Are Indians good enough to take on the world? (Asian Games Review)By Veturi Srivatsa, IANS
Sunday, November 28, 2010
NEW DELHI - The comparison between India and China as sporting nations is inevitable after Delhi organised the Commonwealth Games and Guangzhou the Asian Games within a month of each other. There is a vast difference between the two countries despite overwhelming similarities otherwise.
The Chinese hailed the Asian Games as a platform to showcase the tremendous achievements of their country in economic and social development. In stark contrast, the Commonwealth Games were condemned as the work of corrupt minds, never mind the exceptional showing by Indian athletes to top the 100-medal mark in New Delhi and their best-ever medals tally at Guangzhou.
In China, no one is making a song and dance about Guangzhou spending $18.3 billion on new stadiums, roads and subway lines, the amount being much more than the $14.7 billion budgeted for the London Olympics.
China is already up there as the No.1 Olympic nation in the world, let alone in Asia, whereas India is still taking its baby steps.
With 199 gold, 119 silver and 98 bronze - for a total of 416 - China are the runaway leaders at the top of the table for the eighth time in a row, easily surpassing their best gold tally of 183, set in their backyard in Beijing in 1990.
The canvas has widened with 36 of the 45 participating teams winning medals, South Korea coming in way behind China in second place with 232 medals, including 76 gold and Japan further down third with 48 gold in 216 medals.
The clear domination of the three major economies in the region can be seen from the fact that the fourth-placed Iran logged in 59 medals with 20 gold and the next best Kazakhstan 19 gold in a tally of 79, ahead of India in sixth position.
The bizarre logic of critics of India in sport is that heads I win, tails you lose. If the athletes perform well as they did in the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games, the credit goes to them and if they don’t then it is a systemic failure brought about by the corrupt officialdom.
Not many, save the athletes themselves, gave the Indians a record 64 medals — 14 gold, 17 silver and 33 bronze. Only thrice since the Games began in Delhi in 1951, the Indians crossed 50-medal mark, the first time at the inaugural edition when they toted up 51 medals but then there were only 11 countries and some 400-odd athletes taking part.
Again, in the 1982 Games in New Delhi, they got 57 and 53 at Doha four years ago. India’s best gold haul 15 of came in 1951 and 13 in 82.
Some athletes confounded even the pundits. Not many were willing to wager on India winning five gold medals from track and field, though they expected them to get a few silver and bronze. It was not without a valid reason as their best performances in recent competitions are comparable with the best in the region in measurable sports.
Also, the Indians did not fare well at all in the last Games at Doha and then in the Asian Track and Field Meet in Guangzhou last year, winning only one gold each. Eventually, the athletes exceeded all expectations by garnering 11 medals in all.
For once, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA), the national sports federations and above all the government can rightfully take a modicum of credit for the joyful jump of the Indian sport, albeit a small one.
If the IOA and the sports ministry were not on the same page to prevail upon Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to release Rs.680 crores ($150 million) for the training and international exposure of the athletes in the last two years, the results would have been different at both New Delhi and Guangzhou.
In the run up to the Commonwealth Games and after their impressive performance, many athletes went on record to say that the training and competition they received made it possible. The confidence the Delhi Games gave them got carried to Guangzhou. Not very often Indian athletes are seen challenging the Chinese and leaving them behind as they did in some of the disciplines. It may be a modest achievement, but it is a spark that can provide impetus to the system.
The days of hockey being India’s prime sport to win a gold are over. If ever India had a chance of winning the gold it was here. They lost a semifinal they should have won against Malaysia and they had to settle for a bronze. Imagine, they beat the two strongest contenders for the gold, Pakistan, eventual winners, in the pool and South Korea for the bronze.
It took quite a while for Indian athletes to warm up after the shooters failed to provide the kind of start they had at the Commonwealth Games. Almost the entire first week went with only one gold coming from cueist Pankaj Advani.
It was an unbelievable start to athletics. Preeja Sreedharan, the railway employee from Palakkad, Kerala, and Nashik girl Kavita Raut shook the 80,000-caapcity Guangdong Olympic Stadium, at Aoti complex, coming in one-two in the 10,000 metres and as if that was not enough, Sudha Singh glided and waded through to the 3000 metres steeplechase gold.
Sudha’s performance was fantastic, as no Indian had won the steeplechase medal, leave alone gold. The gold-silver finish by Preeja and Kavita in the grueling 25-lap race was as stunning as they had left favourite China’s Bai Xue behind.
Even the athletes seem to be hunting in pairs. Now it was the turn of Joseph Abraham and Ashwini Chidananda to mint some more gold with astonishing performances in the 400m hurdles.
Ashwini, the girl from Udupi, clocked her personal best (56.15) to win the event P. T. Usha last won for India in 1986 in 55.42, while Kottayam-based railwayman Joseph did enough to become the first Indian in the men’s section to win the gold from the track after Charles Borromeo in the 800m at the 1982 Games.
The fifth gold was on the expected lines as Manjeet Kaur, Sini Jose, Ashwini and Mandeep Kaur retained the gold India had won at the Doha Games, the only one by the athletes.
The medals that will stand out are Bajrang Lal Takhar’s rowing gold, Ashish Kumar’s gymnastics bronze and the bronze won by swimmer Virdhawal Khade. In rowing, this is the first gold and Khade’s medal is the first in swimming since Khazan Singh Tokas won the silver at the Seoul Asian Games in 1986.
It was a big let down by shooters. Agreed, it is not easy to be consistently touching cent percent every time you walk out to compete. The shooters were under tremendous pressure to deliver at the Commonwealth Games and they could not sustain the form and had only one gold from Ronjon Singh Sodhi in the double trap. Gagan Narang, the CWG star could only get two silver medals.
Boxer Vijender Singh, who failed to win a gold in New Delhi, proved strategically superior to former World champion from Uzbekistan Abbos Atoev and won the gold. Vikas Krishan was the other boxer to clinch a gold and he stunned defending champion Qing Hu of China. These were the first boxing golds for India after Dingko Singh’s in 1998. Boxers swelled the tally by also bagging three silver and four bronze.
The two gold medals from kabaddi were more or less taken for granted. If the sport survives as a Games discipline, India can expect some stiff competition in the years ahead.
Just as other teams like Iran are improving in kabaddi, the Indians are also catching up with others in other disciplines.
The question now is whether the Indians are good enough to take on the best in the world at the London Olympics in less than two years. Some of the athletes are confident and that is a big morale booster.
(Veturi Srivatsa can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)