A few bright notes amid chaos

Poor organisation and lack of response from public marred the 12th edition

A few bright notes amid chaos

Reluctant athletes, shoddy organisation and poor response from the public for most of the events... The 12th South Asian Games turned out to be more of a political show rather than a sporting extravaganza.

The two main objectives behind hosting any sporting event is for the benefit of the home athletes and to engage the fans. Sadly, this edition of SAG lost out on both counts with majority of the Rio Olympics bound athletes visibly unhappy at being forced to compete here — many treating this as a chore and showing hardly any happiness in their victory — and the mismanagement of tickets resulting in thin attendance at most venues. Teething problems existed until the last day of the Games as Assam and Meghalaya’s unpreparedness in limited time for the regional sporting fiesta stood brutally exposed.

Having said all that, despite the hosts missing some of their top athletes, they yet again bossed the SAG, showing the huge gulf in class. In signing off with a record haul of 188 gold, 90 silver and 30 bronze (surpassing the Colombo 1996 feat of 118 gold, 59 silver and 37 bronze), they also crossed the 1000-gold and 2000 medals barrier.

Be it athletics, swimming, weightlifting, boxing, tennis, table tennis, badminton, kabaddi, wrestling, archery, cycling, archery, handball or squash, they totally dominated their rivals, leaving many wondering if it was better of to have the SAG without India as that would give the seven other nations an even platform to compete. The fact that second-placed Sri Lanka won a grand total of 186 medals, not even matching India’s gold count, speaks for itself.

Despite taking into account the complete lack of competition, there were some heartening news for the hosts with several good performers emerging from this Games. The two from the track and field are Neeraj Chopra and L Surya.

Neeraj, just 18 years old and a bright prospect for the country, gave a good account of his talent when he captured the javelin throw gold with a national record. Surya, five years older than Neeraj, secured the women’s 5000-10000M double with a personal best timing and meet record timing in the longer race.

Favourites Mayookha Jhony (triple jump, long jump), MR Poovamma (400M), Sahana Kumari (high jump), Renjith Maheswary (triple jump) and Om Prakash Singh (shot put) expectedly aced their events without breaking much sweat as athletics brought a rich haul of 28 gold, 20 silver and nine bronze — their second best show. However, they were beaten in the sprints with only Srabani Nanda managing to break the Sri Lankan hegemony in the women’s 200M race.

Seasoned swimmer Sandeep Sejwal, 27, kept his Rio Olympics hopes alive with superb wins in his pet events — 50M, 100M and 200M breast stroke. Backstroker PS Madhu was another surprise performer while Malavika V and Damini K Gowda shone among the women. The find of the aquatics competition though were Sri Lankan teenagers Mathew Abheysinghe and Kimiko Raheem, the duo blasting away to six and five individual golds respectively.

Among the shooters, who won all but one gold on offer, Chain Singh was the best performer. The Army man, a Rio quota place winner, beat compatriot Gagan Narang to claim gold in all his three events while 18-year-old Yashaswini Singh Deswal gave an indication of the depth in talent with a bronze in the 10M air pistol. Apurvi Chandela and Heena Sindhu, both Rio quota winners, used this event as a good preparatory exercise for the important season ahead with an individual gold and silver each.

Archers flexed their muscles, shuttler K Srikanth won the singles gold but PV Sindhu shockingly lost in the final of the women’s singles badminton competition to fast-rising compatriot Ruthvika Shivani. Boxers, heavy on star quotient as many hail from North East region, swept away all the gold while weightlifters and wrestlers lost just in two categories. The kabaddi, handball and volleyball teams completed a grand double.

The overwhelming superiority apart, there were a few disappointments for the hosts. The men’s hockey team, fielding a third-string squad owing to many players’ commitments in the ongoing Hockey India League, lost in the final to arch-rivals Pakistan while the men’s football team suffered an agonising defeat to Nepal as their heart-break in SAG continued. The cancellation of the basketball event owing to ongoing feud between the BFI and IOA painted an ugly picture.

For the smaller competing nations like Afghanistan, Nepal, Maldives and Bhutan, the flight to Guwahati and Shillong turned out to be more of an exposure trip. Some of them entered a proper competitive arena for the first time in their lives, taking back home lots of memories. For the top Indian athletes though, they were seemingly happy to get it off their back and refocus on the Road to Rio.

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