Guwahati/Shillong: For the 12th successive time, none could match up to India's regional might but the host country's record-breaking medal haul of 308 can hardly hide the fact that the standard of competition in the South Asian Games has failed to rise significantly.
This was the best performance by any country in the Games' 32-year history but what is worrying for the relevance of the event is that it has been reduced to an Indian show of dominance for most part.
This time too, the Indian athletes ran away with 188 gold, 90 silver and 30 bronze medals. The host country bagged more than three-fourth of the total 239 gold on offer in the 5-16 February showpiece.
Sri Lanka were a distant second with 25 gold, 63 silver and 98 bronze while Pakistan finished at third with 12 gold, 37 silver and 57 bronze.
The only edition in which India's domination was near comparable was the 1995 Games in then Madras where India won 106 gold -- just less than three-fourth -- out of 143.
India has always finished on top in all the 1 editions of the SAG so far but the domination this time was unprecedented with clean or near clean sweep in boxing, archery, tennis, badminton, table tennis, shooting, athletics, wrestling, swimming, weightlifting, cycling, judo and wushu.
The Indians also bagged both the men's and women's gold in traditional sports of kabaddi and kho-kho, and in handball and volleyball, besides picking all the three gold on offer in triathlon.
Taekwondo was the only discipline in which India had to settle for the runners-up place behind Afghanistan. The Indians bagged five gold, three silver and two bronze medals, while Afghans had a tally of 6-1-1 in taekwondo.
The biggest disappointment for India was their failure to win a men's hockey gold since the 1995 edition as they lost yet again to arch-rivals Pakistan in the summit clash. Pakistan thus claimed their third gold on the trot having won in 2006 and 2010 editions, beating India on both the previous occasions as well.
The women's hockey team, however, easily claimed the gold by mauling their opposition teams.
Indian men's football team also failed to win the gold, losing to Nepal in the final in front of a football-crazy crowd of Guwahati. The women's team though won the gold in the final international match of star Manipuri player and captain Oinam Bembem Devi who hung her boots after an illustrious career spanning two decades.
India's total domination was despite the country fielding second string teams in major and multiple medal offering disciplines like athletics, wrestling and weightlifting. There were, however, near full strength teams in top disciplines of shooting, badminton, boxing and archery.
The 12th SAG, co-hosted by Guwahati and Shillong, were largely successful in the field of play with several Games records broken though hit by organisational issues, especially with respect to media facilities.
The 12th edition of the Games, the biggest sporting spectacle in this Northeastern part of India, were the biggest ever with more than 2500 athletes competing in 23 sports.
The blue-riband event of athletics gave the maximum number of gold medals to the India's overall medals kitty by contributing a whopping 28 yellow metals while shooting, swimming, wrestling and weightlifting gave 26, 18, 14 and 13 gold medals respectively.
Indians got a clean sweep in boxing, badminton, tennis, archery and table tennis by bagging all the gold medals on offer respectively.
In athletics, the icing on the cake was veteran long distance runner Kavita Raut clinching gold in women's marathon and qualifying for Olympics in the process. Raut is the only athlete to have booked a Rio Games berth from the Games.
India's track and field athletes put up an overwhelmingly dominating show despite the absence of several Olympics bound athletes. Manpreet Kaur (women's shot put), Nitender Singh Rawat and Kheta Ram (both men's marathon) were the Rio Games qualified athletes from India while another Olympics-bound shot putter Inderjeet Singh pulled out at the last minute due to injury.
As expected Manpreet won the gold and missed her own national record of 17.96m by just two centimetres. Rawat also won a gold while Kheta Ram settled for a silver in men's marathon.
But, it was Raut who stole the limelight by coming out of near oblivion to book a Rio Olympics berth by winning the gold in women's marathon.
Shooting was one discipline in which India sent a strong team with as many as six Rio Olympics bound athletes and the host country simply annihilated opposition by claiming all but one gold medal to fetch a haul of 26 yellow metals.
