|SPORTS TRIBUNE||Saturday, August 3, 2002, Chandigarh, India|
Kim Collins of St Kitts and Nevis, the gold medal winner, smiles during his victory lap following the men’s 100 metres at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester.
— AP/PTI photo
sports institute needed
a masterful stroke-maker
cut short in full flight
Collins steals the thunder
Kim Collins thrust the tiny Caribbean islands of St Kitts and Nevis on to the world’s sporting map with an unlikely victory in a men’s 100 metres final that was the highlight of the Commonwealth Games track and field programme.
The race was billed as a showdown between two English rivals — Mark Lewis-Francis and Dwain Chambers — but both Englishmen pulled up in the second half of the race with injuries, allowing Collins to steal the show in 9.98 seconds.
"The fans wanted to hear that England would win. They probably haven’t even heard of St Kitts and Nevis,’’ said Collins, who won his country’s first ever gold medal in the 72-year-old history of the Games.
England’s disappointment at missing the blue-riband event of athletics was shortlived when they won six of the 11 finals on the last night of competition to top the track and field table with 29 medals, including 12 gold.
The most astonishing of all the victories was England’s win in the men’s 4x100 relay final. Their hopes of gold seemed to have disappeared when Chambers and Lewis-Francis pulled out but Manchester-born Darren Campbell played the hero’s role with a brilliant anchor leg.
England and Jamaica crossed the line together with the timing system awarding them identical times of 38.62 seconds. But the judges gave the gold to England and silver to Jamaica after the photo-finish showed Campbell had lunged at the line a fraction ahead of Asafa Powell.
"I just felt like it was destiny,’’ said Campbell, who was so depressed earlier this year he contemplated suicide. "We had great team spirit, a great amount of belief. Maybe it was meant to be.’’
A little over an hour later, England were celebrating their good fortune again when they won gold in the men’s 4x400 in another tight finish.
Australia finished second overall with 28 medals including nine golds, their lowest return in 16 years.
Olympic champion Cathy Freeman was among the winners, picking up gold in the 4x400 after her husband, who was diagnosed two months ago with inoperable throat cancer, persuaded her to compete.
Teenager Jana Pittman lived up to her tag as the "next Cathy Freeman’’ when she anchored the relay team to victory after winning the 400 hurdles titles to become one of just two women to win more than one gold.
Australian walker Nathan Deakes also won two golds when he completed the 20km-50km double while England’s Chris Rawlinson was England’s only dual winner with victories in the 400 hurdles and 4x400 relay.
Debbie Ferguson was the outstanding athlete with three gold medals. The 26-year-old anchored the Bahamas 4x100 team to victory after winning the 100 and 200 individual events to become the first woman to win the sprint treble since Australia’s Raelene Boyle in 1970 and 1974.
English triple jumper Jonathan Edwards completed the ‘’grand slam’’ when he added the Commonwealth title to his Olympic, world and European wins, while 34-year-old Namibian Frankie Fredericks became the oldest person to win a track title when he won the 200 final.
Paula Radcliffe provided the single best performance by any athlete when she won the women’s 5,000 with a blistering run which scattered her rivals and finally brought her a major title on the track.
Kenya managed just four gold medals, their worst effort since the boycotted Games of 1986, after their top middle distance runners opted to miss the Games for the more lucrative European circuit.
But the east African country still provided the best race of the whole programme when Talel Wilberforce won the men’s 10,000 after a thrilling sprint finish which saw the top four finishers separated by less than half a second.
England’s success and the wonderful atmosphere generated by the capacity crowds at every night session prompted calls for the track to become Britain’s permanent home of athletics.
But organisers said the
track would be torn up as soon as the Games finish, cut into two pieces
and moved to Birmingham for next year’s world indoor athletics
championships, and the Manchester Stadium turned into a soccer ground.
Genetic and anthropological studies of Olympic athletes conducted by De Garey and his associates spread over four successive Olympic Games from 1960 to72, conclusively revealed that outstanding athletes, irrespective of their ethnic affiliation, are aggregate product of first genetic endowment, second generally good environment, and third highly specialised training. While it is impossible to fiddle with one’s "genetic stuff" (innate potential), environmental factors and forces — nutrition, training, equipment, infrastructure etc — which contribute to top performance in sports, are subject to scientific manipulation, modification, alteration, addition and subtraction in consonance with the requirements of a specific sport discipline/ event. From talent identification — "catch them young" — to scooping Olympic gold, today it is all science as opposed to "aesthetic expression of bodily grace, verve and vigour" through movement, as enunciated by ancient Greeks.
