COLUMN: JUST SPORT
By Veturi Srivatsa
It is back to the golden days when everything was forgotten if India’s hockey team did well at major multi-discipline events. The majority of the present generation were not born when 48 years ago India beat Pakistan last. It was when Railwayman Balbir Singh Jr became a celebrity overnight with his extra time match-winner.
Now it took 16 years for India to win the Games hockey gold again. Coincidentally, the man in charge of that 1998 team Maharaj Krishan Kaushik is back in the support staff led by Australian coach Terry Walsh.
After hockey victory, there were tense moments on the kabaddi courts as India’s men and women teams just about managed to cling on to their gold medals. The two teams are yet to be beaten in the Games, but they will not take the gold for granted any longer what with more fitter and agile Iranians and Koreans posing a serious threat. The leagues of various denominations will pull in more countries to India to play the sport to make it global.
After the first week, there were grave doubts whether India would cross the 50-medal mark, leave alone the 65 medals they won at Guangzhou four years ago or the 70 plus predicted by the Sports Authority of India (SAI) experts. The chef-de-mission of the contingent now says the IOA would take what they got as the figure was on expected lines.
The history shows that Indians have an even distribution over the two weeks and they have invariably done well in the second half. After only 17 medals to show in the first week, India did well to get 40 in the second to finish eight in the medals standings, two rungs below their Guangzhou’s sixth-place finishing four years ago.
Of the four above India, only Kazhakstan with 87 have more medals overall with a gold tally of 28. Iran tied with India with 57 medals but they have 21 gold as against India’s 11. North Korea pipped India to the seventh position by getting one more silver than India’s 10 though they also have 11 gold in a tally of 36 while Thailand in sixth position have ten medals less than India’s tally but then they have 12 gold.
Where India missed out sure medals are in cue sports and chess which were dropped from the Incheon Games. At Guangzhou they fetches four and two medals and then the other dropped sport roller skating brought in two medals four years ago. Then the individual tennis gold and the doubles gold Somdev Devvarman won as he excused himself from the Games for reasons not far to seek. He was overlooked for Rajiv Khel Ratna more than once. Of course, Saina who changed her mind to play at Incheon skipping a WTA tour event, somewhat compensated by winning the mixed doubles gold with Saketh Myneni.
Archery improved with the team gold to make it four as against three last time. Wrestling, too, showed some improvement getting a gold after three decades, courtesy Yogeshwar Dutt, and logging in a silver and two bronze as compared three bronze four years ago.
Though much more was expected from shooters, they just about managed to get one more than the eight they got at Guangzhou, including Jitu Rai’s gold.
Squash gold and silver are easily the best showing in a sport in which the Indians are steadily improving, though Saurav Ghosal let the individual gold slip out of his pocket.
Badminton has only a women’s team bronze to show, they could have added a couple more bronze at least while rowing dropped one gold and three silver they got at Guangzhou and had to settle for three bronze.
But M.C..Mary Kom’s gold and the women’s 4x400m relay team’s winning the title for the fourth consecutive time made up for other losses.
The Incheon Games could have done without the theatrics of boxer Sarita Devi, but then she is not to be blamed entirely for it. If as many as five National Olympic Committees have complaint about the refereeing, there has to be something drastically wrong with the management.
To get back to the medal that mattered most to the Indians — hockey gold. Somehow this time the hockey buffs seemed to have expected the team to win it. Their confidence, perhaps, stemmed from the fact that the Pakistanis have not had any international exposure for nearly a year and also the falling graph of the Koreans.
The best offshoot of the victory is India need not worry about the qualification for the Rio Olympics and they now have two clear years to prepare for the Games.
See the difference. While the Indians are mostly training at home the European teams keep playing their neighbours, over weekends to stay highly competitive. Look at the way Belgium have come along.
Belgium, who were struggling to get into the top 10 in the world rankings five years ago, are now in the big league, having moved up to fourth place behind Australia, the Netherlands and Germany.
Walsh looks at big picture and he attaches more importance to India performing well at the World Cup and the Olympics than at the Asian Games.
Hockey India and the government of India should leave it to experts to decide the roadmap for training and competition at least for a three-year period, the least a coach should get to prove his mettle.
Walsh talks of a pool of some 30 players to get the team competitive for Rio and he knows how difficult it is for the team to play three back-to-back international tournaments.
*Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at [email protected])