Phelps aims to sink Spitz
Michael Phelps of the USA dries himself with a towel after practice at the National Aquatics Centre, also known as the Water Cube, ahead of the swimming competition at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games on Monday. Phelps is aiming to better Mark Spitz's record of seven gold medals at one Games. He just missed out on making history in Athens four years ago when he won six gold medals and two bronze. In Beijing, Phelps will swim the 200m and 400m individual medleys, the 100m and 200m butterflies, the 200m freestyle, and the three relays - the same programme he followed in Athens. — Reuters/AFP
Archers eye arch spot
Rathore to carry Indian flag
In this picture taken on January 15, 2007, Indian Army officer and Olympic silver medalist Rajvardhan Rathore salutes during the Army Day parade in New Delhi. — AFP
PICK OF THE DAY
Marta eager to make amends
Delight tempered by despondency
Charlesworth lashes out at SAI
India-Sri Lanka Test series
KP Test, ODI captain
Dhoni to get Khel Ratna
Paula Radcliffe intends to run the marathon at Beijing "unless my leg breaks down." The world record holder from Britain has been trying to overcome a stress fracture in her left thigh in time to compete in her fourth straight Olympics. "I'm getting more and more confident,” an optimistic Radcliffe said.
The organisers of the Beijing Olympic Games have made a special preparation for the world's tallest basketball players, who will be in action during the quadrangular sporting extravaganza here. An extra large 2.4-m long stretcher, a spine board and a clinical bed were recently delivered by logistic service providers to the Wukesong Stadium authority, the venue for basketball and baseball. The orange stretcher, painted with 'Beijing 2008, Beijing First-Aid Centre' in Chinese, has six pairs of belt loops to fix the tall patient, twice the number for an average 1.8 meter-long one. A 2.4 meter-long clinical bed is also being kept ready at the stadium. "We applied with the Games organisers to order an extra long bed after the Good Luck Beijing test events in April, when all the clinical beds were just 2.1 meters long and very uncomfortable for (taller) patients," the official 'Xinhua' news agency quoted a worker at the stadium as saying. China's star Yao Ming is 2.26 metres tall while the average height of basketball players is around 2 metres.
Shanghai, China's business centre and most modern city, has had to get used to playing second fiddle to Beijing ahead of the opening of the Olympics on Friday. However, the city's residents say they are mostly indifferent to the show being put on by its long-time rival. "I don't care. I don't think Shanghai is being neglected. The Olympics is really boring anyway," said Zheng Yan, a 26-year-old woman working in the financial sector. Some even said they felt lucky their city was not hosting the Games. "I'm glad the Olympics are not taking place in Shanghai. If it were to take place here, there would be checkpoints all over the place, as if everyone were a terrorist," a driver in his early 40s, who declined to be named, said. Others say the Games are simply an inconvenience -- even though they are mostly taking place about a two hour flight away. "I can't take business trips to Beijing, thanks to the Olympics. It has already caused too much trouble to daily life," said 26-year-old Zheng. "We need the Olympics, but we need our normal life too." Shanghai is only hosting the soccer games.
Emil Zatopek, a four-time Olympic track champion, set 18 world records. The long-distance runner was the first to run a 10,000-metre race under 29 minutes. Zatopak enjoyed a cult status in his Czech homeland for over five decades. He won his first Olympic gold at the 1948 London Games, and added three more in Helsinki four years later, where he dominated the 5km, 10km and marathon races. The 5km race at Helsinki, which Zatopek won with a strong finish, is regarded as one of the most thrilling races ever. Nicknamed ``The Engine'' after winning an unprecedented 38 10,000m races between 1948-54, Zatopek ended his career in the 1950s but fell out of grace with the communist regime.
Los Angeles, August 4
The 23-year-old US swimming star says he is stronger both physically and mentally as he prepares for another assault on Mark Spitz's record of seven gold medals at one Games.
He fell short of that goal in Athens four years ago, coming away with a still impressive six gold medals and two bronze, but insists those who say eight golds are impossible - including Aussie great Ian Thorpe - are wrong.
"If you think about doing the unthinkable, you have a good chance of doing that," says Phelps, who is qualified to swim five individual events and three relays in Beijing.
Phelps will spearhead the US challenge in what is certain to be another pitched pool battle with perennial powerhouse Australia.
All will have to find a way to cope with an unfamiliar format of morning finals and evening heats in the National Aquatics Centre, dubbed the Water Cube, where the 32 swimming events, diving and synchronised swimming will be held.
