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Indian camp sombre after fateful Thursday

The mood was sombre with athletes trying to come to terms with developments that two weightlifters had tested positive.
PTI | By MR Mishra (PTI), Athens
UPDATED ON AUG 20, 2004 08:21 PM IST

The mood in the Indian camp was sombre on Friday with the athletes trying to come to terms with the developments that have followed the shocking revelation that two weightlifters had tested positive for banned drugs.

They were not being too harsh on their erring colleagues, knowing fully well that the blame could not be put on athletes alone.

"Most of the Indian sportspersons were scattered at various venues when the news broke out, so I can't say how they reacted. But obviously they were sad with the development," an IOA official said.

Officials were hoping to keep the media in the dark for as long as possible, relying on shooter Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore's silver-winning effort to act as a softener before the news came out in the open.

Though the IOA bigwigs mingled with the guests, they appeared a little uneasy at the dinner party thrown by IOA President Suresh Kalmadi in honour of Rathore on Wednesday.

Pratima's positive result was announced by the International Weightlifting Federation the next morning while Chanu's development took place in the evening when most of the athletes and officials were either watching the semi-final tennis match involving the star pair of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi or the hockey match between India and Australia.

As soon as the news broke out, top officials were closetted in a meeting for an hour or so to plan out the damage control exercise and also decide on how much information should be given to the media.

Deputy chef-de-mission Harish Sharma, in the absence of chef-de-mission Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi and secretary of the Athletic Federation of India Lalit Bhanot, faced the Indian media outside the Games village and briefly gave the details of the doping fiasco.

It was quite clear that something was amiss in the Indian camp after Pratima pulled out of the women's 63 kg category at the last minute, citing a back injury. Sydney bronze medal winner Karnam Malleswari, billed as a medal prospect, could not even lift the bar above her ankles and withdrew from the competition complaining of a back injury.

Malleswari's reaction after the event further fuelled speculation that something was wrong in the Indian camp. When she was asked what was wrong with Pratima after she had withdrawn from her event, she nervously answered "I have been told that she has a back problem and that is why she has withdrawn. I don't know the details."

It sounded extremely unusual that Malleswari would not be aware of the exact nature of injury to her colleague who was taking part in the same event and who spent considerable time with her in the Games village.

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