There is a feeling of invincibility whenever the “Chinese army” marches into the sporting arena, anywhere in the world. If a further proof of their unshakeable dominance was needed, it was provided at the 15th Asian Games in Doha.
With a gold haul of 165, and a total number of medals standing at a mind-boggling 315, they seem to have broken all barriers in their quest for excellence.
It’s not that they have come out of the cold in the last couple of years and become an all-conquering army.
Since the day they broke Japan’s dominance at the 1982 Games in New Delhi, the Chinese have gone from strength to strength, touching their highest gold tally in the 1990 Beijing Games (183), which was incidentally the worst Games for India — who bagged only the kabaddi gold and a few baser medals.
At the Doha Games, it was a foregone conclusion that with the Olympics round the corner, the Chinese would be geared up to break all barriers, but there was also little doubt that with over 400 junior sportspersons and only a few stalwarts — like the 110m hurdler and world record holder Liu Xiang — they might not be able to cross the figure of 150 gold. But they proved everyone wrong yet again.
From India’s viewpoint, the marauding Chinese stormed their traditional bastion, at least at the Asian level, hockey.
Though the huge Indian contingent would be more or less “satisfied” with the performance that fetched them 54 medals — including 10 gold — what came as a rude shock, an eye-opener, was the loss to China in hockey.
India had the dubious distinction of going without a medal in hockey in the history of the Games, and that shattering loss would rankle for a long time to come. The loss to China sure gives an indication that the Chinese are taking hockey as seriously as they take their other sports disciplines and they wouldn’t want to be easy preys just when the Olympics are round the corner.
Not just the Indians, the Pakistanis too found to their bewilderment that the Chinese were more menacing than they had thought.
On the track too, India would have been staring at one of the worst performances had not the 4X400m relay team brought home gold in the penultimate event of the athletics competition. How one longed to see a certain Bahadur Singh, a KM Beenamol or a Saraswati Saha (Busan Games heroes) in Doha! But with the state of affairs back home, one hadn’t expected much. There were some personal bests for the Athletic Federation of India to console itself. The ‘Seema Antil dope episode’, and OP Jaisha pulling out of 1500m, her favourite event, cast a pall of gloom on the track.
However, shooting did a huge turnaround with Jaspal Rana clinching three gold and the marksmen returning home with 14 medals. Still, one had expected world champion Manavjit Singh and Athens Olympic silver-medallist RVS Rathore to bring India a medal with the golden hue.
The svelte chess exponent Koneru Humpy was the queen of the boards, and Pankaj Advani the king on the green baize, but one expected a better showing from the other cue sport exponents. The all-conquering Indian tennis duo of Leander Mahesh in the men’s doubles and Leander and Sania in the mixed doubles did conquer the field, but off-court histrionics — and there was a sequence being played out every day — did not really go down well with the Indian expatriate community.
The doubles specialists could have ended on a better note. But the most famous Indian doubles pair wanted it this way. Well, India could have done without this unsavoury episode.
Koneru Humpy (chess)
(One individual, one team)
IN THE silence of the Al-Dana indoor hall, she played like a tigress to master the field that had looked quite imposing at the start. She opened the gold medal tally for the country when she won the women’s individual competition, and was the last to win gold for the country, in the team event. Coached by her father, she was a picture of poise and her unwavering form got her past many top exponents.
Jaspal Rana (shooting)
(Two individual and one team)
THOSE SEPIA-TINTED images of pistol marksman Jaspal Rana being carried on the shoulders of the adoring crowd on his return from the 1994 Asiad remain one of the most endearing memories in the minds of the people. Just 18 then, he had the entire country showering praise on him as if he was the only hero. Some 12 years down the line, with critics baying for his blood, he silenced them once and for all with his triple gold medal-winning performance. On the penultimate day of the shooting competition, he struck gold when everyone had all but given up hope after shotgun shooters Manavjit Singh and RVS Rathore flattered to deceive. Pointing his guns at the critics, he first clinched the standard pistol gold, then the centre-fire team gold and finally an individual centre-fire gold with a world record-equalling score. He cried all afternoon and everyone saw how hurt he was by the barbs of the critics.
MORE THAN the victory, people wanted to see those famed chest-bumps after rumours started doing the rounds that Mahesh had boarded a flight back to India. It was a crisis that could have become a major embarrassment after Indians lost the team event to Chinese-Taipei. Allegations flew thick and fast, until the duo “kissed and made up”.
They gelled superbly in the individual doubles and, despite the threat posed by the twins from Thailand in the final on the centre-court, the Indians managed to hold on for another memorable Games victory.
THE HYPE and hoopla Sania Mirza generated at Doha was to be seen to be believed. If she was looking for inspiration here, she got it in ample measure as the Indian tennis ace was the centre of attraction for not only the expatriates, but also the local Qataris. It was Sania-mania one might never see in India. After losing the singles final, the Hyderabadi came back with vengeance in the mixed-doubles to demolish the Japanese to clinch the title. Credit goes to her fighting spirit that she overcame the World No. 21, China’s Li Na, in the semifinal, but ran into another Chinese, Zheng Jie, the Wimbledon and US Open doubles champion, and had to settle for the second spot.
Women’s 4 X 400m (athletics)
THE THOUGHT that the Indian athletes would go home without a gold sent shivers down the spine. Although the Athletic Federation of India might take solace in the fact that several athletes improved upon the national records or got their personal bests, the fact remains that India had come agonizingly close to their worst ever performance at the Games after the 1990 Games.
Manjeet Kaur ran the last lap in the relay (Chitra Soman, S Geetha, Pinki Pramanik were the others in the team) as if she had taken it upon herself to not let her country down. After beating the Kazakhstan sprinters, she could only say: “I couldn’t have been happier. Gold in relay and silver in 400!”
THE 21-YEAR-OLD Bangalorean has the world at his feet. The world amateur billiards and snooker champion came here riding on a high with plenty of international exposure and training. Coached by Arvind Savur, he met country-mate Ashok Shandilya in the final and beat the Mumbai cueist, the Bangkok Asian Games double-gold medalist, hands down.
What more does one say about a youngster who has been awarded the Arjuna and the Khel Ratna. He was on cue right from the word go. The Indian medals tally could have had a much healthier glow had the likes of Geet Sethi, Shandilya and Yasin Merchant too chipped in. But that was not to be.
INDIA EXTENDED their reign on the kabaddi gold by another four years when the Dinesh Kumar-led team won by a comfortable margin against Pakistanm in front of a packed stadium, outdone in numbers only when Sania Mirza was playing. Coach P Uday Kumar said he was extremely proud of his boys and was looking forward to the upcoming World Cup in Mumbai from January 24-26, which will see 18 teams in action. This was India’s sixth consecutive Asiad gold and their dominance is unlikely to come under threat for the moment — unless the Chinese have other ideas!