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India aiming at best ever performance on home turf

In the commotion over the delay in getting the infrastructure for the October 3-14 Commonwealth Games ready, what seems to have been forgotten are the athletes who are quietly preparing for India's biggest sporting event and where they are aiming at the country's best performance ever on home turf.

india Updated: Jun 24, 2010 16:16 IST

In the commotion over the delay in getting the infrastructure for the October 3-14 Commonwealth Games (CWG) ready, what seems to have been forgotten are the athletes who are quietly preparing for India's biggest sporting event and where they are aiming at the country's best performance ever on home turf.

Not surprisingly, the question uppermost in the minds of sports buffs is whether India will be able to improve upon its fourth position at the last two editions - in Melbourne four years ago and in Manchester in 2002.

CWG Organising Committee vice chairman Randhir Singh is optimistic that it will be India's best-ever performance this time.

"India is assured to do better than at Melbourne. Indian sport had done well in the last couple of years. There were some disciplines like Wrestling which were not part of the Melbourne Games and India are expected to perform well in these events. We will have the home advantage and the athletes will get the support of the fans. That will motivate them to do better," Randhir Singh told IANS.

India might have finished fourth at Melbourne, but its 50 medals, including 22 golds, was way behind the top three - Australia (221), England (110) and Canada (87), the three sporting powerhouses.

At Manchester, India had won 69 medals, but this again was quite distant from Australia (207), England (166) and Canada (118).

Now, in a calculated bid to improve the country's performance, a whopping Rs.6.78-billion (145 million USD) programme is quietly being implemented to train athletes in different disciplines at various centres around the country. This is certainly a windfall for them, considering they had been managing with a pittance over the years.

"A good showing at the Games is as important as decking up the city's thoroughfares and putting the Metro on the rails. The youngsters will look for role models in different sports whom they idolise," Randhir Singh said.

To ensure India's good showing at the Games, the sports federations had swung into action in 2008 and a set of "core probables" were selected in each discipline and put on an intensive training-cum-competition regime, both at home and overseas. A total of 424 athletes will represent India in the 17 disciplines at the Games, but three times that number -- 1,286 to be precise -- make up the core group.

The government has looked at every requirement of the core group, from allotting foreign coaches in every discipline to doling out extra sums for the diet of athletes. Even lesser known sports like Lawn Bowls and Rugby Sevens have benefited from the scheme.

"Our teams have got more exposure trips abroad. We have foreign coaches, masseurs and proper training staff. It has made a difference," said Wrestling Federation of India president G.S Mander.

Admittedly, there were teething troubles with federations complaining of finances being stuck in the bureaucratic maze, but things slowly got streamlined.

"It could have been handled more professionally. Our teams are training in Sonepat and Patiala and we had asked for the construction of two air- conditioned halls as it is difficult to practise in this heat. It is still to be done," Mander said.

"ACs have been installed in the hostel rooms at these places. So, these small things would have further boosted the prospect of our athletes," added Mander, who knows that India's stakes will be higher in wrestling.

A majority of new medals is likely to come from wrestling, which did not feature at Melbourne. This time, more than 21 gold medals will be at stake.

"We are confident of winning a medal in every event and more than 50 percent will be gold medals," Mander said.

"There has been tremendous improvement in our performance in the last three years. Sushil Kumar won an Olympic medal and we also managed a medal in the World championship. In the Asian Championship, which is one of the toughest, we won two gold medals for the first time. All this augurs well for the Commonwealth Games," he added.

A quick look at India's performance in the last two editions suggests that shooting and weightlifting will give them the thrust in the medals tally.

India topped the shooting charts at Melbourne with a whopping 27 medals, 16 of them gold. This time a far bigger haul is being eyed.

"Everything is going on the right track. We are confident of improving our medals tally," said Baljeet Singh Sethi, general secretary, National Rifle Association of India (NRAI).

The government also relaxed the norms for the acquisition of weapons and ammunition for the shooters and that will go a long way in helping them as stringent procedures to import arms have been a major hindrance for their preparations.

Boxing is another sport that will draw a lot of attention as it has received a tremendous fillip after Vijender Singh's bronze medal performance at the Beijing Olympics.

"We had won five medals in Melbourne and we will be aiming to win at least seven medals this time," said P.K Muralidharan Raja, secretary general of the Indian Boxing Federation.

The lack of prowess in athletics and swimming, the two disciplines which account for the maximum number of medals, has been the reason for India's low medal count at the Commonwealth Games.

In athletics, India have claimed only one gold medal in the history of the Commonwealth Games when Milkha Singh won the 400 metres at the 1958 Cardiff games. At Melbourne, India had only three medals to show in athletics from the 160 up for grabs.

In swimming, which accounts for 127 medals, India have returned empty- handed in the last two editions.

This time though, India are expected to win a handful of medals in these two events.

First Published: Jun 24, 2010 16:04 IST