It would be naive to attribute the stupendous success of the erstwhile USSR, East Germany, China and now Australia to any "superior genetics" of their athletes but squarely to their ability to harness science in all compartments of athleticism and orient their performance-enhancement strategies accordingly. Dynamism is the hallmark of their sport policy. Contrarily, the poor and or inconsistent performance of most Indian athletic squads at the international competitions — when analysed objectively — may be traced to such causes as (a) absence of an "athlete-focused" sport administration, (b) hackneyed athletic training procedures, and finally a very low-key sport-science back-up.
Waking up to emerging realities of the competitive sport and following the East European model of sport development, the National Institute of Sports, Patiala, established a Faculty of Sports Sciences in early eighties with the twin-objective of undertaking indigenous research on crucial performance-related variables and helping the coaching academia to fine-tune their methodologies of training national athletic squads for international fixtures. Not withstanding some "good" work despite multiple constraints, the effort has been just a drop in the ocean as compared to what the gold-crazy nations have done in going thoroughly scientific.
The Union sports administration is contemplating to bring into existence a national institute of sports sciences on the patterns of the world-famous Beijing Sports Science Institute, Korean Institute of Sports Science, and Central Institute of Sports Sciences, Moscow. Some spadework has already been done in this direction. The major objective is to provide country’s sport system a much-needed science-oriented professional touch to such processes as identifying sport talent, developing indigenous training know-how for "genetically gifted" youngsters and manufacture innovative performance-enhancement strategies for the national athletes through the application of scientific principles and procedures with a fond hope to stem the tide of sagging standards of performance. It hardly needs reiteration that all entrants-whether individuals or teams — to the Olympic arena are now invariably accompanied by a trio, of coach, physiologist and a sport psychologist, who work in perfect unison for the success of the athlete(s). Hence, to have a national institute of sports sciences is no anachronism but wisdom of the highest order.
This excellent vision,
however, needs two safeguards. First, the institute so proposed must not
get into the hands of an incompetent leadership, as has often happened
in several cases. Second, before deciding to go all out for providing
hi-tech infrastructure, establishment, equipment etc, the existing
sport-science set-up at the Sports Authority of India and the National
Institute of Sports, Patiala, and its regional centres should be
thoroughly revamped for the sake of economy and also to judge whether or
not the proposal is worth further consideration.
a masterful stroke-maker
When Mohammad Kaif, India’s latest cricketing sensation, takes guard at the crease, his father either goes to the terrace or sits on the banks of the Yamuna near their Allahabad home in Uttar Pradesh.
Kaif became the toast of the nation when he scored an unbeaten 87 off just 75 balls to guide India to a two-wicket win over England in the one-day NatWest Triangular Series final in London.
"It is not because of any superstition, but the moment Kaif comes out to bat, my heart starts sinking," Mohammad Tarif, a former Uttar Pradesh and Railways player, told IANS. "My wife also never watches the live telecast."
When Tarif goes to the terrace, it is the duty of his daughter to keep him informed about the progress of the match. At other times, when the tension becomes unbearable, he seeks the tranquillity of the Yamuna and sits on its bank by himself.
"I go to the Yamuna when I want to be all by myself, away from the tension of the game," he disclosed. "Whether I climb up to the terrace or go to the Yamuna depends on my mood."
However, the other members of the family, including Kaif’s older brother Saif, who represents Uttar Pradesh in domestic tournaments, have no such problem.
Kaif is a stylish, wristy batsman, who packs a punch in his strokes. He looks more assured when playing his favourite cover drive — a shot that earned him rave reviews following his Lord’s showing Saturday.
"I have not seen such cover driving for a long time," former India batsman Abbas Ali Baig told IANS after the match.
Kaif seems equally at ease while playing the pull and hook shots, and is boosted by a wonderful temperament, as he exhibited while guiding his team to an improbable win.
Kaif’s biggest asset, however, is his fielding. He is at present the fittest player in the Indian team. He also bowls useful off-spinners for Uttar Pradesh in domestic matches, though he has not yet got the chance to show his talent in international games.
Kaif would not have reached this stage but for his father, who introduced him to the willow game when he took the eight-year-old to coach Devesh Mishra. Kaif learnt his basics at Allahabad’s Madan Mohan Malviya Stadium.
Convinced of his talent and skills, Tarif then had a 12-year-old Kaif admitted to the Sports Hostel in Kanpur. Soon, the youngster was making waves with his performance in junior tournaments.
His performances led to his selection in the Indian under-15 team that won the Lombard World Cup, beating Pakistan in the final. Kaif played a significant role with his daring stroke play in the tournament.
