Theatre of joy

Print edition : November 05, 2010

The credit for the successful Games goes to the athletes and the unsung workforce who chipped in with priceless contributions.

THE Games ultimately belonged to the athletes. The shame that the officials of the Organising Committee (OC) incurred for their callous treatment of the workforce, the volunteers and the athletes, the most important actors in this sporting drama, diminished to some extent amidst the celebrations that the medals tally triggered among Indian fans.

The spirit of the Commonwealth Games was highlighted when Jamaican athlete Trecia Smith was named winner of the David Dixon Award at the closing ceremony of the 10-day sporting event on October 14. The award is given in recognition of sporting excellence, combined with fair play and team spirit. Having finished her event, Trecia, a physiotherapist, lost no time in joining the Jamaican medical team to help her teammates prepare for their respective events.

Saina Nehwal, a fitting brand ambassador for the sport of badminton, created magic on the courts to land a gold medal that brought India unmatched glory in the history of the Commonwealth Games. It was a gold that meant so much for Saina, badminton and India. Her sensational comeback, saving a match point, against a tough opponent from Malaysia earned India its 38th gold medal, one more than England's. Australia remained the great sporting force that it is by claiming 177 medals 74 gold, 55 silver and 48 bronze. Having begun with just one bronze in 1934 in the second edition of the Commonwealth Games, India has come a long way indeed, finally crossing the 100-medal mark in Delhi. England won 59 silver medals against India's 27, but the Games reflected gloriously on the progress that the home nation has made.

The opening and closing ceremonies of Commonwealth Games 2010 saw India's culture and heritage being showcased in colourful presentations. Here, the closing ceremony on October 14.-V.V. KRISHNAN

India finished fourth in the medal tables at the last two editions of the Games, and the show in Delhi was the country's best performance ever in the event. India's collection in the past was 10 medals in 1966, 16 in 1982, 25 in 1998 and 49 in the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.

It was important for the athletes to perform on a stage that had been blotted by some extremely inefficient officials who brought a bad name to the country. A glaring example came in G. Jwala's outburst at the Siri Fort Sports Complex when she ridiculed the Badminton Association of India president V.K. Verma for his insensitive behaviour.

SAINA NEHWAL CREATED magic on the badminton court to land a gold medal.-R. RAGU

Having won the women's doubles gold in partnership with Ashwini Ponappa, she remembered to thank the fans for their support but lashed out at Verma, who did not congratulate the two women for their wonderful performance. The federation chief [Verma] did not even congratulate us. That's the least he could have done, said a livid Jwala. Interestingly, Verma did not miss participating in the medal-giving ceremony for Saina. In fact, most of the OC officials, thanks to their good homework, were unerringly present at venues where the Indians stood a good chance to win the gold.

The opening and closing ceremonies saw India's culture and heritage being showcased in a very colourful presentation. But the two ceremonies also saw the OC chairman, Suresh Kalmadi, being booed and jeered for his failure on many fronts. His team had let down the sporting fraternity, and Kalmadi's best ever Games refrain proved to be a shallow claim. Lalit Bhanot, the organising secretary of the OC, was lucky to escape criticism because Kalmadi, as the head of the OC, became the target of one and all. His handpicked team was as unprofessional as the official broadcaster of the Games.

SURANJOY SINGH, who won the flyweight gold medal, in action against Haroon Iqbal of Pakistan during the semifinal bout.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

The shoddy working style of the OC could not even take the Games to the common man. It was hardly surprising that Shera, the mascot of the grand event, failed to appeal to the masses in the manner Appu, the lovable baby elephant, did at the 1982 Asian Games.

The low-grade merchandise too did not measure up to the international standards associated with such events. And the spectators, in general, returned with a poor opinion of the organising officials.

