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The Day Girls Won at RIO

Harpal Singh Bedi

Rio de Janerio: Finishing  second, third  and fourth in their respective sports, Badminton player PV. Sindhu, wrestler  Sakshi   Malik and Gymnast  Dipa Karmarkar  etched their  names  in the history of sports  with their   superlative  performances.

All the three became the first   ever Indians in their sports to rank so high in the Olympics and all of them were taking part in the Games for the first time. These sportspersons   made India proud in this Olympic Games by their sheer grit and determination. 

Sindhu’s remarkable   display in Badminton where  she defeated World No 2  Yihan Wang  of China ( 22-20-21-19)  and then   All  England champion and world number  6  Nozomi Okuhara ( 21-19,21-10)  on her way to the final and then her titanic  struggle against World Number 1  Carolina Marin   before going down  21-19,12-21,15-21   in the clash for Gold, will be remembered for a long time to come.

The 23-year old girl from Andhra Pradesh united the whole country as millions  of people  glued  to their TV   watched and prayed for her success.   “I am proud of India, I am proud of the Olympic Silver medal” said Sindhu after the match and that summed it all.

She became the first Indian woman to win  a Olympic Silver, though three others had  won it earlier-  shooters  Rajyawardhan Singh Rathore,Vijay Kumar and wrestler  Sushil Kumar.  Sindhu’s effort put India 57th on the medal tally table.

Before Sindhu, wrestler Sakshi  Malik captured the imagination of the  people back home as she won the first medal for her country at Rio and enabled India to figure in the Medal tally table.

Sakshi won a bronze in her category against all odds. She was trailing 0-5 with only two minutes to go but fought back with such ferocity that left her rival and Asian champion Aisuluu Tynybekova (Kyrgyzstan) stunned with disbelief.

Sakshi garnered 8 points to become the first Indian women wrestler to win a medal- a bronze for India at Rio. “Medal is for my country. I am proud to have won  the first medal  here for India” she said after her  medal winning bout at the Rio Olympics.

Dipa Karmarkar did not win a medal but she scripted  history in Indian gymnastics, as she finished  fourth in the vault in the individual apparatus final  

In a star- studded field the pint sized Dipa stood tall as she came after the three medal winners: Olympics' all-round individual champion Simone Biles of the USA (15.966), Maria Paseka of Russia (15.253), and Giulia Steinbruger of Switzerland (15.216)

It was no mean  achievement   Dipa and her coach Bishewshar Nandi  had refused to train abroad after the Tripura girl qualified for the Olympics  in this very  city saying “ She qualified  after training in India so what is the need of going abroad now” Others who missed the medal by a whisker included Beijing Games Gold medalist Abhinav Bindra. Bindra made it to the final of the 10 m Air Rifle but luck deserted him at a crucial moment and he was left with no medal.

However he made no excuses saying ”In sports somebody  has to finish fourth and it was my turn. I tried my best to win a medal for my country in my last Olympic appearance but it was not to be”  Another shooter Jitu Raj also performed splendidly but after raising hope for a medal in 50 m pistol event, he failed suddenly. The army man made a heart wrenching   comment after his failure saying “Aisa lagta hai ki maine desh ke sath Dokha kiya  hai” In athletics, Lalita Babar did well by making it to the final of the 300m Steeple Chase.:

The reason for a high expectation from the Indian contingent was not misplaced. The Government had provided the sports persons who had qualified for the games, all the facilities and infra structure. They were allowed to  go abroad for training and money was splurged on them.  

The qualification of 118 sports persons for the Games made it the largest ever Indian contingent for the Olympics. In London, India had sent 83 sportspersons to take part in the 13 disciplines and for the Rio Games, the number went up to 118 for 15 disciplines. India   took part in Athletics, Archery, Badminton, Boxing, Golf, Gymnastics, Hockey (men and Women), Judo, Rowing Shooting, Swimming, Table Tennis, Tennis, Weightlifting and Wrestling. 

