Sonia, Rahul call on team as tricolour is hoisted in Village

August 7th, 2008 - 9:38 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Sonia Gandhi
By V. Krishnaswamy
Beijing, Aug 7 (IANS) The lensmen seemed to be waiting for this particular moment. Leander Paes, seated in the first row, turned to exchange some words with Rajyavardhan Rathore, sitting right behind him. Wonder what they said, but it surely made for a great picture as the two happen to be the only Olympic medallists in the Indian contingent competing at the Beijing Olympics.

Rathore won the silver medal in Double Trap at the 2004 Games, while Paes was a bronze medallist in tennis at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996.

The two were among the Indian athletes who had gathered at the Flag hoisting ceremony of the Indian tricolour at the Village. Almost all athletes, including women’s tennis star Sania Mirza, tennis doubles specialist Mahesh Bhupathi, Melbourne Commonwealth Games’ star shooter Samaresh Jung, world trap shooting champion Manavjit Singh and the rest of the 56-member contingent were present at the small but smart ceremony.

K. Murugan, chef-de-mission of the Indian contingent, presented a memento to the Mayor of the Olympic Village Chen Zhili.

The flag-hoisting ceremony is one of the Olympic traditions and Thursday saw five teams, including India, unfurl their national flags at the Village.

After the ceremony, United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi arrived at the Village to greet the Indian contingent. Accompanied by Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi, she wished the team all the best. They spent about 15-20 minutes with the team and spoke to various athletes and encouraged them.

Rathore, silver medallist at the Athens Olympics in double trap, who will carry the Indian flag at Friday’s opening ceremony, called it a “great honour”. “It is a great honour, and I am very happy about it. But I was also ready if it had gone to someone else,” said the trap shooter who has been focusing intensely on the Olympic challenge for the past few months.

“You carry the flag for your house in school and then the school and to do that for your country at an Olympics is indeed a great honour.”

On his event, Rathore said: “I have worked very hard and regardless of the medal, I know I would have done my best and that is what is most important for me. The world’s best shooters are here and anything can happen on that day.”

Talking about pressure, he said, “There is always the pressure of competing at such a big games and I am ready for it. I take each competition separately. This is another competition and I know I will do my best.”

Paes, competing at his fifth Olympic Games, was his usual ebullient self.

“This is a great dream, five Olympic Games. I had set myself a target of four, but five is even better. My Dad (Vece Paes, a bronze medallist in hockey from 1968 Olympics) arrived today and to be an Olympian like him was my childhood dream and now being with him at an Olympics is always a bonus,” he said.

On the team and Village and the experience, he added: “I have always believed in team spirit. I have prepared very hard for this Games and I want to badly win again. I know the best players in the world are here and no match is easy, but still we will give it our best.”

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