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October - November 2008


India Sport Scene

Beijing Olympics, Football, Golf, Hockey

by Ramesh Seedhar


China hosted the most memorable Olympic Games. The games were judged as excellent, the opening and the closing ceremonies a riot of colour, with 15,000 performers taking part. It was a truly an unforgettable games with the fireworks display as icing on the cake.

China also topped the medal tally for the first time in its Olympic history by removing USA from the position which they had thought was theirs for years to come. The games also were memorable for Great Britain as well as for India, as each of these countries came with some sterling performances.

Previous to Beijing Olympics, India’s performance at the Olympics had been a dismal one. One could count the number of Indians, who had won medals at individual events at the Olympics on their fingers. India in the post independence era had won only four Olympic medals, one silver and three bronze in individual events. The majority of the medals that India had won came from the team event hockey. In hockey India won eight gold, one silver medal and two bronze medals.

Prior to Beijing Olympics the shooter Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore was India’s only individual silver medallist, weight lifter Karnam Malleswari the only Indian women to win a bronze Olympic medal. The other two bronze medals were won by Leander Paes, in tennis and wrestler K D Jadhav in the men’s freestyle bantam weight category. They were the only Indians that brought cheer and glory to India.

In Beijing India recorded its greatest moments in Olympics. The success of Sushil Kumar and Vijendra Singh who each won a bronze medal, following Abhinav Bindra’s gold will rank as the best achievement in India’s sporting history.

Indians had started to believe that it did not have champion to make India proud, particularly when the whole world is watching them. Despite their best attempts, no Indian could break the shackles, and as a nation India was struggling to find an elusive gold medal. Abhinav Bindra did just that and will be remembered in the Indian sports for years to come. One gold medal makes a huge difference to the aspiration and joy of a nation.

Indian sport had started to take slow but sure steps forward since Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore won independent India’s first ever silver medal in Athens in 2004. His achievement was the beacon for the Indians to start believing in them and in their ability to match the best in the world.

Champions strike at the moment of reckoning and there was a never better moment then to strike at the Olympics, the ultimate stage at the world of sports. India in Abhinav Bindra, now has an Olympic champion who nursed his hunger for gold medal at the Olympics and was simply not satisfied to be the world champion in air rifle a title that he had won a few years ago.

Ingoing into the final shot Champion Abhinav Bindra was level with Henri Hakkinen. He then revealed nerves of steel to come up with his best shot of the event. A 10.8 as against a maximum possible 10.9

The victory could not have tasted better had it not been for the manner in which the champion struck the final blow. It left the defending champion Zhu Qinan in a flood of tears. Henri Hakkinen of Finland, who had actually tied with Abhinav going into the final shot, could only end with the bronze as he was piped at the final shot by Zhu Qinan, who got the silver.

Abhinav had won world Championship in Zagreb in 2006 with a bad back that had to be treated and had prevented him for taking part in the Asian games in Doha. He has completed a splendid journey since missing the final by one point in 2000 Sydney games, finishing seventh in Athens in 2004 to finally winning the gold in breath taking fashion in Beijing in 2008

August 20 will also be remembered in Indian sports for years to come as it was on this day that two medals came India’s way. Wrestler Sushil Kumar and boxer Vijendra Singh captured bronze medals to trigger unprecedented celebrations in India.

Wrestler Sushil Kumar lost the first bout but stayed positive and clinched the bronze in free style in 66Kg category by winning three bouts in a span of about 70 minutes in the repechage. The repechage system, introduced for the first time in the Olympics, specifies that all losers to the eventual finalist get to fight among themselves to decide the two bronze medallists. Sushil rode on his luck to fulfil his dream of winning an Olympic medal.

Over the years, Indian wrestlers such as K D Mangave, Prem Nath, Jagminder Singh, Sudesh Kumar, Rajendra Singh, Rohtas Singh and Madho Singh have performed to come close to a medal, but it took 56 years to realise a medal in Olympics.

Vijendra Singh, who was competing in his second Olympics, accomplished the unfulfilled dream of his colleague Gurcharan Singh who had missed the light heavy weight medal in the quarter finals in the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Akhil Kumar and Jitendra Kumar had also reached the quarter finals in Beijing but both lost their bouts and it was left to Vijendra to break the jinx. He did it with clean punching to beat Gongora to emerge a convincing 9-4 victor. There was a possibility that he could have won a higher medal had he not be too cautious in his bout with Emilio Correa Bayeaux of Cuba.