This time  the numbers  got bloated   due to the inclusion of  Women’s hockey team (16) and astonishing number of athletes 36,(19 men and 17 women) making the cut. For London only 14  (8 men and 6 women) had qualified for the track and field event.

Also  Golf was included in the Games  and three Indians made the cut in this sport while  Dipa Karmarkar became the first  women gymnast to qualify. Before the Games  the assessment made by the sports ministry and Sports Authority of India (SAI) which  made huge investment  in the  preparations of the teams for the Olympics was that  the country is likely to win over 10 medals.

 In London Indian  medal tally was six –  two silver Vijay Kumar (Shooting) and Sushil  Kumar (Wrestling)   and four bronze medals. Saina Nehwal (Badminton)  Mary Kom (boxing),Gagan Narang (Shooting)  Yogeshwar Dutt (Wrestling) .However for the Rio, Games.  Vijay Kumar, Sushil and Mary Kom  failed to make the  qualify cut. India  had  finished 55th in the medal standing at the  2012 Olympics Games. The country was  placed 50th on the leader board in the Beijing Games medal tally with one gold and two bronze, could have  made the top-40 nations had it managed one yellow metal  in London

“Our projection of India getting in double digit medal tally  this  time is based on the assessment of the athletes who have qualified for the Games”  SAI Director General Injiti Srinivas  had said. Though he had added  “ What happens on that particular day is something none of us can predict, but we should achieve this target,”  

 “But, going by form, we are expecting a double digit figure performance. Anything below that will be disappointing,” As the Games  opened  all eyes were  on  the highly  expensive  12 -member shooting squad and it flopped miserably  failing to win  a single medal .

In 2004 at  the Athens Games  shooter (now Hon: Minister of State, Information & Broadcasting) Rajyawardhan Singh Rathore had won a silver, and Abhinav Bindra took the sport to a new high winning a Gold at Beijing in 2008.. At London  Vijay Kumar (Silver) and  Gagan Narang  had  won a silver and bronze respectively. Before the Games, President of National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) Raninder Singh had asserted   that  shooter  will  perform much better this time ” Since 2004 Athens Olympics, Shooters are doing well in Olympic. In last three Olympics, we have one gold, two silvers and a bronze. I think this time we will do much better. But soon after the flop show, Raninder Singh said “I own the responsibility for this show. I know people back home are deeply disappointed that shooters are returning medal less. “We will look into the performance of the shooters and also  our failure to win the medal.

Hockey   was another expensive team in this contingent and it also failed to live up to the expectations. After India finished runners up in the Champions Trophy   for the first time in London  prior to the  Games, supporters and fans hoped that P.R.Sreejesh led team will  have a  podium finish  after a gap  36 years but that was not to be. India started their men’s hockey campaign beating Ireland, but then went down to Germany, Holland, before beating ultimate winner Argentina, and then ended the league campaign with a draw with lowly Canada In the quarter finals, India lost to Belgium 1-3 and the dream of podium  finish was shattered.

 Head coach Roelant Oltmans   was ready with  an explanation .According  to him The energy level of Belgium was very high. We didn't bring in the quality that we brought in London (at the Champion s Trophy in June). For the boys there's was a lot of stress and pressure. Belgium took away the initiative and they deserved to win,"

"You have to see where we come from. We have the youngest team in the competition and for most of them this is their first kind of experience. You do need experience to win this level of game."When it comes to quarter finals, it's a do or die match and that's where we need to improve. We are happy that the team could reach the quarter finals, but the team we have had the potential of going higher. It's bad for us and I am disappointed."    He further added  "We played with full pressure, but full pressure, I always say, is a kind of bluff. There are always gaps. Later in the game, we tried to put full pressure and even took out the goalkeeper," "We tried to close the gaps and tried a number of attacks, but in the third quarter we hardly saw any attacks at all. That's where we have been lacking,” The Women’s hockey team which had qualified after 36 years finished last in   group B. It drew with Japan but lost the next four games on the trot to the USA, Australia, Britain and Argentina.

