|SPORTS TRIBUNE||Saturday, October 12, 2002, Chandigarh, India|
Shooters away from target
IN a matter of less than three months Indian shooters have evoked extreme reaction, from the euphoria following the phenomenal success in the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham to near despair in the Asian Games in Busan. The poor performances in the Busan Games by our high profile shooters has indeed been a major disappointment.
Athletes reap rich harvest
Football: India beaten but not disgraced
Shooters away from target
IN a matter of less than three months Indian shooters have evoked extreme reaction, from the euphoria following the phenomenal success in the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham to near despair in the Asian Games in Busan. The poor performances in the Busan Games by our high profile shooters has indeed been a major disappointment. Agreed that the standard in the Busan ranges has been higher than it was in Birmingham but with two world rated competitors in Anjali Bhagwat Ved Pathak and Abhinav Bindra and some very doughty and experienced shooters to keep them company India had every reason to hope that the Busan Games would be productive enough though not on the same scale as in the Commonwealth Games.
There has to be some explanation for the lack of performance in the highly competitive field of the Asian Games. There has to be some reason for the sudden dip in their performances, judged even by their own standards. Both Bindra and Anjali have done much better, one a current world junior record holder and the latter, a champion of champions of the world in the World Cup final as recently as in Munich two weeks after the Commonwealth Games.
The shooters could well be victims of an overdose of competitions. Though it would be a contradiction of the normally offered adage that more competitions keep a sportsperson in a state of fitness and excellence, in this case it does appear that the shooters have found it very difficult to maintain their standard of performances over such a long period starting with the nationals in January.
Since then it has been one long unbroken stint with guns and rifles at the ranges. The nationals was followed by involvement in the European circuit of three countries and eight competitions. Then came the World Cups Shooting with Bindra opting for four and Anjali three. Next came the World Championships in Finland in July followed by the Commonwealth Games in July-August, and camps, trials and training sessions preceding the Busan Asian Games. It has indeed been very hectic for the shooters.
The big money which a generous government gifted following the wealth of medals in the Commonwealth Games could also be taken as a reason for the below par performances. The money may have acted as a final award for achievements and failed to motivate them further for the Asian Games. Money is always a motivating factor but it can have a negative effect too.
And one must admit that Abhinav Bindra has certainly not been at his best for quite some time. He appears to be going through a phase after his 597/600 in air rifle in the World Cup competition in Munich last year. Anjali on the other hand has perhaps peaked too early. She should have won a gold in the Busan Games but lost a medal by just 0.1 point and the gold itself by 0.9 points. She, however, contributed to a team silver where another shooter Suma had a fine performance to show. The latter however had a poor start and could not make up the leeway sufficiently in the final rounds.
Then there is the case of Jaspal Rana. Winner of the gold medal in the centre fire pistol in the Hiroshima Games, Rana had slipped to a silver in the Bangkok Games. This time he has slid to the 10th spot. He had a score of 589 in the Bangkok Games but this time he has targeted only 581. He had earlier argued that because of the World Cup and Commonwealth Games held earlier he always peaked in the Asian Games. His contention had sound reasoning then. But that has not happened this time. If the World Cup and Commonwealth Games helped him to win gold and silver in the earlier Asian Games why not this year?
In the final analyses it must be accepted that the shooters failed to do justice to their reputation. They must accept the blame for not performing to their own standards. That is something very disappointing. Shooting is a costly game and requires a very disciplined regimen in addition to money and equipment. These men and women wearing India colours have generally done well but the Asian Games in Busan has certainly been bad. Particularly so when clubbed with the general lack of performance by the contingent as a whole.
There are many ifs and buts and one of
them pertains to the huge amount of money doled out to the medal winners
after the success in the Commonwealth Games. If only the government had
held back the amount and promised to double it if the success was
repeated in the Asian Games? Perhaps that would have been an extra
inducement and motivate the shooters and others to do even better in the
Busan games. That is just a thought.
Athletes reap rich harvest
THE Amateur Athletic Federation of India’s (AAFI) sustained and well-executed coaching schemes are now resounding with golden echoes in Busan. The Indian athletes have produced one of their best performances in the Asian Games by claiming 12 medals, including six gold, with the distaff side dominating the show with a haul of five gold.