Kaif’s rise has been through the ranks. On the basis of his good performances in the age-group tournaments, he was picked for the India under-19 team that took part in the World Cup in South Africa in 1997-98, the season in which he also made his first class debut for Uttar Pradesh.
Two years later, Kaif came into the national reckoning when he captained the Indian team to the under-19 World Cup title in Sri Lanka in early 2000.
He was then selected in the India ‘A’ side, a second string national side, that toured the West Indies after the World Cup triumph.
That year, he was given an opportunity to show his wares in the Challenger Trophy, a one-day selection tournament played at the beginning of every cricket season in winter. Here again, Kaif earned acclaim for his batting.
His selection as a trainee at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) at Bangalore in 2000 confirmed that he was in the eyes of the selectors.
Then happened one of the best things to Kaif — the NCA picked him, along with Shiv Sundar Das and S. Sriram, for a six-week training at the Adelaide-based Australian Cricket Academy (ACA), widely considered the world’s best cricket school.
"His overall game, especially his fielding, was polished at the ACA," said Tarif. "He returned a much better player."
Now, all Kaif waited for was a national call up, which came when South Africa toured India in the winter of 2000. As a 20-year-old, he made his debut in the second Test at Bangalore, but was dropped after four Tests as he did not do anything extraordinary.
But when England visited the country last year, he was again picked, this time for the one-day side. He grabbed this opportunity with both hands, and has done much better in the abridged version of the game.
cut short in full flight
For Monica Seles, it’s always going to be what may have been. Guenter Parche’s kitchen knife ensured that.
The contrast becomes glaringly obvious as she approaches the end of her career. Seles, the spindly, all-grit-and-guts champion of the early nineties, and the matronly Monica after the stabbing. It’s almost like they are two different people, who have two different careers.
She was once every bit the star athlete, dominant, determined, the queen of the road. In her first 14 Grand Slam appearances she won the title eight times. She was blazing away to a level of achievement many feared tennis had never known or would never see again. In Hamburg, on April 30, 1993, one of the most awe-inspiring journeys in world sport, came to an abrupt end. The little girl from Novi Sad, with grit that matched the intensity of her grunt, never returned. It will always be an unfinished journey, leaving the world to wonder what may have been.
She’s now a heavily set 28-year-old with a Grand Slam drought spanning six years. She’s a regular quarterfinalist in the majors as against being the regular winner. She’s kinder with her shot making and slower on her feet. She rarely giggles, hardly smiles and always talks sense.
There are changes in everybody’s life but the ones in Seles’ have been more dramatic. So much so that the woman Ion Tiriac once described as one "who would crawl on glass to win", today says of tennis: "At the end of the day it’s just a game". A game she says she loves and one she would continue playing well after her professional career has ended. And that could happen anytime.
"It’s not about how much my life changed or how much I lost in those 27 months, it is how much that one day cost me. I may have won more Grand Slam titles and would have had a different standing in history books..... I do think about that," she said recently at Wimbledon. "But it was something that was beyond my control. It’s nothing to look over her shoulders. Her trophies of her "other life" are all boxed and locked away in her garage in Sarasota, Florida. She hasn’t seen a recording of herself winning all those titles as a teenager and won’t be drawn into a debate of how a young Monica Seles would fair against the Williams sisters at their peak.
"I don’t know how I played back then," she said, her face as blank as a cleaned out black board. "My confidence must have been pretty high at that time, losing just one match all year. I don’t really remember the level at which I played back then."
Critics argue that Seles let go too much with the stabbing. She stayed away from the game for 27 months. At that time, her father was diagnosed with cancer. Maybe she should have returned to the tour as soon as the physical wound healed, maybe the balm she looked for in dark rooms and big packets of wafers was waiting for her on a tennis court, the security of which she once revelled in. But that just maybe it. She was attacked in her "own home" and she wasn’t going to go back there in a hurry, looking for solace.
When she returned to the tour at 22 it was the beginning of the end for Seles. She made the final in New York and won the Australian Open the following year in 1996 but she was never quite the player she once was. At 28 then, she’s clearly looking at the end of her career.
"I definitely see the end of my professional career," Seles said. "But I don’t want to put a date on it. I don’t want to have that pressure. After every tournament, I’ll just look at how I feel and go from there. I am not going to have a farewell tour or anything of that kind. I am just going to play and when my body or mind feels tired I’ll just stop. I still believe that I have a Grand Slam title in me and that’s why I am playing, maybe when that feeling goes I’ll stop."