Watershed year for Indian sports (Yearender-10)

December 26th, 2008 - 2:45 pm ICT by IANS  

Abhinav BindraNew Delhi, Dec 26 (IANS) India’s performance at the Beijing Olympics should inspire all those connected with Indian sport. Shooter Abhinav Bindra, boxer Vijender Singh and wrester Sushil Kumar exemplified what self-belief can do to sport in India. They all and a few other boxers and shuttler Saina Nehwal, who even if they have not been able to win medals, made the country proud.Bindra’s shooting gold and the bronze each that Vijender Singh and Sushil Kumar claimed triggered celebrations across the country. If a poised Bindra became India’s new youth icon, then Vijender and Sushil gave hope to millions like them who nurture the dream of making it big.

Young Saina reached the quarter-final in her debut Olympics, the first Indian woman to do so. Boxers Akhil Kumar and Jitender might have missed a medal by a whisker but their gutsy performance gave the sport a big boost to bloom in rural India. Most of the Olympic boxers hail from the nondescript Haryana town of Bhiwani.

The Beijing Olympics will also be remembered for some of the stars failing to live up to promise. The 2004 Athens Olympic silver medallist, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, could not qualify for the finals of the men’s double trap event.

For tennis star Sania Mirza, it was a forgettable year. Her debut Olympics ended in heartbreak. Dogged by a chronic wrist injury, she dropped out of top-100 rankings after beginning the year among the top 30 on the WTA Tour. Much was expected of veterans Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi who kept aside their differences to play for the country for one last time. But they could not move beyond quarter-final as a resolute Roger Federer and Stanislas Warwinka stopped them.

The failures apart, Beijing Olympics was a watershed year for the Indian sports as it saw many disciplines coming out of the shadow of cricket and finding a place in the sun. And this despite the fact that the hockey team could not qualify for the Olympics for the first time in 80 years and the lone women weightlifter from India, Monika Devi, failed the dope test.

The national sport hockey touched its nadir this year. When the nation was still reeling from the hockey team’s Olympic failure, a sting operation exposed corruption in the selection procedure. As a result, the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) led by K.P.S. Gill was superseded and was replaced by an ad-hoc committee.

And just when things seemed to be looking up, Ric Charlesworth, the technical director appointed by the International Hockey Federation to assist Indian hockey, quit saying he could not function in the bureaucratic jungle where planning as well as execution was tardy.

The Indian colts though gave us reason to cheer, winning the junior Asia Cup hockey and beating Argentina in their backyard in a Test series.

The year turned out to be a landmark year for golf and badminton.

Veteran Jeev Milkha Singh once again showed that he could hold his own in world golf by winning four titles and achieving the career-best ranking of 36.

It all began with Shiv Shankar Prasad Chowrasia creating history by winning the first ever European Tour event in India, the $2.5 million Indian Masters at the Delhi Golf Club in February.

Jeev ended his 18-month drought with the Bank Austria title and then went on to triumph at the Singapore Open. He also won two tournaments on the Japan Tour. He registered his best performance in Majors after he tied ninth at the PGA Championships, the best by an Indian.

His win in Singapore took him to the top of the Asian Order of Merit. Jeev finished top-10 at the PGA Championships and registered three wins on three different Tours this season.

Young badminton star Saina challenged the Chinese and Indonesian domination in badminton. Carrying on her stellar performance in Olympics, Saina won the Chinese Taipei Grand Prix and followed it with top performances in other tournaments, which saw her break into the top-10 this month to become the second Indian woman after Ami M. Ghia to achieve the feat. She went on to make the semi-finals in the season-ending World Super Series Masters final.

Chetan Anand cracked into the top-15 in the men’s rankings with four title wins, including Bitburger Open and Czech International Open.

Tennis, too, fared decently. India entered the play-offs of the Davis Cup World Group for the first time in three years and a young talent in Somdev Devvarman came to the fore. Devvarman first created history by winning the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) for the second successive year and then with consistent play took rapid strides in the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) rankings to dislodge Prakash Amritraj as the top-ranked Indian.

But tennis had its share of controversies, too, when Davis Cup players led by Mahesh Bhupathi revolted against Leander Paes’ captaincy, forcing him to step down ahead of the World Group play-off tie against Romania that India lost 3-1.

Indian football was also on a high as the country qualified for the 2011 Asia Cup for the first time in 24 years after winning the AFC Challenge Cup.

It was a sensational year for cueist Pankaj Advani, who in April became the only person to win the Asian Billiards Championship twice. He then went on to become the first Indian to win the Australian Open Billiards Championship in Melbourne before winning the coveted IBSF World Billiards Championship in Bangalore in September.

Chess, too, prided itself in the eventful calendar year when Viswanathan Anand beat Vladimir Kramnik in Bonn to become the World Champion. The Indian Grandmaster thus became the first player to win the official world title in three different formats - knockout, round-robin and matchplay.

Gagan Narang put behind the Olympic disappointment with a gold medal in the 10m air rifle event at the World Cup in November. Ronjan Sodhi won the gold in the double trap event at the World Cup in Belgrade, equalling two world records.

The petite woman boxer MC Mary Kom won her fourth consecutive World Championship title in November and Akhil, Jitender Dinesh Kumar and Anthresh Lakra continued to make the country proud, with all four bagging a bronze each in World Cup boxing last week.

If the performance this year is anything to go by, then it certainly gives a fillip to India’s hopes at the 2010 Commonwealth Games.

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