London: For the itinerant sports writer, covering the Olympics would be the culmination of a dream, but in some ways also living a nightmare.
Being at the ‘greatest show on earth’ is obviously one of life’s great blessings and privileges, but unless you have as many legs as a centipede, the stamina of Hercules and the mental band-width of a few geniuses meshed together, you could be in for a tough time.
The multi-discipline event demands from journalists knowledge that is both deep and broad; or at least the ability to source this knowledge in good time. If you are tech-palsy and can’t handle the tools and short-cuts for a quick track down of info, you could be spending the fortnight living in oblivion.
A huge city like London hosting by foot, bus and train. The Olympic Park is a mammoth complex and getting to the venues in takes long waits at the media bus station (unless you know the timings pat), followed by what seems like going around in circles.
The problems are compounded if you are living in East London, having unthinkingly chosen to stay close to the main stadium but are also following sports like badminton (Wembley Park, deep West-North London) and tennis (Wimbledon, deep South-West).
Your day’s travel routine could then daunt even Marco Polo, every journey from of these points to another taking at least 70-80 minutes by underground, not to mention climbing several steps to the top, or top down as the case may be, if the elevators have decided to protest. And finally a walk from tube station to stadium, which could be anything between 500-1500m away.
That achieved, it is still no guarantee of the travails having ended. Before entering the venue, you have to go through several layers of security – all smiling and unoffensive – then the volunteers – smiling even broader and full of bonhomie.
But make no mistake. They are fastidious in the extreme – not just in checking your credentials, but also sending you through what seems like maze before you enter the main arena with deeply entrenched existential problems.
Impressing the security/volunteers in why short cuts need not be dangerous, rather would cut down on waste of time and effort may seem like a laudable task, but may be futile: Even Prime Minister David Cameron was stopped by a volunteer till his credentials were completely established, so what chance anybody else?
But beyond the travails lie the rewards. Gagan Narang winning a medal for India is a memory that will stay for life. As indeed, Michael Phelps being beaten to silver in the 200m butterfly by South African Chad Le Clos.
Seeing Saina Nehwal, strong in body language and stronger on court, is something that can pump up the adrenalin in an Indian supporter; as also Vijender Singh unleashing a flurry of blows to move ahead in boxing. These are only a few of hundreds of such examples.
What the Olympics entails therefore, is for any scribe to be strong, patient, resourceful, knowledgeable – and a stickler for time. Even a small delay can throw the best laid-out plans out of whack.
For instance, On Tuesday I got delayed in leaving the Main Press Centre for Wimbledon where the Indian doubles pair was to be in action. It had been a fairly good day for the Indian contingent with the badminton stars P. Kashyap, Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponappa, and boxer Devendrao Singh more than making up for the disappointment of the archers.
A win for Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna would complete a rewarding day.
By the time I reached Southfields station a short distance from Wimbledon, however, word was out: Bhupathi-Bopanna had been knocked out by their French opponents. I turned back from the station itself, hugely disappointed.
The nightmare, this day, was all Bhupathi and Bopanna’s.
Shuttler P Kashyap’s fine 21-9, 21-14 win over the higher-ranked Vietnamese Nguyen Minh provided early cheer for the Indian contingent.
London woke up to an overcast morning, a spatter of rain and chill in the air, but inside the badminton hall at Wembley Park, it was comfortably warm — and made even more pleasant by Kashyap’s splendid showing.
There were not too many who gave him much chance of beating Nguyen Minh — one dare say, not even in the Indian squad. But one of the great joys of sport is in upsets; of athletes performing above themselves to beat a stronger opponent. The David versus Goliath story never ceases to amaze or delight.
Kashyap played aggressively, not allowing his opponent to find his rhythm and control the game. He was quick on his feet — and to go for the kill. This left Nguyen Minh flustered, frustrated and finally beaten.
The badminton squad has been impressive, despite the struggles of the doubles pairs. Getting on to the podium, of course, is the truest test of excellence as Gagan Narang showed yesterday. Hopefully there will be some more from this discipline.
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The travails of the archers continue meanwhile. As I write this, Jayanta Talukdar, seeded 19th here, has lost to American Wukie Jacob who is ranked 30 places lower when the individual events got underway at Lord’s.
This was disappointing stuff from Talukdar who was touted as a medal hope. Indeed, none of the archers — women or men — has lived up to potential as yet. They had come here on the back of some fine performances and were expected to be the best performing unit, but have flopped as yet.
The strong cross wind which has blown across Lord’s (the great ally of swing bowlers when cricket is being played here) appears to have stymied the Indian archers.
But such argument is specious when you consider that the same conditions have prevailed for archers from other countries. Frankly, there appears to have been some lack of forethought.
Conditions in England were hardly going to be like those obtained elsewhere that the Indian archers have competed in recent years. But these were not so difficult to ascertain and then simulate them for training.
Olympic medals don’t come easily; and not necessarily on talent alone. Detailed planning and regimentation are necessary prerequisites.
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The press conference after yesterday’s 10m air rifle event was engaging and fun. Medal winners George Alin Moldoveanu, Noccolo Campriani and Gagan Narang were bitter rivals in the range, but outside of it appeared to be good friends, praising each other profusely but not averse to taking a dig or two too.
Grim and humourless as they might appear with gun in hand, they showed a sense of humour. I particularly like Moldoveanu’s response to a query by a journalist.
“You are a graduate in psychology, how much has that helped you in winning this medal?’’ went the question.
“Not too much,’’ replied the Romanian. “Psychology is a great subject and helps you understand life, but if you can’t take aim, you don’t win a medal.’’