  The  qualifying of large number of  athletes especially at the fag end of the deadline  had surprised  experts. As many as 13 athletes booked  their berth in the men's and women's 4x400m relay, men's triple jump, men's 200m and men's 800m in just two days ( July 10 and 11) at the Sree Kanteerava stadium in Bengaluru. Barring Lalita Babar, who made it to the final and Manish Singh Rawat and Dutee Chand  who put up semblance of a good show, other performances did  not enhance the creditability  of the procedure of  qualification for the Olympics. It is not as  all these athletes were  expected to  put up a medal winning performance but  that  most of them even  failed to  match up to their own qualifying  record  leave alone improving them. Rawat finished a creditable 13th in the men's 20km walk with a timing of 1: 21.21, ahead of Olympic record holder Ding Chen, while Dutee finished  seventh in her heat and 50th overall in the women's 100m qualifying event. Gurmeet Singh and Krishnan Ganapathi, were disqualified following three warnings. The much hyped  discus thrower Vikas Gowda was a big let down   as he failed to even cross the 60m barrier. His best throw was 58.99 metres achieved on his second attempt, much below his personal best

Vikas  in his fourth straight Olympic appearance,  managed  a best throw of 58.99m to finish 28th overall out of 34 competitors. He finished 16th in a field of 18 in the Group B qualification round. Gowda, who holds the national record of 66.28m, began with a 57.59m throw and improved by more than a metre for a 58.99m second throw before producing a 58.70m in his third and final attempt. "My performance was not very good today. It's frustrating. I've just had a lot of bad luck this year and a lot of injuries. I was not able to train until three or four weeks ago. Obviously, there was not enough time to prepare," Gowda said, "I tore both quad-tendons of my knees. I had to take a break from training so did not get enough time."

 Women shot-putter Manpreet Kaur, who holds the national record of 17.96m, finished 23rd among 35 competitors with a best throw of 17.06m.  She  came 13th in the Group B qualifying round. In the men's 800m race, Jinson Johnson failed to qualify for the semifinals after finishing fifth in his heat  clocking  1:47.27secs. During the race, Johnson was hit on his legs by a fellow runner at the first bend and he struggled for a while before recovering and finished 25th out of 50 competitors. 

Johnson had clocked 1:45.98, the second fastest by an Indian after the legendary Sriram Singh, during the Indian Grand Prix in Bangalore last month. In the first round of the men's 400m event, Md Anas timed  45.95s to finish sixth in his heat and 31st overall,  The top 3 performers in each heat, followed by the next three best performers advanced to the next round. In 800 Mts, Tintu Luka was no better she finished 29th over all. In the long jump qualifiers, Ankit Sharma started off with two fouls. He followed it up by a score of 7.67 in his third and final attempt to finish 24th overall. In tennis  Paes and Bopanna   in men’s and Sania Mirza and Prathrthana Thombare in women’s doubles made first round exit. While in mixed doubles Sania and Bopanna  crashed out in semi finals.

Four Table Tennis players, two weightlifters, two swimmers   and a judoka.  lived  up to their reputation  as they came and exited from their respective Olympic competition without creating any ripples.In rowing, Dattu  Baban  Bhokanal   performed well within his limits. In Archery  the women team did well  to reach  quarter finals but  lost to Russia in the shootout. In the  individual  events they  failed.

In boxing,  Shiva Thapa (54 kg) lost in  his first round, Manoj Kumar (64 kg) in second round and Vikas Krishan (75 kg) in  third round.

Golfers  SSP Chawrasia and Anirban Lahiri  failed to make any impact on the depleted  field. However India suffered a big blow two days before the close of the game when the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) slapped a four- year ban  on wrestler  Narsingh Yadav. The CAS upheld the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) appeal, which had questioned the clearance, and    slapped  a four-year suspension on Narsingh  Yadav. The CAS further ruled that "all competitive results obtained by Narsingh from and including 25 June 2016 shall be disqualified, with all resulting consequences (including forfeiture of medals, points and prizes)."


(The author is a senior sports journalist based in New Delhi)