Season of glory and gloom
A fine performance at the Olympic Games was soon overshadowed by the power struggle among administrators.
Bittersweet. When one sits back and stirs the memories of the Indian sporting year, the feeling that rises to the top is best captured by that one word. Bittersweet.
Success shining through the cloud of bitter failures, achievers smiling brightly in contrast to dejected faces of the defeated and an officialdom incapable of embracing the spirit that is the guiding force of all sport – that was 2012 in a nutshell for India. But the inspiring story of the season, an unprecedented haul of medals at the Olympic Games, looked too distant by the end of the year when a contest that has no place in Olympic firmament – mudslinging — came to the fore.
Even the strongest of detergents won’t clean the dirt that has been splashed around in that tussle for the top sports body in the country – the Indian Olympic Association – with the world body, the International Olympic Committee, playing the referee’s role. More on that bitter battle is presented elsewhere on this page, as their no-holds-barred, and often shameless, tug-of-war for power shouldn’t be allowed to cast a shadow on those who made the year a memorable one for the true sporting fan.
The build up to the year had all along focused on the possibility of an Indian surge at the Olympic Games, with the preparatory phase raising the levels of optimism. And as the dust settled down at London 2012, it was obvious that the optimism wasn’t misplaced, with six medals – two silver and four bronze – standing testimony to the zeal of young India. A gold medal eluded the country and that was indeed a disappointment, for the Indian contingent had at least a couple of athletes capable of climbing the pinnacle. When the action ended though, the spotlight was firmly on the super six, with one man standing a cut above the rest.
Sushil Kumar isn’t an imposing figure at first sight but his prowess on the wrestling mat is indisputable. The 66-kg wrestler had shown it many a time in the past, with a bronze medal from Beijing and a world title already in his bag. In London, it was time to move up a level and the Indian did just that, powering through to the final a day after his fellow wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt had staged spirited fightback to win the bronze in the 60kg class. The last hurdle, though, proved too high for the former world champion, as he bowed to Japan’s Tatsuhiro Yonemitsu but by becoming the first Indian to win two individual Olympic medals, Sushil had secured his place in history by then.
The 29-year-old’s silver was the sixth and last medal to fall in India’s kitty in London. The country’s best bets for gold medals had ended their quest by then, with air rifle shooter Abhinav Bindra falling short of the final in his title defence and Ronjan Sodhi misfiring in double trap. Shooting, though, had hoisted India onto the medals table for the third straight Olympics, through Gagan Narang’s bronze in air rifle and Vijay Kumar’s silver in rapid fire pistol.
Army man Vijay revelled in the new format for rapid fire pistol and even as encomiums were showered on him, he still retained the calmness that marks him out as a special individual. Remarkable, considering it was his first Olympic Games. In contrast to Vijay, Narang made it to the podium on his third attempt, underlining his steely determination. Twelfth in Athens 2004 and ninth in Beijing 2008, Narang desperately wanted the one honour missing from his list and the fruit of his labour was sweet indeed for the shooter from Hyderabad.
Steely will also characterised India’s two women medallists in London — M C Mary Kom and Saina Nehwal.
The struggles of Mary Kom are too well documented to be narrated again but her journey from her Manipur village of Kangathei would have been incomplete had she failed to seize the chance that London offered. Women’s boxing was making its Olympic debut and at the ExCel arena, even as her seven male compatriots fell before the medal rounds, Magnificent Mary used the survival techniques that life had taught her to emerge with a bronze. Substance over style was her credo and a hall full to the brim acknowledged that even when Britain’s Nicola Adams punched holes in the Indian’s defence.
Saina was a shade lucky to kiss the bronze medal in women’s badminton. Her nemesis Wang Yihan had Saina’s number in the semifinal and another Chinese, Wang Xin, had the upper hand in the bronze medal play-off when an injury halted her, leaving Saina with a cherished piece of metal around her neck -- an apt reward when she climbed to No 3 in the world rankings.
The six medals triggered a wave of celebration but didn’t hide India’s shortcomings. Appalling performances in hockey – where the administrators continued to squabble for their piece of turf –and failure to rise to the occasion in archery were causes of hurt; so was the men’s boxing team’s slide to terra firma.
A squabbling tennis team presented the picture of a divided family ahead of the Olympic Games and as expected, they too bit the dust, with Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi and company slipping on the Wimbledon grass. But as medals started to trickle in, their row was quickly pushed to the background.
Away from the Olympic ring, Indian cricket team continued to slip after climbing the peak in one-day cricket just a year before. The retirement of legends Rahul Dravid and V V S Laxman and the waning aura around Sachin Tendulkar pegged India back to the struggling pack, with the team crying out for fresh talent.
Pankaj Advani’s triumph in world billiards and Viswanathan Anand’s successful defence of his world title in chess applied gloss to India’s sporting season while on the downside, little of note was heard from the athletics world even as doping cases involving six quartermilers reached a conclusion, with the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruling that they should serve a two-year ban.
More dope stories continued to tumble out of the box and like the maladministration that is pulling Indian sport down, the story of syringes and medicines too prolongs without an end in sight. Tough to digest these — the two bitter pills.