The hockey gold made up for the dip in the medals tally. But there were some stirring performances as well in other disciplines that hold promise for the Rio Olympics in 2016
By V Krishnaswamy in Incheon
The medals tally came down as did the gold count at the 17th Asian Games at Incheon, South Korea. But the disappointment of a lower count was offset by the success of the Indian hockey team which won a gold 16 years after the 1998 Asian Games in Bangkok. What made it even more sweeter was that the gold earned the team an automatic berth in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in Brazil.
The medals count fell from 65, inclusive of 14 gold, in 2010 to 57 medals, including 11 gold in 2014. Not a very happy figure for the world’s second most populated country, and especially when the world’s most populated country, China, had 342 medals, including 151 gold.
India won gold medals in nine disciplines this time as compared to seven last. But in 2010, India won medals in 18 disciplines, whereas this time, it was 14. But then, three of the disciplines in which India won medals last time—chess (two bronze), roller sports (two bronze) and cue sports (one gold, one silver and two bronze)—were off the program in 2014. So, in that sense, India is very much where it was four years ago. Not a very good sign, considering that the rest of the world is surging ahead.
There were just four individual gold medals for India this time. Jitu Rai’s gold for the men’s 50-meter pistol event on the first day did give rise to heightened expectations but the contingent had to wait for almost a week to win a second gold. Apart from Rai, the other individual gold medalists were wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt (men’s 65-kilogram freestyle); women’s boxing legend MC Mary Kom (48-51 kilogram category); and discus thrower Seema Punia.
Gold medals also came in for India in tennis—the high-profile Sania Mirza partnering a near-tyro Saketh Myneni in the mixed doubles. The women’s 4×400 quartet, comprising 400 meter individual bronze medalist MR Poova-mma, 800 meter silver medal winner Tintu Luka, besides Priyanka Pawar and Mandeep Kaur ensured a fourth successive gold in the longer relay.
That was not all. The men’s kabaddi team created a record in the games with a seventh successive gold—India has dominated the sport ever since the sport was introduced at the 1990 edition at Beijing.
Women added to the supremacy with a second successive gold medal—kabbadi for women was introduced only in 2010.
The men’s team squash gold medal reduced the hurt for Asia’s top squash player, Saurav Ghosal, who lost the gold after almost having it in his grip at match point in the third game, before losing it to a Kuwaiti, Abdullah Al Mezayen, in five grueling games.
But the finest story came from the group of compound archers—men and women. Each member of the men’s trio was so different from the other yet so devoted to each other. The team comprised Abhishek Verma, Sandeep Kumar and Rajat Chauhan.
In the women’s group, Trisha Deb, who after being part of the Indian team in a Recurve event—different from Compound—was at crossroads without a job and hope, till she met coach Jiwanjot Teja. The slightly-built Bengal girl moved from Kolkata to Patiala to study and pursue compound archery. Now, she has a World Championships medal and a bronze in an Asian Games, which came when her rival, while leading by a big margin, missed the target completely to hand the bronze to Trisha. And what does the simple girl want? “I hope I can get a job at least now,” she said.
Here in Incheon and before the Indian contingent left for Korea, there were enough controversies. Before the team left, there was the usual “battle” between the Sports Authority of India, the Indian Olympic Association and the sports ministry. Some teams were not cleared at first (it came later) while in other cases, the managers were dropped only to come under different heads as captains and coaches.
The Sarita Devi controversy raised a lot of heat and dust, and lost in that din was a similar decision suffered by male boxer Devendro Singh. Steeplechasers Lalita Babar and Sudha Singh were led to believe they were to be elevated to silver and bronze as Kenyan-born Ruth Jebet from Bahrain was first disqualified for cutting lanes, only to be reinstated a day later and the medal ceremony, too, was put off for a day. So, Lalita stayed at bronze and defending champion, Sudha remained fourth.
The shooters blamed their poor show on excessive travel throughout the year and the badminton duo, Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu, failed to make it to the semis in singles, but did manage a team bronze at the games.
Tennis also took a hit as big stars Somdev Devvarman, Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna gave the games a miss and Sania Mirza almost did the same only to come back at the last minute to give the team a gold in the mixed doubles as well as a bronze in the women’s doubles.
A rare bronze in swimming from Sandeep Sejwal in 50-meter breaststroke and the first-ever medal (a bronze) in women’s sailing (29er class) were other noteworthy successes.
The next big multi-discipline engagement for India will be the Rio Olympics in 2016, but as things stand, the wrestlers, shooters and boxers stay as the best hope in that mega event.
And needless to say, hockey will be the discipline that most will emote with, just as it was in Incheon. Let’s hope for the best.
Bout to forget
The 17th Asian Games will also be known for the controversy surrounding boxer Laishram Sarita Devi. There are various versions
floating around—ranging from Sarita having apologized for her actions at the presentation ceremony to the medal being finally given to the Indian chef-de-mission, Adille Sumariwalla. But what is still unclear is whether Sarita “accepted” the decision and the medal, or merely apologized for “disrupting” the sanctity of the medal ceremony.
Interestingly, there was a temporary office of the Council of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) at the games to ensure that participants had free access to quick justice. The office was barely 300 meters away from the media center of the games. Did the Indian officials know about it? If they did, were the players informed about it? And, did the Indian chef-de-mission know about it and inform Sarita that she had an option?
Technically, Sarita could still approach the CAS office, which could then ask for the videos of the bout itself and a new committee could sit on it.
Having said that, Sarita and her husband did lodge a strong protest with the boxing officials at the games, soon after the “injustice” meted out to her, even though the Indian officials stayed mum. The coach, GS Sandhu maintained that International Boxing Association (AIBA) rules no longer allowed for a “protest” or an “appeal”. But Sarita and Thoiba insisted on filing an official protest.
With no other Indian officials in sight, Sarita and her husband put together $500. They had $400 with them and borrowed $100 from a journalist and requested Sandhu to lodge the protest. The coach finally relented.
However, the reply to the protest came with a couple of hours, with AIBA supervisor David Francis’ “notice of protest evaluation” reading: “After review of your protest for the bout between India and Korea, the protest was about judging of the bout. Following Article 8.4 in the AOB competition rules, you cannot protest against the judges’ decisions. Therefore, we would like to inform you that your protest is now rejected.” So, what the AIBA in essence said is that “judges” are beyond reproach. Sandhu also threw in the towel and apologized after immense pressure from boxing associations.
Jitu Rai in men’s 50 meter pistol shooting
Men’s compound team in archery
Men’s squash team
Yogeshwar Dutt in men’s freestyle 65 kilogram, in wrestling
Seema Punia in women’s discus throw
Tennis mixed doubles team
MC Mary Kom in women’s boxing in the 48-51kilogram category
Men’s hockey team
Women’s 4X400 meter relay team
Women’s kabaddi team
Men’s kabaddi team