When all others failed, the athletes, as always, came to the country’s rescue by plucking a clutch of medals. Though the six-gold haul has created an element of surprise, it was not entirely unexpected, as the Indian women, who were in the medal reckoning for athletics, have only lived upto the expectations and confidence reposed in them by the coaches and the AAFI top brass.
For Punjab, in particular, the success of the athletes has come as sweet music. Three of the gold winners belong to the State, which has a very rich sports legacy. However, behind the golden deeds of Bahadur Singh, Neelam Jaswant Singh and Sunita Rani, lies the story of toil, sweat, heart-breaking setbacks and tears.
Bahadur Singh, who regained the shot put gold for India after a gap of 20 years, has fully lived upto the hopes of his coach, Bahadur Singh Senior. Incidentally, it was Bahadur Singh Senior, who had clinched the last Asiad shot put gold for India in 1982. And it was at the instance of Bahadur Singh Senior, now a coach, that Bahadur Singh Junior switched from discus throw to shot put in 1994. But the Junior Bahadur had to wage many a disappointing battle to come out of the shadows of Shakti Singh to reach the pinnacle. Any other ‘putter’ would have said it quits after the Asian meet at Jakarta in 2000 when he fouled all his first four throws. But Bahadur took this setback as a challenge and worked hard to triumph.
When the Busan Asian Games came around, the Bahadur-Shakti duo was considered as a sure bet for gold. And Bahadur pipped his famed colleague to the podium, to walk away with the gold. But Bahadur was lucky that his only valid throw, 19.03 metres in his second attempt, was also his winning throw while Shakti Singh had to settle for the bronze.
Sunita Rani had been written off as a spent force when she went into near oblivion for the last two years, with a nagging knee injury. That this gutsy girl from Sunam returned from the cold, to run away with the 1500m gold, is the stuff legends are made of. She not only won the gold, but also posted a new record as her time of 4:06.03 secs bettered her own national mark of 4:08.1, clocked in Bangalore in 1999.
Now Sunita is also eyeing the 5000 medal, and hopes have risen sky high after her effortless victory in the metric mile.
Neelam Jaswant Singh hit the big league when she clinched the discus gold in the Commonwealth Games at Manchester. Though she was a medal prospect at Busan, gold was least expected from her. But this 31-year-old mother of an eight-year-old son, from Hoshiarpur, ensured that the gold was her’s when she heaved the iron ball to a distance of 64.55 metres in her second attempt, to create a new meet record. There has always been muted criticism about Neelam’s ability to rise to the occasion on the big stage. At Busan, Neelam silenced her critics and erased the tag of the "second best". Though Gurmeet Kaur finished fourth in javelin throw, Punjab athletes have done much beyond expectation.
Critics may aver that the golden feats of Anju Bobby George, K.M. Beenamol and Saraswati Saha lack sheen as their winning efforts were way behind their personal best. But a gold is a gold, and these athletes have drilled home the point that they have the potential to scale greater heights.
Anju Bobby George, who leapt to the long jump gold on her debut Asiad, which was also India’s first gold in athletics at Busan, measured a distance of 6.53 metres on her fifth attempt, which was inferior to the distance she had cleared in the open athletics in Delhi a few weeks ago—6.74 metres to claim the gold. But Anju’s gold was precious as the last time India won a medal in women’s long jump in an Asian Games was way back in 1982, when Mercy Kuttan leapt to the silver. Four years earlier, in 1978, Angel Mary Joseph had bagged the first-ever medal in women’s long jump — a silver.
Kalamyathumkuzhiyil Mathew Beenamol, K.M. Beenamol to everyone, was a sure bet for the 800m gold. She lifted the gold without much fuss, but her slow timing has given out the game that the field was not very tough. Beenamol also lifted the 400m silver, but the most surprising medal came from her younger brother, K.M. Binu, who cantered away with the 800m men’s silver.
Binu was not considered a medal prospect, but the fact that he won the silver and could have even clinched the gold, had he run his race with a little more tactical acumen, is a gladdening tide for men’s athletics.
