The Gold Rush

Indiaís overall medal haul of 64, including 14 gold, was their best-ever in the Asian Games, thanks to some sterling performances from unexpected quarters, writes M. S. Unnikrishnan

Eighteen-year-old Vikas Krishan from Bhiwani won the gold in the 60-kg weight category.
Eighteen-year-old Vikas Krishan from Bhiwani won the gold in the 60-kg weight category.

Indian sportspersons reached out to conquer new frontiers in the 16th Asian Games at Guangzhou (China), which was a refreshing deviation from the beaten track. India struck medals in events in which they were not expected to triumph, while those on whom hopes were pinned, failed to deliver. Indian sportspersons won medals virtually in all disciplines they competed, barring a few exceptions, and track and field threw up a few surprise gold medal winners.

Somdev Devvarman and Ashwini Chidananda Akkunj stood out with their golden doubles, and the domination of women in track and field events, gave a pleasing turn to Indiaís overall medal haul of 64 ó 14 gold, 17 silver and 33 bronze ó to finish sixth on the table. This was Indiaís best-ever gold haul in the Asian Games, which was one short of the 15, they won in the inaugural Asiad in Delhi (1951) and one more than the 13 they collected in the 1982 Delhi Asiad.  Five gold medals in athletics, two each in tennis, boxing, kabaddi and one each in shooting, cue sports and rowing boosted Indiaís overall placement, though the inability of the shooters to rise above the ordinary in the face of tough competition, prevented us from hitting the century-medal mark (101) achieved in the Ninth Commonwealth Games in Delhi a month earlier.

The hockey teams flattered to deceive though the men bagged the bronze as a poor consolation, after finishing outside the medal bracket in the 2006 Doha Asiad, while the women drew a blank. Krishna Poonia, womenís discus throw gold medallist in the Commonwealth Games, had to settle for a bronze while Rajit Maheshwari, who had cleared 17.7 metres in Delhi for a medal in menís triple jump, could finish only fourth as he could not hit the peak form he had displayed a month earlier.

Tarundeep Rai, a cousin of football ace Baichung Bhutia, won the silver in the menís singlesí archery
Tarundeep Rai, a cousin of football ace Baichung Bhutia, won the silver in the menís singlesí archery

Saina Nehwal proved a flop artist in badminton as she simply could not match the firepower of the Chinese girls, despite expectations back home, while Sania Mirza, too, could not rise to the level expected of her, to fulfil her gold dream in tennis. Medals in roller-skating, swimming, gymnastics and archery were the icing on the cake. The silver won by Tarundeep Rai, a cousin of football ace Baichung Bhutia, in menís singles archery, was quite gratifying as he had to battle it out with the tough Koreans. A silver for Tarun and bronze in the menís and womenís team events put the archers too up above, as it was a remarkable progress from the lone menís team bronze they had won at Doha four years ago.

Twentyfive-year-old Somdev Devvarman yet again proved that he was a different kettle of fish when it comes to playing for the country as he not only won the singles and doubles gold (in the company of Sanam Singh), but also helped the team win a bronze. He thus proved that his triumph in the singles event of the Commonwealth Games in Delhi was no flash in the pan. Somdev, ranked 106, battered top seed and 40th-ranked Denis Istomin in two straight sets, conceding a measly three points overall, to win the gold. 

Joseph Abraham produced a menís track gold in the 400m hurdles after over three decades
Joseph Abraham produced a menís track gold in the 400m hurdles after over three decades

This was a sweet revenge for Somdev, as he had lost to the Uzbek in his Davis Cup debut. The singles and doubles gold made Somdev the first player in 24 years to trap a "golden double" in Asian Games tennis after Yoo Jin Sun of Korea, who achieved it previously in 1986 at Seoul.

Joseph Abraham produced a menís track gold after over three decades when he glided over the 400m hurdles to hit pay dirt. Chand Ram (20km walk) and Charles Borromeo (800m) in the 82 Asiad were the last to bring track golds for the country. Josephís feat was remarkable as Indian male athletes rarely stand a chance in the hurdles event. Yet, the medals won by the 69-strong athletics squad were comparatively less, and they have to strive a lot more hard to beat the record of 16 medals, including seven golds, won from track and field, in the 2002 Busan Asiad.

The men kept their date with the kabaddi gold for the sixth time on trot ó in the 1990 Asiad in China the lone gold for India came from kabaddi ó while the women, too, made their kabaddi debut memorable by lifting the gold, after warding off a torrid fight from Iran in the semis. The men, on the other hand, laid low Iran both in the league round and in the final, to reassert their prowess in this body-contact sport.

Seven medals in boxing, including two golds, were a surprise addition, to finish second behind China in the event.