INDIA'S 4X400M RELAY winners A.C. Ashwini, Manjit Kaur, Mandeep Kaur and Sini Jose after the race in the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.-K. MURALI KUMAR

If India managed to deliver a successful Games, the credit goes to the athletes and the unsung workforce, who chipped in with some priceless contributions in areas that counted the most. The volunteers and officials were treated shabbily by the OC, not to speak of the athletes, but they took the insults in their stride in the national interest, even if it meant working on empty stomachs and for longer hours than prescribed.

Delivered in style

In the embarrassing run-up to the Games, following pull-outs by some of the noted athletes and lack of coordination among various agencies, it appeared that India had failed. But intervention by the government ensured that the Games was delivered, and delivered in style, making the nation proud of having hosted an event as splendidly as any, if not necessarily in the best way. Considering the ignominy that the OC was subjected to before the Games began, there was a huge sense of relief when everything ended without any incident.

Comparisons were made with the highly successful conduct of the Asian Games in 1982, but the times were different. The 1982 event signified India's capacity to organise big sporting events. So did the Commonwealth Games despite the inept ways of the OC.

GAGAN NARANG EXULTS after winning the gold in the men's 10m air rifle event.-R.V. MOORTH

The legendary Milkha Singh, who bagged India's first gold medal ever at the Games in 1958 at Cardiff, was struck by the negativity that came to signify the preparation of the Delhi Games. His declaration ahead of the Games that India would not win a medal at the athletics competitions stunned the sporting fraternity.

He was rightly and promptly countered by Gurbachan Singh Randhawa, one of India's finest athletes and an eternal optimist. It will be our best athletics show at the Commonwealth Games, announced Randhawa, and he stood a proud man at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium as India won two gold, three silver and seven bronze medals.

It was indeed India's best show ever in athletics at the Commonwealth Games.

ASHISH KUMAR, WHO won the first-ever medal for India in gymnastics.-K. MURALI KUMAR

The Indians competed with the spirit that marks an athlete's dedication. India's last gold medal in athletics came in 1958. The majestic Nehru Stadium became a theatre of joy when Krishna Poonia, Harwant Kaur and Seema Antil made it a 1-2-3 in the women's discus throw. Draped in the national tricolour, this glorious trio ushered in a new era in athletics, and there was more jubilation when the magnificent quartet of Manjit Kaur, Sini Jose, A.C. Ashwini and Mandeep Kaur scorched the turf to claim the 4x400 relay.

The National Anthem was heard twice at the Nehru Stadium, much to the embarrassment of Milkha Singh.

The sight of a near-full house at the Nehru Stadium was the most heartening experience for the capital's sports lovers.

IT WAS A proud moment when Krishna Poonia (gold), Harwant Kaur (silver) and Seema Antil (bronze) made it a 1-2-3 in the women's discus throw.-K. MURALI KUMAR

The empty spectator galleries at many venues were highlighted by the visiting media, which were appalled by the failure of the OC on many fronts, notably the poor functioning of the official website and the Games Information Service and the poor handling of the ticket sales. It was a fit case for a probe as the OC claimed the tickets had been sold out but the athletes performed in empty stadiums.

The cyclists were shocked when the road events were watched by almost no one. The marathon runners had a similar experience. All because the police, overworked but pleasantly efficient, had literally shut the crowd away in the name of providing security. The police deserved a huge pat on the back for facing the challenge of protecting the athletes and the citizens with a most welcome change in their behaviour: they greeted spectators and foreign tourists with a smile.

For many, the inspiring display of gymnast Ashish Kumar was the defining moment for India's sporting progress. Lack of facilities and support from sponsors is the biggest challenge that any youngster has to take to this aesthetic sport, but Ashish's emergence as a shining role model for gymnasts was the biggest gain for India at the Games. He earned a first-ever silver and a bronze in moments to cherish.