The high-tech building, sheathed in a Teflon-like outer membrane that resembles water bubbles, will provide a fitting backdrop for a controversial new piece of swimming technology - Speedo's LZR Racer swimsuit.
Swimmers wearing the form-fitting bodysuit set more than 40 world records (long course and short course) in the first four months since it's release in February.
While the manufacturer insists it is impossible to confirm reports that it reduces times by up to two percent, the feeling that the LZR offers a clear competitive advantage sparked a stream of defections from other suppliers by swimming medal hopefuls and a race by rival manufacturers to come up with a similar product.
One of the high profile converts to the LZR is Japan's double Olympic champion Kosuke Kitajima, who said he would wear the suit in Beijing after the Japanese Swimming Federation dropped a requirement to wear domestic products.
Kitajima, who will defend the 100m and 200m breaststroke titles he won in Athens, shattered the 200m breast world record when trying out the Speedo suit.
The omnipresent Phelps will be a focus of attention throughout the nine days of swimming competition. But he won't be the only swimmer chasing history.
Australian Grant Hackett and Dutchman Pieter van den Hoogenband arrive in Beijing with a chance to do what no male swimmer has done before, win the same individual event for a third time.
Van den Hoogenband will be aiming for a third straight gold in the prestigious 100m freestyle.
His rivals will include France's Alain Bernard, who twice lowered the 100m free world record at the European Championships in March and two-time World Champion Filippo Magnini of Italy.
Hackett will try to accomplish the feat in the 1,500m freestyle, in which he has held the world record of 14min 34.56sec since 2001.
However, the world has gained on Hackett, and for the first time, all eight swimmers in the Beijing 1500m final are likely to swim under 15 minutes.
Hackett also comes under additional pressure, now that Thorpe has retired, as the standard bearer of the highly scrutinised Australian team.
As always, Australia ride a wave of success into the Games, bringing a 42-strong squad that includes seven individual long-course world record holders.
Eight world records were set at their trials in March, headed by Eamon Sullivan and Libby Trickett, whose 50m freestyle world records make them the sport's current fastest male and female swimmers.
Australian Olympic Committee chief John Coates believes the team is on track to improve on their record medal haul from Athens.
One relative mystery remains in the expectations of the host country.
Chinese swimmers competed sparingly in international competition in the wake of the Athens Games, where they one just one gold medal.
They captured just one silver and one bronze medal at last year's world championships in Melbourne.
While some in the Western swimming community have speculated China were developing a group of super-swimmers to spring on the world in Beijing, China's head coach said in April the reality was far different.
"We have the confidence to do our best, but we really have no specific event that will be able to produce a gold medal at the Beijing Games," coach Zhang Yadong predicted. — AFP
Archers eye arch spot
Patiala, August 4
Champia, who was a part of the Indian squad that created history by winning a gold medal in World Cup in a team event in Antalya, Turkey, is very confident and in high spirits. He has won medals in various national and international tournaments.
He said, “I am satisfied with my performance. At this stage, I prefer not talking about winning a medal, but about giving my best. I am tensionless and feeling comfortable”.
On the other hand, ace archer Dola Banerjee who has already proven her mettle at the international-level by winning individual gold medals in Dover, England, and other international competitions is confident about putting up a medal-worthy show at the Games.
She said, “The archers are in good form. Mangal is an experienced player and there are no doubts about his performance. As far as other young girls are concerned, they are performing really well and if they can handle the pressure well, they will be un-beatable. Both, Bombayla and Pranitha have already displayed good form in various international competitions this year and they will definitely give all world-class archers a run for their money.”
Talking about her own performance, she said, “I have never been more confident about my form. I am glad our association and the coaches provided us the best training facilities. Now, its our turn to pay them back and make the nation proud”.
Talking to The Tribune, general secretary of the Archery Association of India (AAI) Paresh Mukherjee summed up the team preparation by saying, “We are going to compete, not to participate”.
Gunjan Abrol, assistant secretary of the AAI, said she was confident that the Indian archers could work wonders as the archers were totally prepared. “I have high hopes on women’s team event. Luck is very important in archery and I hope this time lady luck is shining on us.”
Kulbir Singh Kang, president Punjab Archery Association, who is also the non-playing captain of the Indian team said he too was confident of the archers living upto the expectations. “Currently, the team is in the best form and their scoring is at par with internationals. Archery is a very unpredictable game. All I can hope for is that when my archers shoot it’s is their day. I have high hopes on Dola and Mangal,” he added.
The team underwent intensive training under South Korean coach Wang Woo Lee at the Sports Authority of India ground at the satellite township of Salt Lake.
