A year to cherish for India’s athletes (2010 in Retrospect)

By Avishek Roy, IANS
Tuesday, December 28, 2010

NEW DELHI - A truly spectacular year for Indian sport that brought record medal hauls at the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games, 2010 ended with Saina Nehwal capping a phenomenal run with the fourth badminton Super Series title of her career in Hong Kong.

It was India’s most successful Commonwealth Games as it finished second in the medal count, nosing ahead of England with Saina’s sure shot gold and an unexpected one from Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponappa in the women’s doubles.

India won 38 gold, 27 silver and 36 bronze, crossing the 100 medal mark for the first time. It was a vast improvement on their previous best of 69 at Manchester in 2002.

Australia was at the top with 177 medals (74-55-48) while England with 142 medals (37-59-46) lost out the second place to India.

Amazingly, the Indian athletes replicated their performance at the Guangzhou Asian Games within three weeks, returning with a record 64 medals — 14 gold, 17 silver and 33 bronze. Only thrice since the Games began in Delhi in 1951 have India crossed the 50 medal mark.

It looked unlikely that so many medals would fall in India’s lap at Guangzhou after the disappointment in the first week with the shooters performing below-par. Pankaj Advani opened India’s gold count winning the English billiards before India won an unexpected five gold medals, besides two silver and four bronze, from the track and field.

The Commonwealth Games performance in track and field raised expectations from Indian athletes. India won two gold, three silver and seven bronze medals in athletics in New Delhi.

One of the best moments for Indian sport was when Krishna Poonia, Harwant Kaur and Seema Antil won the gold, silver and bronze in women’s discus and the tricolour went up on all the three flag posts amid euphoric scenes at the refurbished, floodlit Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.

At Guangzhou, it was an unbelievable start to athletics. Preeja Sreedharan from Kerala and Nashik girl Kavita Raut finished one-two in the 10,000 metres, leaving behind home favourite Bai Xue of China, and stunning the 80,000-capacity Guangdong Olympic Stadium.

Sudha Singh of Uttar Pradesh then clinched the 3,000 metres steeplechase gold, also a first-ever for India.

Joseph Abraham and Ashwini Chidananda, in particular, raised quite a few eyebrows as they raced to glory in the men’s and women’s 400m hurdles. Ashwini, the girl from Udupi, clocked her personal best (56.15) to win the event P.T. Usha last clinched for India in 1986.

The medals that will stand out are Bajrang Lal Takhar’s maiden rowing gold in Asian Games, Ashish Kumar’s first gymnastics bronze in Delhi and Virdhawal Khade’s bronze, the first in swimming since Khazan Singh Tokas won the silver at the Seoul Asian Games in 1986.

The shooters could not sustain their form and had only one gold from Ronjan Singh Sodhi in the double trap in Guangzhou. Gagan Narang, the Commonwealth Games star, who beat Beijing Olympic champion Abhinav Bindra in Delhi en route his four gold, could only get two silver medals.

Boxing was another discipline where India flourished. Vijender Singh made up for his bronze-medal finish at the Delhi Games with a gold at Guangzhou. Vikas Krishan was the other boxer to clinch a gold, stunning defending champion Qing Hu of China in Asian Games.

Somdev Devvarman, who created history at the CWG winning the Games’ first singles gold in tennis, did not disappoint in Guangzhou, winning the singles gold and adding the doubles gold with

Sanam Singh.

Without Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, the Indians did exceedingly well to grab five medals from the tennis court (2-1-2). Sania Mirza showed signs of resurgence as she finished the runner-up in the mixed doubles with Vishnu Vardhan and settled for bronze in the singles.

In hockey, India warmed the hearts by reaching the final of the Commonwealth Games, though they were drubbed by Australia in the final. They played well at Guangzhou in the league stage, but lost the semifinal against Malaysia and had to settle for the bronze.

The archers also joined the party. Young Deepika Kumari won the individual recurve gold medal at the Commonwealth Games and Tarundeep Rai clinched the first-ever silver medal by an Indian archer in the Asian Games.

The wrestlers came up with a good show in the Commonwealth Games winning 10 gold, five silver and four bronze but could win only three bronze at the Asian Games.

The year will also go down as a watershed for Saina Nehwal, who won three consecutive titles- the Indian Open, the Indonesian Open and the Singapore Open. She also achieved the number two ranking in the singles charts and ended the year on a high with the Hong Kong Super Series.

Also, in tennis, India clawed back from 0-2 down to beat Brazil 3-2 and retain their World Group berth in the Davis Cup.

Beijing Olympic bronze medallist Sushil Kumar became the first Indian grappler to win a World Championship gold. Sushil lived up to his billing and won a gold at the Commonwealth Games. However, he was unlucky to miss the Asian Games with an injury.

Tejaswini Sawant became the first Indian female World Champion in shooting (50m rifle prone event).

Also, Viswanathan Anand successfully defended his World Chess Championship title while woman boxer M.C. Mary Kom won her fifth consecutive World title.

(Avishek Roy can be contacted at avishek.r@ians.in)

Filed under: Badminton, Boxing, Hockey, Tennis

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