For India, it's sweet 16th after record 64 medals | india | Hindustan Times
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For India, it's sweet 16th after record 64 medals

india Updated: Nov 27, 2010 23:03 IST
Ajai Masand

Every Asian Games brings with it hope that Indian athletes would make it a memorable outing, what with the country failing to achieve international standards despite umpteen promises made by the federation and government officials.

The Commonwealth Games had spawned hope that India was on the threshold of leaving the past behind and making a fresh beginning. With 101 medals in Delhi, expectations to perform at the Asian Games too went up, and with it the pressure on the athletes. After all, the Asian Games are next only to the Olympics in terms of competition and popularity.

India might not have managed to win even one-tenth of the gold medals compared to China -- in fact, the number of gold won by China at Guangzhou are more than what India has earned in the last 16 editions of the Games, which were first held in Delhi in 1951 -- but at least, they have made a beginning.

The Indians too, with their reputation to defend after the CWG, would have gingerly boarded the flight to Guangzhou, knowing well, it would be a difficult task to win even baser medals. The past too wouldn't have enthused them.

At the 1990 Asian Games in Beijing, India's performance had taken such a massive beating that they could just manage one gold --- in kabaddi.

But with a decent sixth position and a rich haul of 14 gold --- surpassing the 10 India won in 2006 Doha --- the country has even surprised the most vocal critics. After shooting was a no-show with world champion and Olympic gold-medallist, Abhinav Bindra, failing to even make it to the 10m air rifle final, dark clouds started gathering.

It was world champion Pankaj Advani who provided the spark with a gold in billiards. And then, there was no looking back. His thrilling come-from-behind game was a treat.

Now, there was momentum and rower Bajrang Lal Takhar wanted to also bow out on a high. At 29, this was probably his last Asiad and the Army Subedar was straining every sinew on way to a historic gold.

Dusky Preeja Sreedharan, the 10,000m gold and 5,000m silver-medallist, now just has two wishes after the Guangzhou success --- that her coach Nikolai Snesarev stays back to guide her to the Olympics, and she finds a suitable boy to settle down.

Hurdlers Ashwini Akkunji and Joseph Abraham were the least expected to win a medal, leave aside a gold, but on a magical day for India, the two left the Japanese and the Chinese in a daze as they clinched the 400m hurdles titles. They were the talk of the town.

There were many more success stories --- in 3000m steeplechase (Sudha Singh, a middle-class athlete hailing from Rae Bareli), the tennis duo of Somdev Dev Varman and Sanam Singh, who carried the legacy of their illustrious countrymen --- Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi --- forward, there was the ever-smiling double-trap marksman Ronjan Sondhi, the men's and women's kabaddi team and, of course, boxers Vijender Singh and Vikas Krishan.

They were all sharing the joy of winning with team-mates and basking in glory, and sharing the pain of the Indian hockey team, after their debacle against Malaysia, and then egging them on during the bronze match against South Korea in the play-off.

Of course, there were tears in hockey assistant coach, Harendra Singh, and captain Rajpal Singh's eyes. But, they can take heart from the fact that their countrymen in other sporting arenas did them proud.

India's best-ever performance in the continental games after the 1951 opening Games, is not just for their families and friends. It was for every Indian who loves sport and cherishes its glory.