Their maiden outing at the Games brought good tidings for the Indian women's kabaddi team, as they emerged easy winners against Thailand to clinch gold on the penultimate day of the quadrennial event, at the Nanshan Gymnasium in Guangzhou on Friday.
Even as the men won their sixth consecutive Games gold, crushing emerging Iran 37-20 to make a clean sweep, it was the women's team that was the cynosure of all eyes.
Being the traditional powerhouse --- and the way the sport is still played in the hinterland --- the men's team has never settled for anything less than gold at the Continental Games.
But with women's kabaddi making its debut at the Games, the contest was going to be tough, what with Ramesh Bhendigiri, an Indian coach, training the Thai team for the last seven months.
That the women have come a long distance can be gauged from the fact that they came through a tough competition, against Bangladesh, relatively unscathed, beating them 34-23 to secure a place in the final. Iran were tough competitors too, taking them the distance in a heart-stopping semifinal that went into golden raids (extra-time).
On Saturday, the players, especially Smita Kumari, Mamatha and Manisha, were on song and capitalised on the injury to Thailand's strongest player, captain Alisa Limsamran, who was carrying an ankle injury.
India took control early on with aggressive tackling. They then 'put out' the rivals for a two-point bonus and went into half-time leading 17-7. The Indians came under intense pressure in the second half, though they coped well.
"I taught the (Thai) girls the same technique as the Indian girls," said Bhendigiri.
"I had motivational sessions with them besides the regular practice. But, I think they still have some way to go," said the coach who also has many pupils in the Indian team.
"I knew the Indian team's strengths and weaknesses, but to teach all the tricks of the trade in just seven months to another team is not easy," said Bhendigiri, whose kabaddi-teaching career spans more than a decade-and-half and was appointed by the Asian Kabaddi Federation to coach the Thai team. "My team's fitness is one of our biggest advantages. But India have a long tradition of playing the sport," he said.
For the men's team, it was just a ritual, though Iran have also taken a big leap forward. In a match where India captain, Rakesh Kumar, was stretchered out following an aggressive tackle, his team-members did a clean job, exacting revenge for the rough tackle. Having sustained a neck injury, he was later taken to the hospital. Within no time, Iran was trailing 1-11. They attempted a fightback in the second with 13 points but were no match for the Indians.
The match could have turned ugly after the Iran captain's over-aggressive tackle on Jagdeep Singh, but a green card soothed the frayed tempers somewhat. This was Iran's first kabaddi medal at the Games, after India's traditional rivals, Pakistan, couldn't make it to the final, losing to Iran 17-16.