26-year-old Rio Olympics bound Chain Singh emerged as the star marksmen of the Games as he picked up three individual gold. He won in men's 50m rifles 3 positions, 50m rifle prone and 10m air rifle. In fact, he won six gold given that he was also a part of the three team events he took part in.
Star shooter Gagan Narang, who won a bronze in the London Olympics in 10m air rifle, took part in all the three rifle events but failed to pick up any gold. He won a silver in the 50m rifle prone and a bronze in 10m air rifle before settling for a silver in 50m rifle 3 positions.
Other Rio Games bound shooters Gurpreet Singh (men's individual 25m rapid fire pistol) and Apurvi Chandela (women's 10m air rifle) won their respective events. Heena Sidhu, another Olympic quota holder, performed below par to bag a silver in women's 10m air pistol event.
Prakash Nanjappa (men's 50m pistol) finished fourth as he took part despite taking antibiotics due to an eye problem.
In boxing, 2012 London Olympics MC Mary Kom led a perfect 10 for India in the ring in the discipline conducted by the AIBA-appointed ad hoc committee with the national body derecognised.
Even as the seating capacity was limited to just about 500 at the SAI Complex in North Eastern Hill University Campus in Shillong, there was huge excitement with crowd pullers in Mary Kom (51kg), L Sarita Devi (60kg) and Shiva Thapa (56kg) among others winning gold.
In archery as well, the Indians clinched all the 10 gold medals on offer with another four silvers in their incredible effort.
The Indians bagged all the five gold medals up for grabs in recurve section while they fetched another five yellow metals introduced for the first time.
Making a comeback after the 2014 Asian Games, Tarundeep Rai retained his Games individual title to finish with a hat-trick of gold along with Deepika Kumari as the duo also won the mixed pair and their respective team events.
The host country also made a clean sweep of gold medals in badminton despite the absence of star shuttler and Olympic bronze-medallist Saina Nehwal and Parupalli Kashyap who pulled out at last minute.
Rising star Ruthvika Shivani created the biggest upset by stunning P V Sindhu in straight sets to win the women's singles gold as India bagged seven gold and five silver.
In wrestling, the home team grapplers simply annihilated their opponents as they scooped 14 gold medals out of a total of 16 on offer.
Despite being represented by a second string team, the Indian wrestlers proved too strong for their South Asian neighbours as they won a whopping 14 gold and two silver.
India won gold in all the eight women's categories while their men counterparts won six gold and two silver. Pakistan won two gold.
It was the same story of Indian dominance in weightlifting also as a second string team bagged all but two gold on offer in an overwhelming display of domination.
India's male weightlifters bagged six gold and one silver out of eight events while their women counterparts won six gold out of seven on offer.
In tennis too, the Indians made a memorable clean sweep by bagging all the five gold and silver on offer. All the five finals -- men's and women's singles, men's and women's doubles and mixed doubles -- were all-Indian affairs.
Ramkumar Ramanathan beat compatriot Saketh Myneni 7-5 6-3 in the men's singles finals to clinch gold while Ankita Rana won the gold in women's singles by easily defeating Prerna Bhambri 6-1 6-0 in the final.
Table tennis was another event in which India made a clean sweep by clinching all the seven gold medals on offer besides bagging five silver.
Reigning national champions Anthony Amalraj and Manika Batra clinched a hat-trick of gold medals each.
Manika was bidding for her fourth gold but five-time former national champion Mouma Das denied her that by winning a marathon seven-setter in women's singles final.
The men's and women's teams also achieved an invincible feat of winning 12th successive gold medals from as many editions of the Games.
In judo, the Indians bagged nine gold and three silver in a show of overwhelming superiority while the Wushu players gave the country 8 gold, 1 silver and 2 bronze in another display of complete domination.
In squash, a full strength Indian team won three gold and two bronze medals. Star player Joshna Chinappa won her individual women's singles gold but Sourav Ghosal disappointed by failing to reach the finals.
The Indian team bagged gold in both the men's and women's team events.
First Published On : Feb 17, 2016 15:09 IST