Sunday, August 12, 2012

Reflections on the Games

1) Prior to the Games, I did not give any chances for either Abhinav Bindra, Vijender Kumar or Sushil Kumar to repeat their Beijing performance and win any medal. This was because Bindra-saab was too busy giving interviews on extraneous happenings in sports instead of fine-tuning his skillset, Vijender was too busy modeling on the ramp, and Sushil was too busy on MTV Roadies and needed three attempts to qualify for the Games. To his credit, Sushil did make me eat humble-pie, which is wonderful news. Even if that pie had been served on a golden plate.

2) Of the medal winners at the 2008 Games, only Bindra-saab was a Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna winner (the Indian equivalent of the Nobel for sporting achievement) prior to the Games. Vijender and Sushil were post-facto awarded the Khel Ratna after the 2008 Games once the Mary Kom issue was settled. In this edition, only Yogeshwar Dutt and Vijay Kumar were unknowns/newbies to the scene. It is fair to say that most keen sports-watchers had no idea of these two medal winners prior to they winning the medals. Going down from 66% to 33% in terms of a priori lack of recognition, one gets the impression that the Indian scheme of spotting talent is getting better. Now, if only such a honing of diamonds happened with equal pace in science and technology, life would be so much better for the academics out there. Sadly, there are no Olympics for academics and one has to trod on the beaten path for god knows how long before a breakthrough filters in.

3) Looking back, the event that started it all was Leander Paes' epic bronze match against Fernando Meligeni. Seeing Paes standing aside Agassi and Bruguera and breaking the 16 year medal drought, it was coincident that all this happened in the post-liberalization and new India period. While the man needs to be given all the credit for being the fore-runner to the current gleeful times, one also needs to note that his record sixth Olympics was left in tatters by the one controversy that hogged the limelite and has set Indian tennis back by many a level. On this note, dirty linen can now be washed in public given that it is time to understand what really happened. While Mahesh and Leander were not on great terms ever since their first breakup in the early 2000s, the current fistfighting goes back to the Davis Cup matchplay against Uzbekistan in Feb. 2008 (Linky).

With Paes as the playing captain (a surprise given that Indian Davis Cup team of the 90s had almost always had Naresh Kumar or Jaideep Mukherjea as the non-playing captain) and Rohan Bopanna's singles spot assured as the man-in-form, it was a question of finding the right second singles player. With Prakash Amritraj being the leading "Indian" on the ATP charts and a newbie by the name Somdev Devvarman just arriving from NCAA events, it was only reasonable to expect Prakash to be pitted in the second singles match especially given that Prakash had soundly beaten Dennis Istomin twice before. What did complicate the matter was that Prakash had picked a wrist injury that forced him to withdraw from the Challenger event the previous week and there were reports of a stomach bug to boot. Prakash however claimed that it was too cold in China and he withdrew only because he wanted to play the Davis Cup more. Prakash did cite the doubles match he played in China as evidence, but this did nt wash quite well as Prakash had lost the match and there was no convincing proof of no injury. Forced to make a choice, Paes as the captain decided to field an undercooked Somdev over Prakash, who duly got trampled on his debut Davis Cup match, Prakash was left fuming on how he was fit for the match and he found able support in Mahesh (a fellow Tamil Christian and comrade in arms given that it was a shot against Paes).