Alka Tomar (red) winning the gold against two-time Olympic medallist Tonya Verbeek of Canada in 59kg freestyle wrestling.-K. MURALI KUMAR

Sania Mirza's loss in the women's singles final was compensated for by Somdev Devvarman's gold medal. Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi disappointed too, but the biggest shock came in the boxing ring where Vijender Singh lost his 76 kg semifinal bout in bizarre circumstances, when the referee penalised him for holding and hitting the opponent, Anthony Ogogo of England, on the back of his head. But gold medals from Manoj Kumar, Suronjoy Singh and Paramjit Somota brought cheers to the boxing fraternity.

The shooting contingent did not let the nation down: it contributed 14 gold medals, four of them coming from the rifle ace Gagan Narang. He was the only one in the 2010 Commonwealth Games to achieve a world record performance when he shot a perfect 600 in air rifle and followed it up with a total of 703.6, which was better than his own Final world record of 703.5.

There was disappointment in weightlifting where only two gold medals came from K. Ravi Kumar and Renu Bala Chana. Much more was expected from the lifters. A gold in men's doubles for Sharath Kamal and Subhajit Saha too was a below-the-mark performance in table tennis, but wrestlers brought pride to Indian with a rich haul of 19 medals, 10 of them gold.

Golden strike

The golden strike by women wrestlers Geeta, Anita and Alka Tomar added to the good work done by Sushil Kumar, Yogeshwar Dutt and Narsingh Yadav. The humility that marked the wrestlers' conduct stood out against some contrived show of emotions in other disciplines. Archers achieved a first when the women's team won the gold in recurve. Individual gold medals by Deepika Kumari and Rahul Banerjee in recurve added to the growing popularity of this much-neglected sport.

VOLUNTEERS CARRYING THE kits of athletes after they are off the blocks, during a race at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.-V.V. KRISHNAN

The National Stadium was one venue that attracted a full house every time India played hockey. Memorable victories against Pakistan and England saw India set up a title clash with Australia, but the final turned out to be a most shattering experience for the home supporters. A humiliating 8-0 thrashing at the hands of the world's best team only highlighted the difference between India and Australia. Indian hockey, for all the passion that it generates in the hearts of its lovers, has a long way to go to regain its lost glory. The silver medal was a small step in that direction.

Events like aquatics, cycling, netball, lawn bowls and rugby 7s were not expected to fetch India any medal and they did not. There was talk of the Games leaving behind a rich legacy in terms of infrastructure and awareness, but Akhil Ranade, a young sports enthusiast and sportsman from Mumbai, summed it up well: The Games hardly made an impact outside Delhi. The Games did not boost our tourism as was projected. It did not bring in great business as was projected. Because the Commonwealth Games does not have the same appeal as the Olympic Games, the Asian Games or the FIFA World Cup. It would have been ideal for us to have looked at staging the World Cup because it involves global participation, massive sponsorship and appeal.

The Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) president Mike Fennell, initially apprehensive, lavished praise on India for proving to be a wonderful host. I was asked when I was coming here [on September 23]: When are you going to announce the cancellation of the Games? I told the questioner that I was going to set it right and not announce its cancellation. And today, I am happy we [the CGF] and the OC could function with the utmost coordination and deliver a successful Games.

ARCHER DEEPIKA KUMARI, who won the gold in the individual recurve event.-RAJEEV BHATT

Fennell was happy that the competitions were held on schedule. He also shared his satisfaction at the athletes being happy and comfortable throughout their stay at the Games Village. Fennell also said some of the venues had been especially good. Even as he acknowledged the absence of some household names the world over, Fennell observed, We have also had a high level of competition in all the 17 disciplines.

There was praise for the transport arrangements, the citizens of Delhi and the traffic authorities. The 22,000-strong volunteer force and the 4,000-strong workforce, who toiled hard day and night for the success of the Games, also came in for a most deserving praise from the CGF chief. The dedicated workforce, minus the OC officials, was the soul of the Games. It ensured that the Games, with Glasgow as the next host in 2014, indeed belonged to the athletes.

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