Golden moments to savour

It wasn't all smooth sailing but India still reaped a good haul with several individual achievements standing out

Golden moments to savour

It’s report card time again, and when one looks back at the tests that Indian sport went through in 2014, the results could be termed satisfactory. Not in the excellent grade, not disappointing either. A mixed bag of joy and sorrow, defeats and victories, controversies and clamour for power. Of new ventures raising fresh hopes. In fact, a typical Indian sporting year where, more often than not, individuals fought against odds to make their mark.

Saina Nehwal and Sania Mirza come to the forefront. One for showing boldness to leave her comfort zone and the other for her crusade to silence her critics with strong on-court performances. Her brief career is already a synonym for Indian badminton but Saina yearns for more. She wants to explore her capabilities before it is too late. Hence the switch of coaches in a season that saw her winning three titles. Not her best of course but she’s still a talent in transit.

Sania too had three doubles titles on the tour and a big mixed doubles one at the US Open with Bruno Soares. Off court issues never pulled her back. Verbal replies weren’t as forceful as her whiplash strokes that fetched an Asian Games mixed doubles gold with Saketh Myneni. Indian tennis stood proud at the end.

The two big Games of the year netted gains at expected levels. Preparations weren’t ideal for the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games, with the administrators locked in disputes with the international body. The rewards as such, were more or less in line with the talent on view -- 15 gold at Glasgow and 11 at Incheon.

Individual achievements were aplenty at these Games,  but more memorable was a team gold won after a gap of 16 years. The long wait made the Asian Games triumph in hockey sweeter. The icing was the spot gained for the 2016 Olympic Games. When it comes to this sport though, the more the gain, the more the pain. Terry Walsh, the proud coach, ended up among trash to be another reminder.

Administrators were in the news from start to finish. The Indian Olympic Association got back into the Olympic fold after fresh elections placed a new team in charge in February. In cricket, N Srinivasan’s courtroom battles stayed in the news after the Indian Premier League’s brush with betting and spot-fixing charges. His game endured an up and down journey, individuals fighting lone battles to turn the tide. Tests away ended in crushing defeats, one-dayers brought forth better news and a world record individual score for Rohit Sharma but consistent success eluded Team India.

Testing everyone’s patience, controversies also refused to die down in boxing, bouts inside the ring taking the back seat even as Boxing India and Indian Amateur Boxing Federation traded punches outside. Mary Kom and Sarita Devi also kept the sport in the news. Magnificent Mary missed out on a berth in the Commonwealth Games squad but that made her punches stronger at the Asian Games a few months later. A gold in her fist, a movie in her name, the boxer from Manipur had plenty in her plate.
In contrast, Mary’s fellow Manipuri Sarita had her hands full. Her petulant display at Incheon brought forth a stern rebuke from the authorities but a one-year ban was an escape of sorts for the boxer who was staring at a far stiffer punishment. She was one individual fighting perceived injustice by the system.

The year seemed the perfect time to launch a sporting league. IPL had been the pioneer. Badminton, hockey and volleyball followed in subsequent years. And 2014 witnessed the sight of kabaddi, tennis and football joining the bandwagon. Fans lapped up the entertainment acts that seem to be quickly filling the calendar, one following the other in prime time slots.

Badminton missed its league this year but the sport’s fortunes kept rising. Saina wasn’t the lone warrior leading the charge for shuttlers. Parupalli Kashyap ended a long drought in men’s singles at Commonwealth Games while P V Sindhu, with grit as her calling card, retained the World Championship bronze to underline her potential. Kidambi Srikanth stormed centre stage with the big scalp of Lin Dan and a triumph at the China Open while team bronze in Uber Cup and at the Asian Games were splendid achievements.

The call for recognition came out strongly from squash. Dipika Pallikal and Joshna Chinnappa turned the spotlight on themselves with doubles gold at the Commonwealth Games while at the Asian Games, the men’s team spearheaded by Saurav Ghoshal followed suit, providing a timely thrust to the Indian quest for gold.
Abhinav Bindra’s first individual success highlighted shooting’s stay at the Commonwealth Games but the sport’s torchbearer in the season was Jitu Rai. Gold medals at Glasgow and Incheon and silver at the World Championships embellished the pistol shooter’s year but his sport didn’t bring a big gold haul in the season from their favourite stage, the Commonwealth Games, with the number of events getting cut this time, focusing on individuals instead of the team.

Track and field, all about individuals, found its stars in the towering Vikas Gowda and the tall Seema Antil. Gowda struck gold in Glasgow and silver at Incheon while it was the other way round for Seema. Still, it was tough times for the sport on the big stages.
Wrestlers answered the nation’s call splendidly over the season, with Sushil Kumar, Yogeshwar Dutt and company picking up five gold medals from the mat in Glasgow. At the tougher Asian Games challenge, with Sushil missing in action, only Yogeshwar touched gold medal standard — a strong individual fighting for the team’s cause. They formed India’s class in 2014 and the road to another big challenge begins next year, with qualification races for Rio 2016 demanding attention. Trust them to raise the bar.

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