Wrestlers provide late spark as India scale a historic high

Wrestlers provide late spark as India scale a historic high

Sushil Kumar's historic feat of winning back-to-back Olympic medals on the very last day here undoubtedly turned out to be the high point of the country's campaign as the biggest-ever Indian contingent completed the 30th edition Games with a record haul of six medals.

The wrestlers provided the late sparks to the Indian campaign with Sushil's silver medal in the 66kg category and bronze through Yogeshwar Dutt (60kg) that went a long way in overshadowing the flop show of some of the other star players.

In the end, India did live up to the expectation as six medals is something that was being spoken about by commentators when the contingent embarked for the Games. It was a far better show than the one gold and two bronze medals that India won at the Beijing Olympics four years ago.

Yet, there was a feeling that India may fall short of the target till the last two days of the Games when the wrestlers changed the script with their stunning display on the mat.

Sushil, a bronze medal winner in Beijing, emerged as the hero with his effort. For long, Indian sportspersons had been confined to mediocrity and were just making up the numbers in the Olympic Games and it was a refreshing change to see individual medals coming their way.

Abhinav Bindra's gold medal in Beijing was a landmark and a real confidence booster four years ago.

Yogeshwar's bronze medal was also a stupendous feat considering the fact that he bounced back brilliantly after losing his 60kg quarterfinal bout and worked his way to the bronze through the repechage stage. He showed tremendous stamina, skill and strength to overcome all odds.

Apart from the exploits of the wrestlers, shooter Vijay Kumar clinched the silver medal in the 25m Rapid Fire event, while five-time world women's boxing champion M C Mary Kom, ace shuttler Saina Nehwal and rifle shooter Gagan Narang won bronze medals each.

But, there were disappointments galore and it came more from the star athletes who were said to have realistic chances of winning medals. But sadly, most of them flopped.

The big names like shooters Abhinav Bindra and Ronjan Sodhi, archer Deepika Kumari and Beijing bronze medallist boxer Vijender Singh returned empty-handed. All of them were serious medal contenders.

The much-hyped men's hockey players were the worst offenders as they lost all their six matches to finish 12th and last, the worst-ever performance in the history of the Games if one overlooks the country's failure to even make it to the 2008 Olympics.

The archers too were major let-downs. They went into the Olympics with good form behind them and the men's team had even qualified for the Olympics with a good show.

But when the moment came, they simply crumbled with none of them performing to potential. True, the windy, cold and cloudy conditions here did not suit them but then they had trained well taking into consideration all these factors.

A pre-competition bout of fever to the archers was attributed as the main reason for their poor show. Most of the archers trotted out that excuse after their events.

The lowest point in achery came when Deepika, the world number one, crashed out in the very first round of the women's individual recurve. It was a shocker for the Indian camp.

Talking about shocks, nothing, however can be bigger than the bottom place finish of the men's hockey team after losing 2-3 to South Africa in the 11-12 classification match.

Never in the history of Indian hockey has a team finished last in the Olympics, an 8th finish in the Atlanta Olympic Games being their worst show before the London debacle.

The Indian team lost all their group league matches, some of them quite badly, and it seemed that the gap with other international teams had widened over the last few weeks.

In the days to come, analysts and experts will come out with various reasons on why the Indian team failed but the bottomline is that the players were simply not good enough and what they dished out was absolute pedestrian stuff.

The embrarrasing result will also raise a debate on whether Australian Michael Nobbs, who had promised to revive Indian hockey, would be sent packing as the coach like so many of his predecessors -- Jose Brasa, Gerhard Rach and Ric Charlesworth.

It may not be fair to fully blame Nobbs for the disaster. The players were simply not implementing the plans and it is hard to explain why.

If the strikers were thoroughly ineffective and more interested in playing individually, the midfield and defence also left much to be desired. Only Sardar Singh played his heart out and gave a good account of himself match after match, but hockey is not an individual game. Just one man cannot carry the team.

It will be interesting to see how Hockey India reacts to the debacle. Many of the players appear to be past their prime. But with no replacements readily available at the junior level and many other top players taking part in the rebel league, their options are limited.

There was a huge expectation from the Indian shooters when they left but perhaps the hype was a trifle misplaced as the biggest ever shooting contingent returned with just a silver and a bronze.

The big names of Indian shooting did not quite live up to reputation and the form deserted them when it mattered the most, as a result, India just won two medals even as they hoped for a bigger haul.

The unheralded Vijay Kumar emerged as the hero with his silver medal in the men's 25m rapid fire pistol, while Narang bagged a bronze in the men's 10m air rifle event.

Apart from these two medal winning effort, Joydeep Karmakar put in a creditable performance in the 50m rifle prone as he missed the bronze medal by a whisker to take the fourth position.

It was a heart-warming performance by Karmakar in his very first Olympics, made all the more creditable since many of his other fancied teammates flopped.

When the team left the Indian shores, Beijing Games gold medallist Bindra, Narang and Sodhi were touted as serious medal contenders and the media was talking about an unprecedented hall of medals from the shooting ranges at the Royal Artillery Barracks.

While Narang managed a bronze, Bindra and Sodhi turned in disappointing performances to dent their medal prospects.

On the whole, it again proved that Indian shooters, despite having improved vastly over the years, lacked the confidence and the composure to do well in the biggest sporting stage.

Although they have good track records, they just could not hold their nerves and many of them got overawed by the situation and succumbed to pressure.

None of the women shooters could really make much of an impression.

Heena Siddhu, known for her consistency, was expected to do better than what she did, finishing 12th in qualification round for 10m air pistol, while Rahi Sarnobat took the 11th position in the 25m air pistol qualification.

The boxing ring was expected to give India a few medals, but a bronze from Mary Kom was all that came their way.

There was a lot of hype surrounding the boxers when they left for the Games amid high hopes of winning a few medals, so the results will no doubt come as a huge let down with all the male boxers returning empty-handed.

The 29-year-old Mary was the saving grace for the contingent as she clinched a historic bronze in women's boxing that has been introduced in the Olympics for the first time.

Mary, who generally fights in the 48kg category, had to increase her body weight to take part in the women's 51kg category and did put up a sterling show against boxers who were much taller and heavier than her.

But the seven male boxers could not go beyond the quarterfinal stage and the Indians claimed that many of them were at the receiving end of some dubious judgements.

Although some of the Indian boxers were distinctly unlucky, it was not always the reason for their defeats. Clearly, they were technically not as sharp as their rivals.

Beijing bronze medallist Vijender was hoping to become the first Indian to bag back-to-back Olympic medal but he lost to Uzbekistan's Abbos Atoev 17-13 in the quarterfinals.

Atoev was clearly a superior boxer and the Indian needed a huge slice of inspiration to pull it off but it didn't happen.

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