Commonwealth Games 2018: India should celebrate their victors but must be ready to conquer new frontiers

Some snapshots are forever. Especially when they spread positivity around India’s millions. Take, for instance, a freeze frame of badminton star Saina Nehwal arms aloft after her victory over PV Sindhu. You can almost hear her scream with relief and delight. Or, for that matter, the picture of 16-year-old Manu Bhaker breaking into an impish smile after winning the women’s 10m air pistol.

More than 24 hours after the curtain came down on one of India’s most memorable campaigns in an overseas edition of the Commonwealth Games, the mind’s eye continues to play moving images of the star of India’s table tennis campaign, Manika Batra, train her eyes on the Tricolour, pride bursting forth as she sings the National Anthem.

Wrestler Vinesh Phogat’s effortless cruise, veteran boxer MC Mary Kom’s wide grin at being named winner of the final, Neeraj Chopra making little fuss upon winning javelin throw gold but greeting each of his competitors and rapid fire pistol prodigy Anish Bhanwala, India’s youngest gold medallist, calmly shooting 5/5 to confirm his crown are part of the images that come floating.

The Indian boxing contingent during the Commonwealth Games. Image courtesy: Twitter/@BFI_official

The Indian boxing contingent during the Commonwealth Games. Image courtesy: Twitter/@BFI_official

There are more powerful visuals when the heart demands the mind to stay in replay mode. Muhammad Anas Yahiya powering to victory in the 400m semi-finals and not slowing down till after a good 20m, 18-year-old Hima Das entering the women’s 400m final. Discus throwers Seema Punia and Navjeet Kaur Dhillon as well Jinson Johnson who broke the men’s 1500m National record, were terrific.

There is reason to be happy that India won gold medals in seven disciplines — shooting, wrestling, weightlifting, boxing, table tennis, badminton and athletics. With medals in squash and para powerlifting, two-thirds of the 15 disciplines India competed in Gold Coast returned with metal of different hues. And that diversity is not insignificant.

Then again, India’s showing in the Commonwealth Games should drive the athletes to return to training for the more intense competitions this year like the Asian Games in August and the World Championships. After all, satisfaction can be like the hand brake in a car, once it is engaged, it keeps the vehicle from moving ahead.

First and foremost, it is important to see that nearly all of the success has come in sports where India been stronger than other Commonwealth nations.

It is easy, for instance, to say wrestling, with its 100 per cent medal record for the 12 grapplers, was the most productive unit in the Indian contingent. However, that would be overlooking the inability of the Babita Kumari Phogat, Pooja Dhanda and Olympic bronze medallist Sakshi Malik to justify favourtism and win gold.

Similarly, shooting can do with some introspection rather than indulge in back-patting that it brought more medals than any other squad. Of course, things have looked up since Rio but there are quite a few events in which Indians could have done better. For instance, Mehuli Ghosh let the 10m air rifle gold slip from her grasp, not realising that there was a shoot-off and changing stance.

Chain Singh and Gagan Narang were not among the medals in the men’s 50m prone. Nor was Anjum Mudgil in the women’s event. Ankur Mittal lost his grip on the double trap gold and settled for bronze medal. But nothing would have hurt more than Jitu Rai finishing eighth in the men’s 50m pistol.

Weightlifting, in which India landed nine medals including five gold, could have done with more athletes getting among the medals. Saraswati Rout’s no lift in the women’s 58kg class will rankle for a while but, back in India, Santoshi Matsa would have rued her decision not to attempt moving to this weight division once Sanjita Chanu upped her body weight from the 48kg class.

Boxing officials would be making a mistake if they gloss over the defeats of Pinki Jangra (51kg) and Sarita Devi (60kg). Manoj Kumar’s loss to Australia’s Terry Nickolas should also not be ignored if India is to make an impact at the Asian Games later this year.

The tepid performance of long jumpers Nayana James and Neena Pinto as well as shot putter Tejinderpal Singh Toor dragged down the overall good effort of the track and field team in what is considered top quality competition. This led to questions about the manner in which they attained qualifying marks last month and how their form dipped to lower levels.

To be sure, finishing outside the medal bracket, the men and women’s hockey teams are a real cause for concern. If the men’s team is keen on returning to the elite bunch that wins medal at Olympic Games and FIH World Cups Championships, it will have to stick together as one throughout each match rather than allow individual brilliance to come in the way of team effort.

Yes, away from the sporting action, Indian officialdom did not acquit itself well. From not sending entries in time to not communicating clearly with Saina about her father’s accommodation in the Athletes’ Village, from not ensuring that the weightlifting’s team physiotherapist had proper access to the athletes to securing access to a parent of a shooter, they left a lot to be desired.

Of course, India could have done without the two blatant infringements of the Commonwealth Games Federations’ no-needle policy resulting in triple jumper AV Rakesh Babu and walker KT Irfan being sent home early and in a number of officials, including Dr. Amol Patil of the boxing team and the Chef de Mission Vikram Sisodia getting themselves reprimanded.

Surely, India must pause to recognise and celebrate its heroes from the Commonwealth Games but not long enough for its Asian Games preparation to be affected. The beauty of sport is that it presents the practitioners different challenges at different times. The Indians must be well prepared to conquer new frontiers. And more such snapshots and moving images as we got in the past 11 days will only continue to inspire India toward becoming a sporting nation.


Updated Date: Apr 17, 2018 09:38 AM