Rathore to carry Indian flag
New Delhi, August 4
Although the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) had kept it as a “guarded secret” the name of the flag-bearer, a decision about Rathore had been taken as early as July 24. But IOA president Suresh Kalmadi made it public only today. It is just as well that a shooter has been named as the flag-bearer, as India expect to hit the bull’s eye in shooting at Beijing, in more than one event.
Rathore is the appropriate choice, as he has an impressive record. In the 2005 Commonwealth Shooting Championships in Melbourne, Rathore was a member of the winning team in double trap. He also won the gold in the individual and team events at the 2005 Asian Clay Shooting Championships at Bangkok.
The gold in the individual event was the third consecutive one for Rathore after he struck it rich successively in 2003 and 2004. All these achievements helped him clinch the Arjuna Award in 2003-2004 and the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, the highest sporting honour, in 2004-2005. He is also a recipient of Padma Shri and the Ati Vishisht Seva Medal (AVSM) - the first officer from the Indian Army below the rank of a brigadier to be awarded the title.
Beijing, August 4
The USA, gold medallists in Athens four years ago, also have a tough start with a match against Norway two days before the official opening ceremony of the Games.
Germany beat Brazil 2-0 in last year's World Cup final, also held in China, when Marta missed a penalty and the South Americans fluffed a series of chances.
The two sides have been drawn together in Group F, which also features South Korea and Nigeria, and face each other in Shenyang.
Brazil were also beaten finalists in the 2004 Olympic final and Marta believes they can go one better this time.
"The team is certainly stronger now and better prepared psychologically to play in a final," she told Reuters, adding that she would willingly exchange her Player of the Year Award for Olympic gold.
"I attach more value to something I have won in a group than an individual award," she said.
The USA go into the tournament without striker Abby Wambach, who suffered a broken leg during a friendly against Brazil last month.
Wambach has scored 99 goals in 127 games, including the winner in the Olympic final against Brazil four years ago.
But the U.S., coached by former Sweden international Pia Sundhage, are still confident of defending their title. "The Olympics is a big deal in America, in many ways a bigger deal than the World Cup, and the players are in good spirits and ready to go," said Sundhage.
The U.S. meet Norway in Group G in the second part of a double bill in Qinhuangdao, which begins with Japan meeting New Zealand in the same group.
Hosts China face Sweden in Tianjin in Group E and, in addition to a recent loss of form, could be hampered by an injury crisis which has deprived them of key players Ma Xiaoxu and Qu Feifei. — Reuters
Delight tempered by despondency
Colombo, August 4
But the delight is, perhaps, tempered by slight despondency. The reason: the fabulous five of Indian cricket - the hitherto trusted middle order of Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Saurav Ganguly and Vangipurappu Venkata Sai Laxman and the highest wicket taker in Tests, Anil Kumble - did not play a exceptional part in the success.
Inevitably, questions have arisen whether they are approaching the end of the road? Is it time for Rohit Sharma - who is in the reserves - to fill one of the slots? Should Virender Sehwag or Mahendra Dhoni be put on alert for the Test captaincy?
While it would be wise of the selectors to be vigilant and ensure prospective replacements obtain suitable experience in the longer format in order to be equipped for the sterner examination, there is, arguably, no reason to panic yet.
Dravid, 35, after three conspicuous failures against the new Mr Variety of spin bowling, Ajantha Mendis, appeared to regain his inherent fluency in the second innings of the 2nd Test, only to nip it in the bud with an injudicious sweep against Muttiah Muralitharan.
Tendulkar, also 35, hasn’t looked unduly troubled by the mysterious Mendis. But a mixture of ill-fortune and indiscretion has been his undoing. The little master loves to dominate and hates to be subdued. Mahela Jayawardene and Chaminda Vaas cleverly exploited this frailty in inducing him into an ill-advised stroke.
Laxman, 33, posted a half-century in the 1st Test and looked in command in the first innings of the 2nd - batting on 39 - when he rather amateurishly spooned a catch to mid-on. He has, admittedly, not fulfilled his promise; and also been outwitted three times by Mendis’ deceptive straighter ball.
The one who’s failed in all four innings so far is, of course, Ganguly, 36. Normally one of the most skilful in the face of spinners and, indeed, man of the match against South Africa on a brute of a turner at Kanpur in March, his lack of runs is a little worrying. He has, in fact, been a victim of poor shot selection rather than an inability to decipher the Sri Lankan bowlers. But considering his roaring comeback, only a brave man would write him off.
There is, consequently, no need to contemplate changes immediately; and in any case, faith in a winning, settled and experienced combination is the sensible way forward in a crucial, deciding test.
