The met office here is not all bad, though it was off the mark in predicting rain during the opening ceremony.
Sunday afternoon, rain was forecast, especially in South London, which kind of put me in a dither: should one got to Wembley to watch Saina Nehwal take on a weak Swiss opponent, or got to Wimbledon where Leander-Vishnu and Bhupathi-Bopanna were to begin their campaign in tennis doubles?
The law of averages suggested that the met office can’t be wrong so often, so it was off to Wembley; and just as well. Rained held up play till evening at Wimbledon (it hadn’t started at the time of writing this), and Saina’s brilliant early form provided the first real good cheer of this Olympics.
Saina’s demolition of the Swiss Jaquet was immaculate and intimidating. She hardly put a foot wrong as she set up a scorching pace which her lower-ranked opponent could hardly match. The scoreline of 21-19, 21-4 tells its own story.
This victory offset the defeat of Jwala Gutta and V Diju in the mixed doubles. There was a moment of drama when Gutta raised some kind of objection to an opponent hitting the shuttle twice, but really, the Indian pair did not quite make the cut here.
What is it about Saina that is so reassuring apart from her undoubted skills? It has to be her resolute commitment, evident in her expression and her words. She was pithy, and to the point.
“This is just the start, the tough battles are yet to come,” she said. Coach Pullela Gopichand said pretty much the same thing in a different way. “This was a good win, but better-ranked opponents are ahead.”
Between the two, they form a team which looks far more settled and focused than any other in the Indian squad.
****** ****** *****
One of the things which never ceases to amaze me about badminton is how a player can concentrate on court, with so much action happening alongside, and the spectators allowed to be raucous.
In the hall here, as in all international events, three matches were taking place simultaneously, making the proceedings seem like some cacophonous opera was in performance.
Players have their own sounds and shrieks, coaches shout their exhortations from the sidelines, and the spectators are cheering some player, unmindful of the distraction it might cause the others in the hall.
At most times, all this makes it a melee of sounds and stroke which must make concentration difficult. But as a player said, “once you are on court, you have to shut your mind and ears off anything else.’’
I can think of another sport where players would raise Cain at the slightest hint of movement in the stands.
Reckon different strokes for different folks.
****** ****** *****
The mysterious Lady in Red who walked alongside flag-bearer Sushil Kumar at the opening ceremony has been identified by deccanchronicle.com as Madhura Honey, a post-graduate from Bengaluru. Suspense about how she got on to the track, however, is still a matter of suspense.
Madhura was reportedly a volunteer who was supposed to accompany the squad up to the point where the athletes enter the main stadium. However, she hoodwinked everybody to enter the main arena.
She trooped in with the unsuspecting athletes, cleverly choosing to be right at the front where she could be mistaken for somebody who was designated to be with the flag-bearer, rather than at the rear where no volunteer was needed. The visible difference between Madhura and the women athletes was that she was in a red dress, the rest in a yellow saree.
Not only did Madhura participate in the march past, but stayed the duration of the remaining part of the ceremony which included many acts, climaxing with Paul Macartney’s rendition of ‘Hey Jude’, leaving the ground with the Indian athletes, though this time not in the vanguard.
Ironically, earlier in the day Chef de Mission Brigadier A Raja, had told the media that non-athletes (including officials and support staff) were restricted to one per discipline, which meant that several from the Indian contingent were not allowed in the march past.
But Raja’s miff was justifiably at the blatant breach of security. It is extraordinary how Madhura could have got away with her diabolical plan in such a highly sanitized event.
But then again, is there a limit to what, as Andy Warhol put it, people will do for their 15 seconds of fame?
Meanwhile, word is awaited from the organizing committee on the massive faux pas. Is there a twist in the tale one wonders.
****** ****** ******
Met Nicole Kidman at the Omega House in Soho Square last night. Okay, let’s just say ran into her, and slipped in a quick hello in the cracks between the huge bouncers protecting her.
The official time-keepers of the Olympic Games had a house-warming party where London’s Page 3 crowd was in attendance and Nicole, who is brand ambassador for Omega, was the main draw.
She came in suitably late, apparently found that her stilettos made her walk unsteadily in the garden at the backside, went back into the main room and emerged a while later her gait more measured and confident, did a round of the guests and went back into the main room – or may be to another party.
The party was much like any Page 3 do you would see in Mumbai or Delhi: loads of air-kissing and back-slapping bonhomie, except that the celebs here seem to number far more than in Indian cities.
It’s a question of scale really. As a wag mentioned, while Mumbai or Delhi has 80-90 people who are P 3 regulars, London has perhaps 500. I looked around for other identifiable faces like Jemima Goldsmith who was supposed to be there, but flopped, till a dapper-looking man with a mop of white hair came into view.
Greg Norman, the Great White Shark and one of the golden men of golf, made a belated entry with a 20-something lady wrapped around him. I asked one among the organisers about the young lady and got a shrug and eyebrows raised quizzically in response.
Mystery women everywhere!
****** ****** *****
After a disappointing first day, the Indian squad is looking for some cheer on an action-packed second. The women’s archery team is at Lord’s this morning for the eliminations, Saina Nehwal makes her debut, in the badminton singles, Jwala Gutta and V Diju in mixed doubles.
In the afternoon, action shifts to Wimbledon where wild card Somdev Dev Burman plays his singles followed by the men’s doubles pairs of Bhupathi-Bopanna and Paes-Vishnu. Elsewhere, shooters Heena Siddhu and Anuraj Singh, enter the fray and boxer Jai Bhagwan will be looking to emulate Vijender Singh by winning his first bout.
And no, Madhura Honey is not going to be anywhere on the scene.