time golden goal after looking to have sealed a final berth by leading 3-2 three minutes from the end. This was the first time Malaysia beat India in the Asian Games. Finally Pakistan was lucky to have qualified for the 2012 Games because it beat Malaysia in the final.
Pakistan thus regained the Asian Games gold after two decades. Indian women also failed to retain their bronze medal as they lost to Japan via golden goal to finish fourth. Adding to the list of failures was ace woman shuttler Saina Nehwal, two-gold winner in CWG, who came a cropper as the second seed in the opening round of singles here.
Out of 14 gold won by India, athletes accounted for the highest, 5, followed by boxers (2), tennis (2) and men and women kabaddi players (2). The other titles were lifted by Pankaj Advani (billiards), the first for the country here, shotgun ace Ronjan Sodhi and rower Bajrang Lal Takhar. Unfancied runner Ashwini Chidananda, became the new golden girl of Indian athletics by clinching a double gold in women’s 400m hurdles and 4x400m relay to help the country’s track and field campaign end with a bang.
Karnataka runner Ashwini’s heroics were the icing on the cake after experienced distance runners Preeja Sreedharan and Sudha Singh had provided the early spark with a double gold strike in women’s 10,000m and 3,000m steeplechase on the opening day of athletics. Kerala athlete Joseph Abraham took the corresponding men’s low hurdles gold, the first for India in track events for men in 28 years after the 1982 feat of Charles Borromeo in the 800m, to help the country complete a pioneering golden double in the same athletics event in the Games.
The athletes bagged 2 silver and 4 bronze medals too, to complement the 5-gold haul and help the country end with its second-best-ever gold haul in athletics after the 2002 Games in Busan where the tally was 7, 6, 5 (17). Indian boxing’s poster boy Vijender Singh lighted the arena along with sensation Vikas Kishan in the 60kg class. Vijender out punched two-time world champion Abbos Atoev of Uzbekistan for the 75kg to finally attain a gold at a major event after a string of bronze medals in his kitty.
The Beijing Olympic bronze winner simply overwhelmed his opponent in the final to create the biggest upset at the foshan gymnasium and make up for his lackluster display at Delhi. The Bhiwani boy now says his next target London Olympic Gold. World junior and Youth Olympic Games champion Vikas also boosted the boxing campaign to emerge in the lead pack of the total medal haul of 2 gold-3 silver-4 bronze medals.
Among those who could not secure the gold were top ring hopes Suranjoy Singh (men’s 52kg) and five-time women’s 47kg world champion MC Mary Kom, who fought in the higher-weight class (48-51kg) before the athletes and boxers’ increased the Indian medal tally, it was left to Tripura-born tennis player Somdev to sustain the Indian gold medal hunt and he did it showing great stamina, determination and killer instinct to win the men’s singles and doubles gold medals, by playing 15 matches in one week, a superb achievement.
Devverman decimated top seed Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan in singles final and teamed up with a fired-up Sanam Singh to clinch the doubles title by stepping on to the court after a few hours’ rest. In fact tennis provided the country with two gold, one silver (mixed doubles) and two bronze (Sania Mirza in women’s singles and the men’s team) medals.
Former two-time world professional champion Pankaj Advani retained his gold which was the first and only one for India till shooter Sodhi added to the list by winning the men’s double trap title, the rowing gold by Takhar. The rowers, whose newly-imported boats were stranded in India due to bungling by the Sports Authority of India and came here with boats of 2002 vintage and others borrowed from the Indian Army, bagged three silver medals and a historic woman’s bronze too to justify their presence here.
However, several others were totally out of their depth and the list was headed by the shooters and wrestlers, who were the two dominant forces at CWG. Shooting coach Sunny Thomas, who has made it a habit of sort to announce his retirement after major events and said he has decided quit from his job here too, kept telling reporters during the competition that the marksmen and women cannot maintain their peak form for four months starting from the World Championship in August.
Shooters–including India’s only individual Olympic gold medal winner Abhinav Bindra, Delhi games four-gold hero Gagan Narang and women’s world 50m rifle prone champion Tejaswini Sawant–failed to live upto the expectations. Narang claimed two silver medals in the 10m air rifle event but flunked in windy conditions in the 50m range, Bindra bade adieu without a medal to show for and Tejeaswini also failed in her rifle competitions.
The face-saving show came late, on the shot gun range from world record holder Ronjan Sodhi in his pet double trap. Overall the much-hyped shooters won one gold, three silver and four bronze medals–two of those from pistol shooter Vijay Kumar–a big let-down from their super tally of 14-11-5 in the Commonwealth Games.
The wrestlers did no better, coming here without main hopes Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt they ended with only three bronze medals. Thanks to an unprecedented show with two bronze by Greco-Roman grapplers Ravinder Singh and Sunilkumar Rana, the medal tally from the mat did not wear a more impoverished look.
In the unknown discipline Wushu, India’s gold hopes were raised by Sandhya Rani who however failed in final against Iranian rival. The country also had a men’s bronze in this sport. In the team’s event men’s volleyball outfit shocked Japan the eventual gold medal winners, 3-2 in the league stage with super blocking before finishing sixth by losing in straight sets to formidable hosts China. The men’s kabaddi team clinched its sixth straight gold but had to subdue a fighting Iran, who upset Pakistan in the semis, to achieve it after the women bagged the maiden title beating Thailand comfortably. The other medal-providing disciplines were women’s chess in which Dronavalli Harika secured two bronze in individual and team, men’s golf, open match-race sailing and men’s and women’s squash.
However, there were several other participants who had no business to be here. The country was represented in 35 out of 42 events here, and secured medals only in half of them. Among the total washouts were the table tennis players, shuttlers, karatekas, sepak takraw exponents.
The city of 15 million–Guangzhou– invested heavily in building the infrastructure for the Games costing USD 17.9 billion, like new stadiums, roads and subway lines, and is likely to reap the rewards in future. The venues were far-flung and scattered throughout the city’s ten districts, satellite towns and co-host cities of Foshan, Dongguan and Shanwei. According to deputy secretary general of the Games organising committee Liu Jiangnan, “This was done for the sake of the city’s future development and to ensure the venues don’t become white elephants after the Games. The Chinese showed to the World that not only they are a big economic power but also a sport powerhouse, which cannot be ignored.”
By Harpal Singh Bedi