June 9, 2001, Chandigarh, India
Golden era of Indian women weightlifting
Changing rules, demanding requirements
The menace that stalks tennis
Golden era of Indian women weightlifting
AFTER watching the Indian women lifters in a training session at the NIS in Patiala a few months ago, universally accepted Hungarian weightlifting coach Imrezuga told me emphatically in a formal discussion in the company of Guy de Fortgalland; "Indian women lifters can go sky-high if they train with passion and zeal."
True to his words, Karnam Malleswari proved in the Sydney Olympic Games that the Indian women lifters were no second fiddle. Kunjarani Devi from Kairang, Imphal, had already hit the headlines in world press when she was rated by the International Weightlifting Federation as one of the finest lifters of the 20th century. Within a decade — between 1989 and 1999 — she won eight silver medals in World Weightlifting Championships at different venues.
By winning a bronze medal in the Sydney Olympics, Malleswari has set a trend among women lifters in the country: a gold medal in the Olympics is not a far cry. Taking a leaf out a Sydney medallist Malleswari’s book, the Indian women lifters (both senior and junior) are pepped up to bring much greater laurels to the country in the forthcoming international weightlifting competitions.
Despite the fact that the ‘weightlifting show’ in India is run without the national federation, which was defunct last year on grounds of infighting amongst its office bearers, and the two-member ad hoc committee, constituted by the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) with the concurrence of the Union Sports ministry, which too is in a shambles, Indian women weightlifters are looking for greener pastures overseas with the full backing and wholehearted support from the national coaches dedicated to the cause of Indian weightlifting — Guy de Fortgalland, S.C. Goyal, S.L. Salwan, Ranjan Singh, Jaswant Singh — under the stewardship of chief national coach Dronacharya awardee Pal Singh Sandhu.
All the six national weightlifting coaches are straining their nerves to train the women lifters who are presently is the ongoing national coaching camp at the NIS, Patiala. The lifters are Kunjarani Devi (48 kg), Tikna Gopal (48 kg), Gitanjali Devi (53 kg), Sanamacha Chanu (53 kg), Nandani Devi (53 kg), Renu Bala (53 kg), Monita (53 kg), Pratima Kumari (63 kg), K.Rama Devi (63 kg), Nansita Devi (63 kg), Sonia Prabha (69 kg), Bela Rani (69 kg) and Geeta Rani and Sumati Devi (both 75 kg).
Though the women lifters are focused on the inaugural Afro-Asian Games to be held in New Delhi from November 3 to 11 this year and the Pusan Asian Games next year, the immediate forthcoming weightlifting competitions in Greece, South Korea and the United States too are significantly important.
The World Junior Weightlifting Championships will be held in Thessaloniki (Greece) from June 29 to July 9; the Asian Senior Weightlifting Championship will be held in Chonju City (Korea) from July 17 to 22; and the World Weightlifting Championship (men and women) will be held in the USA from October 4 to 13. This tight weightlifting schedule will also include the National Games in Punjab in September.
The national weightlifting coaches and other weightlifting experts are sore that there has been no concrete plan for junior lifters since 1996, otherwise Indian lifters, particularly women lifters, would have shown outstanding results in competitions at home as also overseas.
This writer had a brief talk with Kunjarani Devi recently about her future plan to compete in international weightlifting competitions. She says: "I am training with a firm mind and mission that I will compete in the next Olympics in Greece and win a medal for India before I retire." Though age is not on Kunjarani’s side, she is training at the NIS with tremendous grit and determination not seen earlier.
The women lifters in the ongoing national camp are geared to three sessions for six days in a week. The first session is from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m.; the afternoon session is from 10.30 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. and the third session is from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. The lifters are backed by good scientific support; yoga and psychological counselling by psychologist Ms Reena Kaul. "The lifters are in high spirits," says Pal Singh Sandhu.
Karnam Malleswari, who is in the family way according to reliable sources, has, in a way, cast a magic spell on women lifters in India who are aspiring to emulate her Sydney performance, come what may. The future surely holds good for women weightlifting in the country.
Changing rules, demanding requirements
OVER the years nearly all the disciplines have undergone drastic changes in rules and regulations with the emphasis clearly on reducing obstacle and time-wasting factors. The changes have been effected not only in keeping the spectator interest in mind but also to lessen the pressure on both the participants and officials. The rapid changes being made in many of the games have to do with the growing importance of the television viewer. Games have become faster, produce much more action and the court and the surroundings have a more eye-catching and colourful ambience.
These changes have not really interfered with the quality or intensity of the disciplines. In fact, they have only enhanced them. Thus in dispensing with the off-side rule and the throw in and introducing rolling substitution hockey has become much faster. The game is allowed to continue almost uninterrupted. The new rules are the delight of the umpires and the viewers and very soon the players too will be able to appreciate the changes. Teams from Europe and Down Under have already adjusted while one hopes Indians too are slowly settling down to conform to the new rules.
