The golden touch
It was Abhinav Bindra, him of that shy rifle marksman, who turned despair into delight, just when it seemed that Indian marksmen had developed cold feet. The first individual gold for India in the history of Olympics was a gala achievement and the country hailed it like no other accomplishment --- the Tricolour went up to the tune of the National Anthem and the past was forgotten.
Bindra was phenomenal on that eventful day. Despite finishing fourth in the qualifying round, he fought back with the fortitude of a champion to clinch the 10m air rifle gold. Just 26, and already a veteran of three Olympics, Bindra beat the challenge of China’s Qinan Zhu and Finland’s Henri Hakkinen, with his last shot.
“I remained cool and focused. There was no pressure on me. I wasn’t thinking about anything else. I approached the final aggressively,” was all the Chandigarh-based marksman said after winning gold. But team-mate Gagan Narang missed out on the opportunity to be part of history, despite dishing out another superb performance. The Hyderabadi, just one year younger to Abhinav, failed to make the final cut on count-back by a single point. “I’m disappointed?close miss,” was all he could muster.
Elsewhere, world champion trap shooter Manavjit Singh Sandhu, Athens Games silver-medallist R.V.S. Rathore, Anjali Vedpathak and young Avneet Kaur Sidhu among others flattered to deceive.
Tale of an unknown grappler
When he entered the fray, people thought Sushil Kumar was just another Indian competitor making up the numbers. Sushil defied all odds and won bronze in repechage. Despite losing to his Ukrainian opponent Andriy Stadnik who entered the final, Sushil went on to beat three grapplers in one hour to win bronze. “My coach, Kartar Singh, kept giving me a massage after every bout and it helped me recover quickly,” said Sushil rather shyly after bagging the bronze.
Sparks of brilliance
Young shuttler Saina Nehwal gave enough indications about her potential here. She was simply superb in the quarterfinal against Indonesia’s Marie Yulianti, winning the first game and opening an 11-3 lead in the decider. “I have had a good outing here. Looking back, I think, if I play her again, I am going to beat her,” the Haryana girl now settled in Hyderabad said.
The worst of them all
The 16-member athletics contingent was disappointing to say the least, and it seemed they were here only to make up the numbers. Long-jumper and 2003 World Championships bronze-medallist, Anju Bobby George, fouled all three attempts and crashed out. “I have not fully recovered from the foot injury,” she said.
Even more disappointing was Renjith Maheshwari. After training for over three months in the US, the triple-jumper was nowhere near his best. The trio of J J Shobha, Sushmita Singha Roy and G G Pramila too left a lot to be desired in heptathlon. Whats more, the Indians were not even close to their personal bests.
Sure there was frustration, but there were quite a few positives to be taken home from these Games. Beijing gave us hope that we can do well on the big stage with a bit more effort. Shooting, wrestling, boxing and badminton have emerged as our best hopes for the future.
The greatest show
If shooting fetched India gold, boxing provided the punch. Indian pugilists scripted the greatest success story at the Games. Three of the five boxers entered the quarterfinals and one won bronze. With a bit of luck, may be it could have been silver!
Vijender’s tactical bouts almost took him to the final. The Commonwealth Games silver and Asian Games bronze-medallist was in his elements here. “I am not going to rest on my laurels. Now I want the to win the World Championship and World Cup medals,” he said.
The others also showed their worth. Akhil Kumar came here with purpose and, on his way to the quarters he defeated a world champion and an Olympic bronze-medallist, till he ran into Moldova’s Gojan Veaceslav. Call it over-confidence or showmanship, Akhil surprisingly lowered guard, as if taunting the defensive Moldovan to throw a few punches. That proved to be his downfall, as Veaceslav managed to outscore Akhil.
Jitender, as usual, went about his task silently. The youngest among the five pugilists to have qualified for the Games, threw power-packed punches and was simply superb till his opponent slit open his chin. In the quarterfinal, he was so preoccupied with protecting his chin that he forgot about his body. Still, he fought like a champion, going down by three points.