This back and forth culminated in Leander's accusation that Prakash was not committed enough for a nationalist cause that set Prakash and dad Vijay fuming. With Bopanna clawing a magical five set loss after leading by two sets, it was again a case of Somdev vs. Prakash. This time, Prakash got the nod ahead of Somdev and he went on to truly set the stage on fire by leading India to a 3-2 win. While, ideally the nationalist cause rhetoric might have been left behind in another scenario as a heat of the moment accusation, it divided the camp vertically into the pro-Leander set (which eventually became a set of one as more and more people started growing uncomfortable with Leander wearing the uber-nationalist flag on his chest -- for which of course he makes the best case), and an anti-Leander lobby/set that puts business ahead of jingoism and jargon-ism. In fact, Leander and Mahesh tried to avoid each other in the 2011-12 period. Aiding in this transformation was the Globosport event marketing enterprise, run by Mahesh, which went through some massive business changes as the manager of the company had quit and Mahesh had to bring his sister to the helm over his ex-wife (now divorced). All this ensured that Mahesh had absolutely no time for tennis and this did show in his recent track record in doubles. If there was any justice in the world, the men's doubles combination would have been the Leander-Bopanna and the mixed doubles would have been Mahesh-Sania. The wrong teams went to London and duly exited as soon as they landed.

In terms of the future, things are at abysmal low. The sense of camaraderie in the team has evaporated and it would not be unfair to demand that Leander, Mahesh and Rohan all retire right away. Yes, including Rohan Bopanna. I think it is time to move on from this bunch and put down the expectations on any World Group appearance for a few years.

4) That historic low brings us to hockey. Noone knows what happened. I most definitely did not watch the matches, so I cannot comment on what went wrong. It was not a bad team as people now make it out to be, it was the very same team that had won in Delhi. The very same team hammered Pakistan in the first match of the World Cup. What happened most likely was a collective loss of faith in one's abilities. Happens many a time in sports, one thing leads to another and you never recover, much like the choking problem of the South African cricket team. When the expectations are sky-high, and much rides on your performance, everyone chokes at times. Did Coach Nobbs' comment spark this meltdown? Or whatever it was, let us hope that Hockey India pays a price and resign en masse. Too fat a chance that is happening.

For all the clamor calls from the concerned citizens of India on demoting hockey from the national sport, the Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs in fact replied to a RTI query by a school kid last month that hockey indeed is not our national sport! Whatever it is, hockey belongs to a generation of standing up and fighting the Brits. For a sad bunch of Indians for whom nationalism begins with the Shakti blasts and the Kargil War, it would make no difference whether Henry Rebello was forced to make an impromptu jump after a medal ceremony that forced him to eke out a sprain or whether Jaipal Singh Munda faced the same taunts that forced Gandhi to fight the rampant racism and bigotry in South Africa. It would nt make absolutely any difference as to whether the East Yorkshire Regiment got trampled by Mohun Bagan or if the shoe-less wonders lost the bronze playoff in Melbourne 1956 to Yugoslavia. Or if the Asian Games was an idea conceived in India. We perhaps lost that moral authority when we let the Pakistanis invent the idea of Champions Trophy. As they say, trample on your own history and recommit the mistakes of the past. But I guess, one has to choose to be anachronistic these days and take the Chetan Bhagat dictum that all that the youngistan brigade wants is a good job and a girlfriend. Sadly, the news that Indian football has sunk to its lowest would not have been missed much in the frenzy of the Games.

5) Of the medal winners, I did expect Mary Kom to get one, but I expected a gold. I was not too keen on Saina getting one, however, especially given that she still has nt apologized for the passport controvery of 2009 in the lead-up days to the Thai and Indonesian Opens. But whatever it is, I do believe that these have been India's first women medals. While I do not want to forget Karnam Malleswari's feat at Sydney 2000, I have a sad bad story to tell regarding the Indian weightlifting program and none of the medal winners from the past events have been clean in my eyes (most definitely not Krishnan Madaswamy who set the Commonwealth Games podium aflame).

That brings us to the sad story of the 4x400 athletes: Tiana Mary Thomas, Ashwini Akkunji, Mandeep Kaur, Manjit Kaur, Sini Jose, Priyanka Panwar, and Jauna Murmu. In fact, Manjit Kaur "retired" from athletics with immediate effect and kept her Punjab Police job instead of submitting her blood sample to NADA. Only in India will one be able to keep a job obtained via the sports quota, even after legally refusing to prove that the said athlete has been clean. Only in India will someone cherished as the new face of tier-2 India as Ashwini was touted in her breakthrough year disappoint us and break our hearts that, "tier-2 or tier-1, there are infinitely many short-cuts in life" is the only phrase left in our salty mouths.