Four of the five Indian boxers, who had qualified for the Beijing Games, had come from Bhiwani in Haryana under the tuition of Gurbax Singh Sandhu and the Cuban coach B I Fernandex. The coaches had prepared the Indian team well as three of the boxers reached quarter finals. Quite appropriately the Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda announced that a boxing academy would be set up in Bhiwani.

The Beijing Olympics assumes great significance for China to win most medals for it is the dominant power in Badminton. India’s hope lay in the Women’s Badminton with Saina Nehwal who is ranked number 18 in the world. Her fearless approach and never say die attitude has caused big upsets in the past and in Beijing she did not disappoint. Sania knocked out World number 6 and the 4th seed Wang Chen of Hong Kong to reach the last 16. Saina Nehwal went on to become the first Indian to enter singles quarter finals in the Beijing Olympics. Here she had 8 points lead in the deciding game against Maria Kristin Yulianti of Indonesia. The gifted teenager from Hyderabad led 11-3 to raise hopes of a medal for India before she lost the game 15-21

The dominance of China was reflected in the medals that they won. They won gold in men’s singles, women’s singles and women’s doubles, a silver medals in men’s doubles and women’s singles, bronze medals in men’s singles, and in women’s doubles. Only in the mixed doubles event they did not have a finalist.

There were records galore at the Olympics but the most remembered will be those achieved by Michael Phelps in swimming and Usain Bolt in athletics.

The Beijing games produced many unforgettable swims, with Phelps contributing to seven. 25 world records fell in swimming, 10 more than at the 2007 World championships in Melbourne.

When Michael Phelps swam the butterfly leg in the 400 medley relay for USA and edged past Australia in a world record setting victory, he created history. He had won eight gold medals in one Olympics. In doing so he broke Spitz’s record of seven gold medals that had lasted for 36 years. In 1972 Spitz swam two strokes, free style and the butterfly and none of his swim covered 200 meters. Phelps swam all four strokes at distances ranging from 100 to 400 meters and faced three rounds in each of his five individual events, one more round than Spitz had.

A subject that fascinates at every Olympics is that who is the fastest man on earth? Previous to Beijing Olympics the debate was whether Donovan Bailey of Canada or Michael Johnson of USA. Bailey held the 100 meter world record and Johnson had clocked 19.32 seconds for 200 meters. On August 20 in Beijing the debate was closed by a Jamaican, whose name the world had just started to hear. Usain Bolt ran the 200 meters in an incredible 19.30 seconds to follow up on his equally impressive 9.69 in 100 meters earlier.

“We have never seen anything like that before” was the verdict of the Michael Johnson after a breadth taking 100 meters final. Usain Bolt was so far ahead of the rest that he had time to slow down and smile for the cameras before crossing the line in a world record time of 9.69 seconds. In 1952, Herb McKenlay lost the closest 100 meters in history, now Bolt had won the easiest.

Germany won the men’s gold hockey crown which was once the tradition of India. The German men’s team came into the championships through a complex route. It had to play into the qualifiers after failing to win a berth for Beijing from the European Championships in Manchester. That the Germans showed the fortitude to put behind this aberration and to win the title is an example that India needs to follow.

For the silver medallist Spain, it was another case of being so near and yet so far. In terms of tactics, improvisation and technique the Spaniards looked better than the Germans but luck was not on their side.

Australia the defending champion lost the initiative when they drew 3-3 with Great Britain in round robin stages. Although they qualified they lost to Spain in the semi final.

The performance of the Asian teams and in particular that of Pakistan, was abominable. The sub continent that was once a power house in hockey only managed to field one team in Pakistan and that came 8th in the overall standing. India failed to qualify for the Olympics. No wonder that the Pakistan team felt the tremors of the Beijing debacle with the selectors stepping down

This was however the worst performance in Olympics in 12 years by Indian athletes. Early projection had shown that around 30 plus Indians athletes will qualify. In the end it was reduced to 16. It still formed the biggest contingent. The final outcome was an embarrassment as not a single athlete crossed the first heat or qualification round. There is now a serious need to review the performances of athletes and the wisdom of retaining foreign coaches from the former Soviet republic who have failed to achieve the targets.

With the Olympics now over, and the commonwealth games on the horizon, India now needs to focus on winning more gold medals. It has to learn from the Chinese example. China has moved to the top of the table with 51 gold medals, 19 more gold medals that it won in Athens outclassing the traditional power house USA. India does not lack talent but what the sport needs is modern facilities and latest technical support. If a third world country like Jamaica, with a population of two and a half million people can produce a disproportionate number of top class sprinters both men and women, then why, India with its massive population has failed to produce a single world champion sprinter

The success at Beijing should bring recognition that in the present competitive world without proper back up and support the winning of medals will remain a pipe dream.

