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Asian Games 2018, opening ceremony: Jakarta all decked up for sporting extravaganza

Among the competing countries, India has one of the biggest contingents and they should not look beyond the dedication and devotion of the host country to draw inspiration to try and take their performance to the next level.

other sports Updated: Aug 18, 2018 12:16 IST
Ajai Masand
Ajai Masand
Hindustan Times, Jakarta
asian games 2018,asian games 2018 opening ceremony,asian games opening ceremony
Indonesian President Joko Widodo (R) hands over the Asian Games torch to head of the Indonesian Asian Games 2018 Organizing Committee Erick Thohir (C) as Indonesian badminton hero Rudy Hartono (L) stands, at the presidential palace in Jakarta, Indonesia (REUTERS)

Fireworks splashed myriad colours in the skyline on Thursday night as the Indonesian capital completed the final dress rehearsal of the Asian Games opening ceremony. It seemed like a statement that determination and unwavering commitment can help achieve the most difficult task.

It was only in 2014, after Hanoi reneged on its commitment to host the continental games that Jakarta stepped in and stopped the spirit of the games from disintegrating. There is a message here not just for the countries who aspire to host the games but also for the 9000-odd athletes converged here that no hurdle is insurmountable.

Among the competing countries, India has one of the biggest contingents and they should not look beyond the dedication and devotion of the host country to draw inspiration to try and take their performance to the next level.

Live streaming: Asian Games 2018 opening ceremony - when and where to watch, live coverage on TV in India

Following their Commonwealth Games success in 2010, India grabbed their best medal haul at the continental games the same year in Guangzhou, China, winning 14 gold medals, 17 silver and 37 bronze.

EXPECTATIONS HIGH

But the expectations will be high from them to set a new benchmark with an imposing line-up of athletes converging in the twin cities of Jakarta and Palembang, separated by a distance of 600 km.

For sure, India will have to lean on the sharpness of its marksmen, led by the young Manu Bhaker and Anish Bhanwala, the endurance of its athletes - that include javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra and sprinter Hima Das -, and the power of its grapplers, led by the redoubtable Sushil Kumar.

MILD DISTRACTION

The events in the last couple of days have been far from congenial with one of the most recognisable Indian athlete, tennis ace Leander Paes, leaving the contingent in the lurch by pulling out at the last minute. But such shockers have become a part of Indian sporting ‘folklore’.

Discus thrower Seema Antil Punia’s withdrawal before the 2006 Doha Asian Games, or the media circus enacted by Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi during the same edition, not just made one immune to the eccentricities of Indian athletes but also to the fact that national pride is just a phrase bandied by such athletes to get cheap publicity. Nothing more.

ALSO READ: Asian Games 2018 success key to Hockey World Cup dreams: Harendra Singh

TARGET 2020

The latest controversy apart, it could well be India’s best opportunity in decades to overhaul their best medals tally. Going by form, the Indian men’s and women’s hockey teams could be gunning for a pair of gold medals as, for the first time in continental history they both are ranked No 1. And with the waning prowess of South Korea and Japan, and the ‘instability’ in the Pakistan men’s hockey team, a little more pluck could well see them both secure the Tokyo Olympic berths here.

On paper, India have an extremely bright chance in wrestling, but it will all depend on how quickly Sushil is able to acclimatise to the conditions as he is coming from Georgia and will have only a couple of days to get used to the conditions here. The fate of four wrestling stalwarts - Sushil, Bajrang, Sakshi Malik and Vinesh Phogat – will be known in the first two days.

In Palembang, young Indian shooters would like to carry forward their World Cup and Commonwealth Games form into the continental games. But Manu Bhaker, Anish Bhanwala and the likes know too well that the real test lies here. The Chinese are dogged, they don’t give an inch. The coming fortnight will tell if India’s young shooters have matured enough or not.

First Published: Aug 18, 2018 09:01 IST