Saraswati Saha lifted the 200m gold to emulate P.T. Usha. Usha was at hand to congratulate Saraswati when she breasted the tape first. The field became clear for Saraswati, the girl from Bengal, when Susanthika Jayasinghe of Sri Lanka, bronze medallist at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, pulled out of the race. And the Indian girl did not disappoint. But her time of 23.28 secs was well below her personal best of 22.82. Interestingly, Usha won the 200m gold for the first time, at the Seoul Asiad, in 1986. Silver by Soma Biswas (heptathlon) and Madhuri Singh (800m) and bronze by Shakti Singh (shot put) and J.J. Sobha (heptathlon) have made it a memorable Asiad for India, as the athletes have yet again proved their mettle.
Sixteen years ago, P.T. Usha had set the Seoul track on fire to clinch four golds and one silver, to erase the blushes of the Indian contingent.
The AAFI deserves a pat for the fine performance of the athletes. The federation’s methodic planning and deligent execution of the coaching camps, is now bearing fruit. The AAFI has constituted monitoring committees comprising former international athletes to evaluate the progress of the athletes in coaching camps. The athletes are segragated in groups at coaching camps for personalised attention.
AAFI secretary Lalit Kumar Bhanot’s personal interaction with the coaches and athletes has enabled him to be posted with the progress of the athletes.
"We have some world class athletes
among women. They are capable of doing much better, if they are given
competition exposure in Europe. They cannot make much headway if they
continue to train in India. If we have to aim for an Olympic medal,
these women should be given top quality competition-cum-training
exposure in Europe", observed Olympian athlete Gurbachan Singh
Randhawa, who is also a key member of AAFI’s senior selection
Football: India beaten but not disgraced
THAT India faced a tough task in football at the Busan Asian Games was abundantly clear from the onset and the end result has not been surprising. However, there is a silver lining in the team’s ultimate defeat and exit. Pitted against strong teams like China in group ‘C’ who earlier this year played in the FIFA World Cup, as also Turkmenistan and Bangladesh, India came up with a brave effort, trouncing Bangladesh 3-0 and then Turkmenistan 3-1. The 0-2 defeat at the hands of China with one goal coming through a disputed penalty which put paid to the team’s aspirations was not disgraceful if compared to the 1-7 loss in 1974. Though having failed to advance beyond the first round, the team led by Baichung Bhutia and coached by Stephen Constantine can claim the credit for restoring some respectability to Indian football at least at the Asian level. It was after 32 years that India managed to score six goals in three matches and even surpassed the goal average achieved in 1982 when as hosts India reached the last eight at New Delhi. In the 1970 edition at Bangkok where India clinched the bronze, India had scored eight and conceded five in six matches.
India have played Turkmenistan twice so far, losing once. The 3-1 victory against Turkmenistan at Busan deserves special mention as India were trailing 0-1 at half-time. Three goals, including two by ace striker Baichung Bhutia, and one by Avishek Yadav in the second session proved that the Indians can fight back and with some luck can upset higher-ranked teams.
Star striker Baichung Bhutia with four goals in three matches has also joined the elite group of Indian soccer stars whose spectacular feats at home and abroad often serve as a motivating factor for future players. His stint with English second division club Bury FC has indeed transformed him into a fearsome striker, something the Indian team had always lacked for many years.
A noteworthy aspect of the Indian football team’s performance in the recent past has been consistency, which had been lacking for many years. The 1-0 win over the high-ranked UAE in the pre-World Cup last year is being seen as a turning point and the recent title win in the LG Cup in Vietnam proves that Indian football is on the upswing, though making an impact at the world level may still be a distant dream.
HEAD TO HEAD:
India v China: Played 20, won 1, drew 7, lost 12, GF 13, GA 34.
India v Bangladesh: Played 19, won 11, drew 6, lost 2, GF 37, GA 12.
India v Turkmenistan: Played 2, won 1, lost 1.
Biggest defeat: 1-7 against China, 1974.
Leading scorers: PK Banerjee —6; Chuni Goswami —5, Baichung Bhutia —4. Goals in all matches in a competition : Sahu Mewalal—3 in 3 in 1951.
Biggest victories: 5-2 v Hong Kong,1958; 4-1 v Thailand, 1962; 3-0 v Indonesia, 1951; 3-0 v Afghanistan, 1951; 3-0 v Indonesia, 1970; 3-0 v Bangladesh, 1978; 3-0 v Bangladesh, 2002; 3-1 v Turkmenistan, 2002.