Asian Games 2018: India’s richest gold haul brings back memories of 1951
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Asian Games 2018: India’s richest gold haul brings back memories of 1951

India registered it’s best-ever medal tally by winning 69 medals at the Asian Games 2018.

asian games 2018 Updated: Sep 01, 2018 23:39 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Dhiman Sarkar
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Asian Games 2018,Asian Games,India medal tally
India's 4x400m relay team celebrate after winning the gold medal during the athletics competition at the 18th Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia.(AP Photo)

At one level, connecting Amit Panghal with Pranab Bardhan and Shibnath Dey Sarkar could seriously test the theory of six degrees of separation. Panghal is a soldier for whom boxing is more than a sport; Bardhan and Dey Sarkar are partners in bridge, a sport as far removed as can be from boxing. Panghal is 22, Bardhan a grandfather at 60.

But in Jakarta on Saturday, the three were united in a golden harvest at the Asian Games, their first. Their efforts took India’s gold haul to 15. The only other time that happened was when Jawaharlal Nehru was Prime Minister and independent India was four years old. The Indian men’s hockey team defeated Pakistan 2-1 in the bronze medal playoff, taking the medal haul to 69, four more than its previous best that came in 2010 in Guangzhou.

This, despite India floundering in kabaddi, where it seemed all they needed to win gold was show up, not being able to defend the men’s hockey title, losing the women’s hockey final, and two-time Olympic wrestling medallist Sushil Kumar exiting in the first round of the men’s 74kg.

So, is the future’s looking good? Maybe. Do we have a reason to look east two years from now to Tokyo? Perhaps. Has this been India’s breakthrough Asian Games? one certainly hopes so.

Not many outside the bridge circuit would have known Bardhan and Dey Sarkar. Not many would have had a clue as to why Pincky Balhara and Malaprabha Yallapa Jadhav were in Jakarta and whether kurash was a sport. Or that Manjit Singh had opted not to see his newborn in his quest for the 800m gold. They wouldn’t have heard about a village called Kalina in Meerut till a farmer’s son, Saurabh Chaudhary, 16, won the 10m air pistol gold with monk-like calm reminiscent of Abhinav Bindra’s disposition when he won the men’s 10m air rifle gold in the 2008 Olympics.

But like the gold winning men’s bridge pair, the girls who won a silver and a bronze in kurash, Singh and Chaudhary traded anonymity for what, hopefully, is more than 15 seconds of fame, Neeraj Chopra, Swapna Burman, Jinson Johnson, Rahi Sarnobat, Bajrang Punia, Vinesh Phogat, Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan added to their growing reputation by becoming gold medalists.

As did the quartet of Dattu Bhokanal, Sawarn Singh, Om Prakash and Sukhmeet Singh who stretched every sinew, literally, to take the men’s quadruple rowing gold.

It feels good that Johnson’s timing to win the men’s 1500m would have been good enough to fetch an Olympic gold in 2016 and that Panghal counter-attacked past the reigning Asian and Olympic champion, Hasanboy Dusmatov of Uzbekistan, on the way to the 49kg gold. This was Panghal’s first win against the opponent in three attempts.

Add to that Burman (hepathlon), Phogat (wrestling 50kg) and Sarnobat (25m women’s pistol) becoming the first Indians to best the rest in Asia in their disciplines, a distinction the women’s squash team narrowly missed, and it can be said that India has arrived as a sporting nation in Asia.

It has got everyone, from Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, to Sachin Tendulkar to India’s 13th president, Pranab Mukherjee, tweeting in praise.

“Proud of our athletes, sportspersons, coaches and supporting crew,” said Union sports minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore. “Their will to fight and win reflects the attitude of millions of young Indians. A young nation is claiming its rightful place. We have created a system that has started delivering. We are now working to strengthen and refine it. Sportspersons are getting an enabling environment and our greatest joy is that they are making full use of it. As the Prime Minister says ‘Khelo aur Khilo’.”

Speaking about Panghal, former India boxing coach and Dronacharya award winner GS Sandhu, said: “He has shown potential. But we need to mould him for Olympics where the level of competition is different from continental bouts.” That is what Kuntal Roy, also a Dronacharya who mentored heptathletes Soma Biswas and Sushmita Singha Roy to medals in Asia, said about Burman, 21, after pointing out that the girl from Jalpaiguri in north Bengal has reached the elite level in the sport. For perspective, consider this: Burman finished first with 6026 points; it would have placed her 23rd in Rio.

India’s performance in Guangzhou was the precursor to its best medal haul in the Olympics two years later. So there is reason to look forward to the 2020 Olympics. “This generation is very bright and the basic difference is due to government supports, the TOP scheme of the government and a few NGOs who have come up with good packages for elite athletes. Schemes like Khelo India have helped sportspersons,” said former world No. 1 shooter, Anjali Bhagwat. Under the TOP (Target Olympic Podium) scheme, athletes are provided financial assistance for their training.

That a number of our gold medallists are young — flagbearer Chopra will be 21 in December, Dutee Chand, who took on the international athletics federation and won before breezing to the 100m and 200m silver, is 22, Phogat is 24, we have a group of young shooters who win international medals regularly and badminton stars who are among the world’s best — gives us hope that they will go faster, higher and stronger.

First Published: Sep 01, 2018 23:31 IST