India should celebrate Commonwealth Games medal haul but syringes cast a cloud

The India flag is proudly waved at the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games. (AFP)
Updated 17 April 2018
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India should celebrate Commonwealth Games medal haul but syringes cast a cloud

  • India finished third in the medals’ table, with 26 golds, 20 silvers and 20 bronzes
  • But two athletes are sent home for breaching the No-Needle policy.

Most parts of the country celebrated the new year on April 14-15, and the Indian Premier League (IPL) provided the perfect holiday entertainment with two thrilling matches on Saturday.
Jason Roy led Delhi Daredevils to a last-ball win in Mumbai, and Yusuf Pathan then helped Sunrisers Hyderabad put one over his old team, Kolkata Knight Riders, in another tense finish.
But come Sunday morning, it wasn’t those two games that occupied most sports fans. Hundreds of thousands had woken up at dawn and brewed their tea or coffee in preparation for two badminton finals at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast. India were guaranteed gold in the women’s singles, while the men’s final featured Kidambi Srikanth, who had just displaced Denmark’s Viktor Axelson as the world No.1.
Saina Nehwal, who won gold at the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi in 2010 and bronze at the London Olympics (2012), was once the torchbearer for women’s badminton in India. But in recent seasons, PV Sindhu, five years younger at 22, has taken over the mantle. When injury wrecked Nehwal’s medal hopes in Rio de Janeiro (2016), it was Sindhu that stepped up and won silver. She’s currently ranked No.3 in the world. Nehwal is No.12.
But Sindhu has a problem. After the loss in the Olympic final to Spain’s Carolina Marin, she lost World Championship gold to Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara last year. Faced with another summit clash, she stumbled again, as Nehwal prevailed in straight sets. The level of interest in the contest was best illustrated by a tweet from India’s most-loved sportsperson. “Two of India’s daughters fought it out in the #GC2018Badminton final for a Gold Medal,” said Sachin Tendulkar. “Extremely proud of you both. Setting a perfect example for budding players.
“Congratulations, @NSaina on emerging victorious and well fought, @Pvsindhu1. #GC2018.”
What followed dampened the mood somewhat. Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei has three Olympic silvers and was once acknowledged as one of the game’s greatest practitioners. Now 35, he’s ranked sixth in the world, but on the big stage, he had far too much nous and craft for Srikanth to handle. The Indian, who had beaten Lee as India took the team gold, won a tight first game, but was taught a sobering lesson in tournament play in games two and three.
Despite that, India finished third in the medals’ table, with 26 golds, 20 silvers and 20 bronzes. Only in Manchester (2002), when they won 30 golds and 69 medals in all, and New Delhi (2010), when a record haul of 101 medals included 38 golds, have they won more.
The shooting ranges — seven golds, and 16 medals — provided the richest haul, while wrestling and weightlifting accounted for five golds apiece. The boxers took home nine medals, with one of the three golds going to the indefatigable Mary Kom, 35 and now a mother of three.
The breakout star, however, was Manika Batra in the table tennis arena. She took home the singles gold and led the women’s team to the top step of the podium, in addition to winning silver and bronze in the doubles events.
But it wasn’t all tickertape parades. The men’s hockey side, for so long the symbol of Indian sporting pride, disappointed again. Far from convincing in the group phase, they lost the semifinal to New Zealand and the bronze-medal match to England.
There was ignominy too as Rakesh Babu (men’s triple jump) and Irfan Kolothum Thodi (men’s 20km walk) were sent home for breaching the No-Needle policy. Syringes were found in the room they shared, and their explanation cut no ice. The team managers were also severely reprimanded as a result.
That episode also took some of the sheen off a historic track-and-field gold, from Neeraj Mishra in the javelin. It was only India’s fifth in the history of the games, though an asterisk hangs over one of them, the 4x400 gold in the women’s relay in 2010. Sini Jose, Ashwini Akkunji and Mandeep Kaur, three of the quartet that won India’s first track gold since Milkha Singh (400m) in Cardiff in 1958, tested positive for steroids soon after and were banned for two years.
Even as the medal haul is celebrated, India, who have an unfortunate history of employing coaches from Iron-Curtain nations that had organized doping programs, need to remain vigilant. Keeping the IPL off the back pages is something to celebrate, but the wounds of that Delhi betrayal still cut deep.