Football

According to London Daily Telegraph, Anil Ambani , the 6th richest man in the world is poised to buy the Newcastle football club. Ambani, who is said to be worth £21 billion, was first linked with the move for Newcastle in July this year. However, his representatives are denying that that the chairman of the Indian phone giant Reliance Communications is about to enter the fray on Tyneside. Intriguingly, though they are refusing to rule out a move in the future. Would it not be better for Indian football if Ambani put his resources towards training and build a football academy in India?

Golf

A sensational final round of six under 66 fetched Jeev Milkha Singh a second title of the season and third on the Japan tour at the Nagashima Shigeo invitational Sega Sammy Cup in Hokkaido.

Jeev produced his best card of the week to aggregate 13 under 275, equalling the tournament record. This was Jeev’s second title of the season following his triumph at the Bank Austria Open in Vienna.

It was a sensational win with Jeev sinking as many as seven birdies, three over his last four holes. At the 18th hole he sank a 20 foot put to get the birdie. So far this has been a memorable year for Jeev who has finished in the top ten in a number of tournaments around the world.

Hockey

At the Azlan Shah Cup in the two previous years, India had finished third. This time it went one higher step by winning the silver medal at the north Malaysian town Ipoh. Even a minor prize like a silver medal in an invitation event like the Azlan cup is being attributed to changing regime in the Indian Hockey Federation, a dispute that is now a subject of litigation. This is despite the fact that the team was selected from the same pool of players who were groomed under an ongoing youth programme implemented by the suspended KPS Gill led body.

However the best news is that the sports ministry has decided to lay 40 more synthetic turf pitches to attract more and more youths to take up Hockey. Hockey is no longer the same game for in pre artificial turf age where Indian players played bare footed on natural grass grounds and even on grassless grounds. In those days a hockey stick would just cost a few rupees. Now a good hockey sticks cost anything between Rupees 500 and Rupees 5000 and a pair of boots a couple of thousand more.

To bring the game with in the reach of talented but impoverished nation the sports ministry needs to pay attention to this aspect.

Cricket

Not alien to record and milestones, Mahendra Singh Dhoni grabbed one more when he became the first Indian to win ICC ODI player of the year award, and what is more that wicket keeper cum batsman is relishing it.

An elated Dhoni stated that “it feels great to know that I am the first Indian player to get this particular award and it is very special because now I am in a company of a lot other good cricketers. Some fantastic players have won this award in the past and to be mentioned in their company is truly a humbling experience. “

During the voting period, Dhoni played 39 Odes and scored 1,298 runs at an average of 49.92 and a rate of 82.46 runs per 100 balls. In that time he hit a century, nine fifties and led his team from the front. As a wicket keeper he captured 62 dismissals, 46 catches and 16 stumping which were twice as many as the next best.

Dhoni beat off tough competition from team mate Sachin Tendulkar, Australian fast bowler Nathan Bracken and Pakistan stalwart Mohammad Yousuf to take the prestigious award.

In ODI’s Dhoni has proved himself to be largely a winning captain. He has backed his men, created situations and is hard to crack. The wicket-keeper batsman has led with a rare mix instinct and guile. He has been proactive, aggressive, inspirational and calm. He has also delivered under pressure. Dhoni has grown and evolved and is no longer blatantly aggressive and now employs burst of aggression in a judicious manner. He has an immense self belief that rubs off on his team. He is deserved winner of the award.

In the India - Sri Lanka ODI’s, India made sure that the fifth ODI would not be another virtual final and sealed the series win by winning the 2nd ,3rd band 4th test after losing the first. Sri Lanka won the dead rubber with ease.

The Champions Trophy that was scheduled to be held from 12-28 September 2008 in Lahore and in Karachi was postponed by 13 months by the International Cricket Council (ICC) due to security concerns although Pakistan still retains the rights to host the tournament.

Eshan Mani the former ICC chief and who was Pakistan’s representative at the ICC for several years said that Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) knew in advance that some teams would not tour Pakistan and had taken the initiative to shift it to another venue. ICC could have then earned approximately $50 million and every participating country their share of approximately $3.75 million, but by postponing or cancelling the PCB would lose between $5 and $10 million. Pakistan has also severe financial losses after Australia postponed a scheduled tour in March this year.

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