There have been a sea-changes in cricketing rules with the umpires coming under the direct scrutiny of not only the law enforcing authorities but also the avid television viewer. The transparency provided by the cameras and the slow motion backtracking of dismissals have in fact revolutionised the whole concept of the game. Very soon the "third eye" may even take over the whole show from the hitherto unchallenged, sacrosant men in white.
Changing rules have made basketball one of the fastest games in the world and the scoring pattern in volleyball has made it much easier to follow. A number of in-built checks have been introduced to make the very physical sport of amateur boxing a less dangerous and more entertaining outing. The protective face gear and the padding of vulnerable area have made the boxer look like a knight in armour but the game has flourished and continues to draw crowds.
The advent of synthetic surfaces in athletics has changed the mental approach of the competitor and changing measurements in the throwing events have been brought about to keep the discipline within the stadium limits. By and large the participants in the various games have accepted the reforms as a necessity and have gone with the tide.
But there has, however, been some resistance to the new rules in athletics, particularly in the sprints. As per the new rules sprinters will be disqualified after one false start instead of the old ruling which allowed each athlete two false starts. The rule, yet to come into vogue, has drawn protests from 47 current and former athletes who have put their names to a petition urging the IAAF Congress to vote against changing the false start rule when it convenes shortly before the World Championships in Edmonton, Canada, in August.
The petition, signed among others by triple Olympic gold medallist Marion Jones and 100 metres world record holder Maurice Green carrying the heading "The no-false start rule discrimination against sprinters," was circulated by athletes after the Prefontaine Classic IAAF Grand Prix Meeting recently. The athletes were enraged by the IAAF’s decision to try out a zero-tolerance policy on false stars at Grand Prix II events this year. Marion Jones, winner of the 100m and 200 m at the Sydney Olympics, called the rule "ridiculous". " Were in the blocks, and if we happen to fall out, were dead, It’s not fair." she said.
The reaction from the athletes and the generous response from the IAAAAF President Lamine Diack that he never intended to impose changes without input from a range of people involved in the sport has raised hopes of a proper dialogue before the changes are introduced. This is a good sign and one hopes administrators in the other games follow the example.
Though India at the international level have no say in any changes introduced in the various disciplines, they may have reservations on some of the reforms intended to guide the game of badminton in the near future. Doubts do persist in the minds of players elsewhere too and it would be a good thing if the International Federation is seized of the matter. Abhin Sham Gupta who won the French Open where the new scoring system was put into practice has already voiced his doubts.
As per the proposed changes the duration of a match will be extended from a best of three to a best of five with each game ending at 11 instead of 15. India has a stake in this game, having produced some really great players in the past, a world champion and an all-England winner in Prakash Padukone in the 70s and an all-England winner in Gopi Chand recently.
An extension of the match to five games should be viewed not in terms of just points but the intensity of purpose behind each of the games. It will be the same if not more than if the game was to end at 15. Five games ending at 11 points each will require much more stamina and a different approach than to a three-game match with the games ending at 15. And stamina and fitness have never been the mainstay of Indian players. In fact, in recent time, Gopi Chand has set a record of sorts, winning a number of crucial matches after losing the first game. He has shown rare resilience and great reserve of stamina while achieving these deeds
Badminton being a game where the server alone has the right to a point, the number of points in a game sometimes is just illusionary. A game finishing at 15-12 could often take less time and energy than a game ending at 15-6. In this context one recalls the title match of the Udaipur nationals in the late 60s when Prakash Padukone beat Syed Modi 15-7, 15-1, or scores to the effect. The game which Prakash won at 1 was of a longer duration and better contested than the game which ended at 15-7. Not often do the scores tell the true story. The new scoring system with emphasis on staying power will automatically effect stroke play all over the world. Now the emphasis will be on lasting out the distance with minimum risks. The new scoring system will put an end to the stroke players, unless of course a player is so tuned and confident enough to be able to finish off a match in the first three games. The new system may, for all purpose, turn the general run of Indian players into returning machines. Ita total new "bird" game.
The menace that stalks tennis
IN the past it was a game synonymous with strawberries, white clothing, lazy summer days and sportsmanship. But now tennis’s image is under threat from a new breed of ruthless drug cheats who will do anything to win.
Amid fears that more stars are illegally boosting their performance, the sport is resorting to shock tactics in a bid to turn the tide. Risque humour and warnings of death are being used to keep players away from drugs.
One poster shows a coffin over the middle-line of a tennis court, while another aimed at male competitors links substance abuse to shrinking testicles with the cheeky slogan `Do steroids for smaller balls’.
The $ 350,000 initiative has been launched by the International Tennis Federation (ITF), the sport’s usually conservative global ruling body, to stop tennis being corrupted in the way that athletics, cycling and swimming have been. The ITF describes steroid abuse as `a very real and fast-growing problem’.