It is an open secret that Indians dope and weightlifting and athletics are the most criminal of sports in terms of getting caught by WADA/NADA stipulations. And the fact that Indians dope in sports only reflects on our movie stars who dope to build muscle mass overnight. Yes, hello, I mean you Aamir Khan of Ghajini fame, Shah Rukh Khan of "I want to best Aamir at his game", I mean Kamal Hassan who put on muscle mass at the grand old age of 47 for Aalavandhan when people half his age have a problem producing enough testosterone
to put on muscle mass, I mean Surya and every other two bit actors in *-wood who have put on muscle mass overnight. That is not a clean chit that those athletes from the US and China who pass the drug test are clean, but an indictment that Indians are lousy even in cheating and leave it so obvious to those who can see, and yet want to get away with such actions.

6) That brings me to the hope of the Games. As for archery, I may need to dust my 1992 Sportstar center-page poster featuring Limba Ram titled, "Aim Bold, Target Gold." All said and done, Deepika Kumari has just shown that Jharkhand is/will be known for something other than MSD. Will a state that could not host the National Games even after four postponements get its act together and be inspired by this remarkable woman's story and bring the polarized sections of society together? God knows, but marang gomke will be watching from his grave and heaving a sigh of relief when that happens. Now if Shibu Soren gets the idea....

7) That leaves three of our sports at absolute pits -- hockey, football and tennis. I have no idea whether I should rejoice at winning six medals or not. But this is a new India, a brave India, which has its own sense of nationalist outpourings and candle-light moments. I live in the days gone by, I will revisit my albums of the 1928-1936 gold winners. On a positive note, India were in the hunt for a medal from the second day to the last. On a negative note, the attention of the Opening Ceremony was hogged by a typical Indian act: cutting the line and snatching the limelite of others. To top that act of lack of sense, the red-sweatered lady was touted as beautiful (no, she was just simply fat!).

8) As for UK's shambolic preparation, the less said the better. I never heard a pipsqueak from Perry Crosswhite of the CGOC fame on how bad the preparations were and the snafus that were tolerated. Rest assured, all the medals won by the UK can only assuage the honor and dignity quotient of the Brits. Most Games end up being a Crow's Nest and this will not be very far off. Now let us hope that Suresh Kalmadi does not get any new ideas on hosting this extravaganza in India. India is not at a stage to organize such leeching events for another 100 years, may be never.

More later...

PS: If the English and the flow resembles Chetan Bhagat's that is intentional :)



At August 22, 2012 at 4:17 AM , Anonymous sum said...

Thanks for the post, Stan-saar.

Was thinking of asking your opinion of the Indian performance ( since i recall you had predicted a very rich haul with multiple golds) and had somehow missed this post.

At August 23, 2012 at 12:01 PM , Blogger Pax-Indica said...

Yep, I had thought of 2 golds, both in boxing. I was pretty sure Vijender would nt win a medal though. Too bad, predictions are just that. I am worried about the regionalization of sport (Haryana and Manipur for boxing, Hyderabad for badminton, Madras for squash and tennis, Coorg-Sansarpur-Manipur-Punjab for hockey). In terms of long-term prospects, this aint funny. Only cricket and chess seem to be defying the odds, but chess is hitting way below the belt in terms of high-profile performances. In some sense, India are a paper tiger in chess modulo Anand. Once upon a time, hockey used to be the grand unifier of Indian sport that every middle-class and aware Indian (I know this % was small) could look up to, which was why it was an automatic choice for THE national game. Cricket serves that purpose now very well, but THE Great Game is still THE Great Game. Heck, its the only game I could care about if you ask me.


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