Low-profile stars cover up for high-profile failures (India’s Olympics Review)

August 23rd, 2008 - 7:47 pm ICT by IANS  

Beijing, Aug 23 (IANS) There will be understandable celebration back home when the last batch of Indian athletes returns home. An unprecedented three medals represents a quantum leap from the last four Games. The last had one, the three before it none.Of the three medallists gold winner Abhinav Bindra is high-profile alright, but the other two - wrestler Sushil Kumar and boxer Vijender Singh - are two names that would hardly have figured on many lips before the Olympics began.

Apart from medallists Sushil and Vijender, the others to stand out were boxers Akhil Kumar and Jitender Kumar, who reached the quarter finals and Saina Nehwal, who stunned World No. 4 en route to the last eight, where she led in the decider before going down to Indonesian Marie Yulianti.

Gagan Narang was unlucky to miss out on the men’s 10m Air Rifle finals.

And yet it was they who shone, as the big names fell by the wayside. Be it the warring Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes who called it truce for the Olympics or the glamorous Sania Mirza, who came with an injury.

Then there was long jumper Anju Bobby George who failed to record a single legal jump and the shooters led by Athens silver medallist Rajyavardhan Rathore, World Trap Champion Manavjit Singh and Anjali Bhagwat and the Commonwealth Games superstar Samaresh Jung.

Shooting may have provided the gold, but it also brought a lot of agony. Prior to the Games, it was supposed to provide a bunch of finalists. Nine shooters competed in 14 events but only one entered the final, Abhinav, and he brought the gold. In Athens, India had three finalists and one medallist.

Gagan Narang may have been unlucky in missing out on a berth in the final of the 10m Air Rifle and Mansher Singh for sometime revived the old magic, but elsewhere it was a tale of sub-par performances.

What hurt the fans most was the caving in of big names in shooting. Avneet Sidhu and Sanjeev Rajput also failed miserably.

None of them really even came close to their best and had a chance of even sniffing a place in the final.

Yet others not only made up for the shooters’ failures but also made sure that it becomes India’s most memorable Games. True, the Indian hockey team was not here in Beijing, and it caused a lot of consternation. But hockey last returned with a medal at the truncated Olympics in 1980.

The three disciplines - shooting, boxing and wrestling - that provided India the medals represent the very areas where India needs to focus for they could provide even more in the future. Boxing, for one, could become a big sport for India in the next few years.

The other big disappointment of the Games was the 16-member athletics contingent. There was not a ripple from them. Not one of them came close to their best, or even what they achieved to earn a berth to the Games.

The other disciplines to be frank made up the numbers. The officialdom may call it exposure for the Indian athletes, but when swimmers finish close to the bottom or the rowers and sailors make little impression, it does raise a question of whether there is any need to send athletes to competitions where they find themselves out of their depth.

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