Mandeep Kaur (left), Manjit Kaur (centre) and A C Ashwini, along with Sini Jose (not in picture), won the gold in 4x400m relay. Ashwini also got the gold in 400m womenís hurdles.
Mandeep Kaur (left), Manjit Kaur (centre) and A C Ashwini, along with Sini Jose (not in picture), won the gold in 4x400m relay. Ashwini also got the gold in 400m womenís hurdles.

And Vijender Singh (75kg), the World No. 1, who came good to erase the shocking memory of his semi-final exit from the Commonwealth Games, and the remarkable poise and fighting spirit displayed by the 18-year-old Vikas Krishan ó both from the Bhiwani boxing stable ó elevated Indian boxing to a different level. Though India put five boxers in the final, only two could pluck golds was cause for some disappoint, but the triumph of the chess-playing Vikas, to emerge as the youngest gold medallist in the Asian Games, gave a lot to cheer about, as his gold came after a 12-year hiatus. Dingo Singh (56kg) had won the last boxing gold for India in the 1998 Bangkok Asiad, and the display in China hold out a lot of hope for the Indian pugilists in major competitions ahead. Both Vijender and Vikas thus joined the august company of Padam Bahadur Mal, Hari Singhl, Hawa Singh, Kaur Singh and Dingo, who had brought golds from the ring.

Somdev Devvarman (tennis), Bajran Lal (rowing), Ronjon Sondhi (double trap shooting), Vikas Krishan and Vijender Singh (boxing), Pankaj Advani (cue sports), Preeja Sreedharan (10,000m gold and 5000m silver), Sudha Singh (steeple chase), Ashwini Akkunj (400m womenís hurdles and 4x400m relay) and Joseph Abraham (400m menís hurdles) were the individual gold winners.

The Indian women kabaddi players made their debut memorable by lifting the gold
The Indian women kabaddi players made their debut memorable by lifting the gold

India had never before won a gold in distance running, but Preeja Sridharan rewrote the script with a remarkable golden streak in the 10,000, at the Aoti Sports Complex. India made a one-two in the event when Kavita Raut, too, sprinted past Shitaye Eshete to bag the silver in 5000m. Shitaye, a former Ethiopean champion, who turned out for Bahrain, was an overwhelming favourite to win the race, but Preeja and Kavita toppled the formbook to bring the first gold and silver from the track for India. And then Sudha Singh warded off a late charge from Chinaís Jin Yuan to ensure the steeple chase gold, which was again a first its kind.

Though a gold was expected from Tintu Luka in the 800m, she made the same tactical mistake as she did in the Commonwealth Games, to be pushed to the bronze slot. But it was some achievement, as the 18-year-old has time on her side and she has a great mentor in P. T. Usha, whose four gold and one silver in 1986 Asian Games, still stands as a landmark achievement in the annals of Indian sports. Tintuís bronze was not only a great morale-booster for the athlete, but it was also the first international medal for the Usha School Athletics, located on a 30-acre expanse in her village Koilandi (Kerala).

Pramila Gudandda celebrates after she won the bronze medal in womenís heptathlon Photos: AFP, PTI
Pramila Gudandda celebrates after she won the bronze medal in womenís heptathlon Photos: AFP, PTI

And the exploits of Ashwini will be written in golden letters as well not only for her golden run to sail past all hurdles in the 400m, but also her gravity-defying race in the 4x400m relay, running in the third lap, to prise open the kind of lead, which helped the Indian quartet (Mandeep Kaur, Sini Jose, Ashwini and Manjit Kaur) hit the gold, in a repeat performance of their magnificent run in the CWG in Delhi

True, Indiaís medal count was nothing compared to the surge made by hosts China, who had entered the Asian Games fold, after coming out of their self-imposed exile from the iron curtain, only at the 1974 Teheran Games. The efforts made by the Indian government in providing sustained training facilities, including foreign exposure, under the watchful eyes of foreign experts, are paying dividends for the country.

The medals from track and field are fine examples of institutional support, and almost all medal winners are gainfully employed with the Railways, public sector institutions and the state governments to make their life comfortable, leaving them with peace of mind to concentrate on their sports career. The attractive incentives being provided by the Central Government, state governments and a various public sector institutions, act as a great motivator for these sportspersons to strive for their best, as most of them, particularly the athletes, hail from`A0modest to poor background. Imagine, Tintu Lukaís parents had to go to the neighbourís house to watch their daughterís race on television as they cannot afford to have one at home!

Pankaj Advani had set the ball rolling, literally, when he won the billiards gold to defend his crown while Bajraj Lal Thakar, twice Asian champion and silver medallist at Doha, upgraded his single skull rowing event to gold. World champion and world record holder Ronjon Sondhi was the only golden boy in shooting as Gagan Narang, Abinav Bindra et al failed to hit the bullís eye.






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