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.


Profligate Arsenal punished by 10-man Atletico Madrid

The gunners could not defeat 10-man Atletico Madrid. (AFP)
Updated 27 April 2018
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Profligate Arsenal punished by 10-man Atletico Madrid

  • The Gunners played with an extra man for over 80 minutes
  • Arsenal now need to become the first away team to score in 12 matches at Atletico’s Wanda Metropolitano stadium next week

LONDON: Arsenal’s hopes of sending outgoing manager Arsene Wenger off with a trophy suffered a major blow as they could only draw 1-1 with 10-man Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their Europa League semifinal on Thursday.
The Gunners played with an extra man for over 80 minutes at the Emirates Stadium, with Sime Vrsaljko’s early red card handing them the initiative.
However, they were made to rue a host of missed chances before and after Alexandre Lacazette headed them in front on the hour mark.
Atletico coach Diego Simeone was also sent to the stands shortly after Vrsaljko’s dismissal, but the Spaniards resisted manfully and pounced when their chance came as Antoine Griezmann prodded home a vital away goal eight minutes from time.
Arsenal now need to become the first away team to score in 12 matches at Atletico’s Wanda Metropolitano stadium next week if Wenger’s last game in charge is to be the final in his homeland in Lyon on May 16.
Moreover, Arsenal’s hopes of Champions League football next season also hang on becoming the first side other than Real Madrid to eliminate Atletico from Europe for five seasons.
There was a far more highly-charged atmosphere for Wenger’s penultimate home game in charge than there had been for last weekend’s game against West Ham United.
And the hosts were given plenty of encouragement early on, even when still up against Atletico’s full complement.
Lacazette volleyed off the outside of the post and forced Jan Oblak into the first of a series of fine saves with a header from close range.
Vrsaljko had been booked within two minutes for bringing down Jack Wilshere.

And the Croatian left his side a man light after just 10 minutes when French referee Clement Turpin showed no leniency for another late challenge on Lacazette.
Moments later, Simeone was also dismissed by the officious referee for taking his protests too far when an Arsenal player wasn’t booked for what he thought was a similar foul.
Atletico’s excellent defensive record is what has carried them to five European semifinals in seven seasons under Simeone.
The visitors battened down the hatches with 10 men, but were reliant on Oblak to keep them in the tie.
Wilshere headed straight at Oblak when unmarked at the back post at the end of a flowing Arsenal move.
And the Slovenian then spread himself well with an outstretched leg to deny Danny Welbeck.
Having weathered the Gunners’ early storm, Atletico only began to threaten themselves late in the first half and David Ospina had to be alert to parry a fiercely struck Griezmann shot following a fine run from Thomas Partey.
Atletico retreated ever deeper toward their own goal after the break and were finally punished on the hour mark when Wilshere’s deep cross found Lacazette rising above Lucas Hernandez to head in his seventh goal in seven games.
However, the French international and Arsenal could have had more.
Laczette’s dangerous ball across goal found no takers before he headed another good opportunity wide.
And Arsenal paid heavily for their profligacy, and some comical defending, when Atletico grabbed a vital away goal on 82 minutes.
Griezmann outmuscled French international team-mate Laurent Koscielny and then benefited from a slip by Shkodran Mustafi after his initial effort had been saved by Ospina to prod his 27th goal of the season into the roof of the net.
There was still time for Oblak to show why Griezmann isn’t the only Atletico player wanted by Europe’s elite with a spectacular one-handed save to turn Aaron Ramsey’s header behind and keep Los Rojiblancos on course for another European final.