Athletics the force behind India

Sawpna Barman's heptathlon gold helped India swell their medals tally at the Asian Games. PTI

Wide smiles lit up the VIP foyer of the GBK Stadium on the last night of Asian Games athletics on Thursday. Athletes, officials and coaches from the Indian contingent were busy patting each other for a stupendous show that was the force behind India’s charge in the medal’s tally this time.

Of the record-equalling 15 gold medals, athletics alone had contributed seven, making up for the defeat in many other sports that were expected to bring home gold. As the curtains came down on the party in Indonesia’s host cities, if India could look back with a measure of satisfaction, track and field, certainly was the main reason.

Hockey and kabaddi were major let downs while shooting and wrestling brought home two gold medals each. Tennis, boxing, bridge and rowing then chipped in with their bit, ensuring India retained their eighth position on the table.

Inevitably, there were several passengers in the 571-member contingent but from the future perspective, the spotlight was on a handful of men and women who raised their bar, generating hope that given the right training and exposure, they could target Tokyo 2020.

Indisputably, Neeraj Chopra soars to the top of the list. Every competition is a chance to improve for the javelin thrower and he used the Asian Games arena to lift his standard by another notch. “My only plan is to give my 100 percent every time and I am happy I managed to do it here,” he said, even as the focus turned to the hard grind other barrier-breakers went through to make their journey count.

Swapna Barman’s painful feet and Manjit Singh’s lack of employment came to the forefront thanks to their victorious shows in heptathlon and 800 metres.

There were other big winners as well, like Jinson Johnson who ended a long drought in 1500 metres. 

India’s tally in track and field could have been much higher but for the presence of African imports from Bahrain and Qatar, especially in the men’s and women’s sprints.

Shooting marked the rise of teen phenoms. Saurabh Chaudhary’s gold in 10m air pistol and Shardul Vihan’s silver in double trap masked the failure of another teen star Manu Bhaker to win a medal, while a breakthrough moment for women came from Rahi Sarnobat in the 25m pistol.

Vinesh Phogat’s triumph in freestyle wrestling too was a first for women, after Bajrang Punia had opened the route to the gold in the men’s section. Still, wrestlers, overall, fell short on the mat.

Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan kept tennis’ run going in men’s doubles but it could have been better had the singles players lifted their level. Boxers also slipped in the ring, with Amit Panghal claiming the only gold. But the Army man’s victory was certainly one for the future.

Army men revealed their grit in the rowing arena at Palembang, recovering from a poor show on day one of the finals to pick up a gold that brought much joy and relief.

Amidst the glitter of gold, the 24 silver and 30 bronze that India won will understandably go in the background but there were a few that needed special praise. Fouaad Mirza’s silver was a rare one in equestrian while the two bronze medals in table tennis — Sharath Kamal and Manika Batra in mixed doubles as well as the men’s team — were India’s first in this sport, and marked a step forward.

Two medals — a silver from P V Sindhu and a bronze from Saina Nehwal — marked a first for badminton as well but the thought lingered that it could have been much more. Call it greed, or ambition, that is the way sport goes — success is never too much to digest, especially when it comes once in every four years.

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Athletics the force behind India

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