Kumble stressed: “It’s no concern. There’s enough quality there and it’s a matter of one innings, which is around the corner.”
But the four may be taking a wee-bit longer to get their eye in or combat to indifferent light. The fact that they have been in marvellous touch only a few months ago is, unfortunately, less significant at their age, for it’s a fine line that divides extra sensory and normal vision.
New Delhi, August 4
“Over the last few weeks, it has been clear that some (mostly unnamed) figures do not see a role for me and clearly as long as SAI controls the resources for the sport without any flexibility, it would be difficult for me or any international coach to operate. Therefore, the outcome is not surprising and vindicates my resignation. As an advisor there was nothing more I could do,” Chalesworth said in a statement.
Chalesworth, whose term with the Indian hockey ended rather abruptly a few weeks ago, is in the country to collect his personal belongings and settle his financial dues.
He also downplayed the SAI’s claim that during his tenure, the Australian submitted only two reports on his observations and added that he will put forward all his reports once his financial dues are cleared.
“I have written more than 10 reports with many recommendations. Not all of these have been passed on to SAI or the IHC yet as I will only do so when my salary arrears and invoices are paid. Had these matters been settled in a timely manner, then all reports would have been submitted at the time of completion (the first was written in February),” he added.
With no official contract, Charlesworth began to work for Indian hockey from December 2007, but soon he decided to quit the job after India failed to qualify for Bejing Olympics during the Chile debacle. But the debacle prompted the Australian to sign the contract with the SAI.
“Following my exclusion from a return to India for the women’s camp in Lucknow and the Chile Olympic qualifier, I was ready to call it off, but was persuaded to continue. The turmoil after the defeat in Santiago witnessed by all in March led to a contract finally being put in front of me and with the IHF and IWHF agreeing to pay what SAI owed me I signed in the hope that things would improve,” he stated. However, he added that the last few months in India after the IOA took over, proved to be the most rewarding and enterprising. — UNI
India-Sri Lanka Test series
The victory at Galle has to be one of the most memorable of wins and though not quite on par with the one at Perth earlier in the year against the Australians, it is not too far-off either.
The Perth victory came after a Test match of aggro and acrimony seldom seen in international cricket and made even the usually careful Indian captain remark that only one team had played in the spirit of the game. That pitch also was supposed to be the reserve bank for Australia where the extra pace and bounce would make the Indian batsmen quake in their batting boots. That win has to be the greatest of Test wins in Indian cricket's history because of all the above.
The credit for that had to go to Anil Kumble for the way he got the team to rally behind him and play in the determined manner that they did to notch the win.
At Galle too, the credit has to go to the skipper who once again showed leadership excellence by getting the team to raise the level of their game after being given the third heaviest defeat in their history. Individual performances will always be there but for that to happen the captain has to restore the players self belief and invoke their fighting qualities.
Here Kumble had great support from his deputy Virender Sehwag who played a stupendous innings to carry his bat through but more importantly ensure that the dreaded Lankan spin duo were kept at bay.
Then the skipper's spin twin, Harbhajan Singh showed just why he is such a class act by capturing 6 wickets in the first innings to give India the psychological lead .
In the second innings though there were no centuries there was contribution from the top order and once again the combo of Sehwag and Gambhir saw to it that when the spinners came on they were still there. There may be disappointment that the fab four are not making their usual big contribution but they are too good to miss out for long.
The new-ball bowlers may not be finding the pitches to their liking but the spell of Zaheer and Ishant in the second innings gave the early wickets which always makes the job of the spinners easier. Harbhajan ended up with ten for the game silencing those who were screaming for his head. Patience with our proven performers is seldom exercised and the demand for their heads is unfortunately just one bad game away.
Once again the Test has finished a day early and while the previous Test allowed the Indians to rethink their strategy this time they must make the effort to not rely on videos but to go and watch how the Lankan batsmen play their spinners in the nets and try and pick up some tips on how to tackle them. That may well help them to register a series win in Lanka after almost two decades. — PMG
London, August 4
“I am very thrilled and excited to have been given the opportunity to captain England,” Pietersen said in an ECB news release. “It’s a huge honour for me and a terrific challenge for me at this stage of my international career. I have learned a great deal about leadership from playing under both Michael and Paul (Collingwood) and fully appreciate the level of responsibility that comes with the job of captaining your country. — Reuters
New Delhi, August 4
An expert committee, chaired by Milkha Singh, today met here to discuss the nominees and they decided to confer the award on Dhoni for leading India to the Twenty20 World Cup triumph -- making him only the second cricketer after Sachin Tendulkar to get the honour. — PTI