Players are given graphic descriptions of the medical dangers of taking steroids, including — for men — growing breasts, blood clots and liver failure. Women run the risk of developing facial hair, a deeper voice and smaller breasts and experiencing menstrual interference.
Top stars, including Monica Seles, Gustavo Kuerten and Martina Hingis, are backing the initiative. Acknowledging both the attraction and the potential pitfalls of taking drugs, Russian player Anna Kournikova said: `There are many pressures to win on the junior circuit. The dangers of taking drugs may not be known to young people and I hope the ITF campaign will help change that. Drugs do not have a place in sports.’
The campaign’s approach is raising eyebrows. "Yes, it’s shocking, but the results of abusing drugs can be shocking and we want to show that," said Debbie Jevans, the ITF’s Director of Anti-Doping.
Tennis officials point out that, based on the number of positive drug tests, they have a far less serious problem than many other sports. "There aren’t a lot of people that take drugs, and we want to ensure it stays that way," said Jevans.
She stressed that the 2,000 tests the ITF carried out worldwide last year identified only one cheat. Argentina’s Enrico Chela, who tested positive for a banned steroid, was suspended for three months and fined $ 8,500 in prize money. Chela claimed the substance must, unknown to him, have been contained in vitamin and amino acid pills.
More high-profile players have also been caught. The former world number one, Mats Wilander, retired after testing positive for cocaine at the 1995 French Open, while grand slam winner Petr Korda was found to have the steroid nandrolone in his system at Wimbledon in 1998.
Tennis insiders say the handful of positive test results probably underestimate the true level of drug-taking.
"There is a problem. Some players are using steroids to keep up their strength and recover quickly from injury," said one source. "It’s down to the multi-millions to be earned in the sport now and the large number of tournaments they’re expected to play every year."
Hamstring injuries — often a sign of steroid consumption — also appear to be on the increase. And there are suspicions that the trend towards players being bigger and bulkier is as much down to drugs as intensive exercise.
Prof Vivian James, a steroid expert at London University, said: "Given the amount of knowledge out there about the pharmacology of these drugs, if you are careful about how and when you take them, it’s possible to avoid detection. Because tennis doesn’t have an overt problem doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t a problem. Steroids are as likely to be used in tennis as in other sports, but people using them are clandestine about it.’
Dr Michael Turner, chief medical adviser to the Lawn Tennis Association in London, insisted: "There’s no culture of drug-taking in tennis, with people in gyms and locker rooms pushing players to take drugs, the way there is in other sports."
But he admitted some players could be taking the stamina-boosting EPO or muscle-building human growth hormone, both undetectable, rather than steroids.
UK Sport considers tennis low-risk for drug-taking and conducts only about 50 tests a year. But the LTA will pay it to double that figure this year.
The ITF’s anti-drugs campaign will be on display at UK tournaments in Roehampton and Winchester this summer. It will also highlight athletes in other sports who have suffered serious health problems through taking steroids.
Top footballers from Italy’s Serie A have tested positive for steroids this season. Two of them, Holland’s Edgar Davids and Portuguese captain Fernando Couto, were banned from playing in World Cup qualifiers.
Handicapped Mary shows the way
I was carried away by the example set by handicapped girl, Mary Nakhumicha of Kenya. Through determination, single aim, concentration, hard work and regular practice and above all the power of prayer, she has been able to perform wonders in all international events. She attributed her recent successes to God and to Bishop Mogodo who owns a children’s home in Nairobi. She said since her father’s death, the Bishop had proved to be the best substitute and his prayers had done wonders. Prayer is indeed the golden chain which keeps us close to the almighty and gives us strength.
VIJAY SHEEL JAIN, Ludhiana
Pullela Gopi Chand touched the mark after 21 years and became the All-England champion defeating China’s Chen Hong in the final. I do hope the day is not far when India will emerge as world champions by overpowering Indonesia. In cricket Harbhajan Singh is also performing wonders. Keep it up boys!
KARAJ S. DHILLON, Fatehabad
The Asian Football Confederation deserves accolades for bestowing the award of the “coach of the month” on Sukhwinder Singh, the coach of the Indian football team. The confederation has rightly recognised Sukhwinder’s ability in coaching the Indian soccer team. The gesture will inspire Sukhwinder to train footballers with added vigour, enthusiasm, dedication and devotion. It will also motivate other coaches to work with diligence. It was under his stewardship that India put up a creditable performance in the World Cup qualifiers. The policy of making coaches scapegoats harms the game and must be abandoned.
TARSEM S.BUMRAH, Batala
The organising committee of the Afro-Asian Games, scheduled to be held in New Delhi this November includes a professional fashion designer, Ritu Beri, who has never won any medal in any discipline. The organising committee also includes ex-cricketers like Kapil Dev, Sunil Gavaskar and Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, although no cricket match will be played. People like Milkha Singh and Kiran Bedi have been ignored.