FOUR THINGS WE LEARNED: A classic clash, sublime New Orleans Saints and a bad break for Alex Smith

Updated 20 November 2018
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FOUR THINGS WE LEARNED: A classic clash, sublime New Orleans Saints and a bad break for Alex Smith

  • Saints once again show why they are serious Super Bowl contenders.
  • Unlucky Alex Smith suffers a horror injury.

LONDON: This is the time of year that can either make or break a team’s regular season. Are they headed for the playoffs or are they set to be on holiday in January? Here is what we learned after week 11 of the NFL.

RAMS AND CHIEFS SERVE UP A CLASSIC

Where to start analyzing Monday night’s epic in Los Angeles? It was certainly one of the best games of gridiron I have ever seen. From the first kick-off to the final seconds, both sides threw caution to the wind, with the Rams winning by three points in a 54-51 nail-biter — on the way to producing a classic clash that will still be talked about for years to come. 
American Football is often criticized for being too “stop-start,” but watching these two Super Bowl favorites go hammer and tongs for four quarters would have been enough to convert any detractor.
To put into context just how explosive both teams were, it was the first time two teams have scored more than 50 points in a match in the history of the NFL.
While many are praising the defensive qualities of a playoffs-bound Chicago, we are just glad the defensive units did not bother showing up for this one and we had the privilege of watching two blistering offenses in full flow. If either of these teams goes on to win the Super Bowl, they can pinpoint this match as one of the key moments of their season.

It was raining touchdowns in the all-time classic between the Chiefs and the Rams.



SAINTS CHANNELLING THE SPIRIT OF 2009

When the league fixtures were announced in the summer, the Saints-Eagles match-up was singled out as a test of the two team’s NFC championship credentials. Unlike the Rams and Chiefs extravaganza, though, this ended up being a damp squib of a game. 
Philadelphia just did not turn up, while the Saints — the hottest team in the league at the moment — were imperiously led by Drew Brees to a blowout 48-7 win, which now sits in the record books as worst defeat in the Eagles’ history. 
Brees threw for 363 yards and four touchdowns, meaning that the 9-1 Saints have now scored 40-plus points in three matches in a row and have become the first team in the Super Bowl era to post at least 40 points six times in the first 10 games of the season. It will take a very good team to stop this Saints side from claiming glory in Atlanta next February.

Drew Brees was once again in imperious form for the ever-improving and dangerous Saints. 



PURE ATHLETICISM TRUMPS TACTICAL PLAY-CALLS

Gridiron is an extremely technical and tactical sport, with coaches and players spending weeks perfecting certain plays. But sometimes a moment of sheer athletic prowess wins out and blows all the spreadsheets and playbook analysis out the window. Week 11 saw its fair share of brilliant moments — from Kenny Golladay’s sublime touchdown catch for the Lions against Carolina, to Juju Smith-Schuster’s unbelievable grab for the Steelers on a late, game-winning drive, not forgetting Odell Beckham’s strength to hold on in the end-zone for a Giants score against Tampa Bay. And those moments are exactly why millions of people tune in to the NFL every week.

Kenny Golladay with his moment of magic during Detriot's 20-19 win over Carolina. 



THOUGHTS WITH ALEX SMITH

Much progress has been made in preventing concussion and serious head injuries in the NFL in recent years. Rule changes and safety measures have been implemented, and we are beginning to see a reduction in the number of head and neck traumas. But in sport, horror injuries can happen — and there is little the league can do to prevent the kind of leg breaks Washington’s Alex Smith suffered during their game against the Texans. Everyone watching immediately knew the severity of the break, and it is clear Smith faces a lengthy recovery. Such injuries can end careers. Here’s hoping he makes it back.

Alex Smith being stretchered off after his horror injury suffered against the Texans.