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.


Giorgio Chiellini confident Juventus can buck recent trend of Supercoppa defeats

Though upbeat, Juventus captain Giorgio Chiellini admitted that it will be a “difficult match.” (AN Photo by Huda Bashatah)
Updated 16 January 2019
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Giorgio Chiellini confident Juventus can buck recent trend of Supercoppa defeats

  • Skipper also happy the match is being played in Jeddah, and sees it as a ‘step forward’ for Saudi Arabia
  • AC Milan coach Gennaro Gattuso sidesteps questions about Gonzalo Higuain’s rumored move to English Premier League

JEDDAH: Juventus have been experiencing a worrying trend in cup finals of late. Despite securing the Serie A and Coppa Italia double for three seasons running, they have lost back-to-back Supercoppas and seven out of nine European cup finals. It’s a trend, however, that captain Giorgio Chiellini believes can be halted on January 16 when his side takes on AC Milan in the Supercoppa Italiana final at King Abdullah Sports City Stadium in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
“We want to change that trend that has seen us lose the last two Supercoppa finals, and this is the ideal opportunity,” said the defender. “We have changed a great deal in two years, but we’ve got to prove ourselves with actions rather than words because we let a few too many of these trophies slip through our fingers and it’s a shame.
“It’s going to be a difficult match but the objective is to start 2019 lifting a trophy above our heads.”
Chiellini also defended the choice of Jeddah as the venue for the game against a backdrop of criticism by some. He said that it was “right” to give the Saudi port city the chance to host the showpiece match.
“I am happy this game is being played here and can be seen as a further reason for progress in this country, and I see it as a step forward and not a problem,” he said. “We (soccer players) cannot change the world but initiatives such as this can provide a new start.
“We have been given a warm welcome and I hope tomorrow can be remembered by the Saudi people as a wonderful celebration. We have to provide a spectacle of Italian football and know that all fans will be happy with our performances.”
As the rival teams faced the media on the eve of the match, both were confident about their chances of lifting the first silverware of the Italian soccer season. This year marks the 31st Supercoppa, a match contested by the previous season’s Serie A domestic league champions and the winners of the Coppa Italia. When a single team wins both honors, as was the case last season, they take on the Coppa Italia runners-up.
This year’s game, the tickets for which reportedly sold out in two days, might also mark a farewell to Italian football for striker Gonzalo Higuain, who is currently on loan to AC Milan from Juventus but is widely rumored to be on the verge of a move to Chelsea in the English Premier League. If the Argentine international is indeed on his way out, he will be hoping to end his stay with the Rossoneri with some silverware while also, perhaps, sticking it to his parent club.

Milan coach Gennaro Gattuso (center) said Higuain has never told him he wants to leave the club. (AN Photo by Huda Bashatah)

Asked about the status of any transfer talks, AC Milan head coach Gennaro Gattuso was careful to avoid feeding the rumor mill.
“At this moment, I have to repeat the same words: there are many rumors but Higuain is training well and working with everyone just fine and is at our disposal,” he said. “I base my decisions on how players train during the week and how they work with the staff and their teammates. We’ll see tomorrow whether he plays or not.
“I want to reiterate that Higuain has never told me he wants to leave. I am waiting for that. He has to decide what to do, how to resolve this issue, but right now he is training with great professionalism. We’ll see.”
Gattuso then nipped this line of questioning in the bud by adding: “I want to be honest; I don’t even want to talk about Higuain as we’re here for the Supercoppa.”
Juventus head coach Massimiliano Allegri, meanwhile, is well aware that while they are undefeated in Serie A this season after 19 games, with 17 wins and two draws, league form counts for little in a cup final, as evidenced by their recent results in such games. As such, he is keen to avoid any complacency among his players.
“One of the great strengths of this team is our respect for the opposition, otherwise you don’t win as many games as we have,” he said. “There are 22 points separating our teams in Serie A but those don’t matter here. If we do not have great humility and respect for Milan tomorrow, then it’s unlikely we will win the game.”
The prematch press conference inevitably included questions about Cristiano Ronaldo. Since his 112 million euro ($128 million) move to Juventus from Real Madrid last summer, the Portuguese star has netted 15 goals in 25 appearances. On Wednesday, the five-time winner of the Ballon d'Or — an award presented each year by France Football magazine to the player judged to be the best in the world — will aim to lift his maiden trophy with his new club, after having bagged 15 titles during his nine years with the Spanish giants.
While Ronaldo did not appear at the press conference, Allegri was asked whether the striker had arrived in Italy with a stronger and hungrier desire to win.
“He would have to win something first to prove that,” the coach said. “Cristiano is accustomed to winning; he has won four of the past five Champions Leagues and many more titles. Ronaldo is the best player in the world and clearly an added bonus for us. Our situation has certainly improved with his presence.”
Wednesday night’s match is sure to be hotly contested, as Juventus and AC Milan currently share the record for Supercoppa titles, with seven each. While Juventus are making their seventh successive Supercoppa appearance, it is perhaps AC Milan who can lay claim to bragging rights, given that the last time these two teams met in the Supercoppa, in 2016, the Rossoneri ended up on top following a penalty shoot-out after the game ended in a 1-1 draw after extra time. With all the talking officially done, all that remains is a historic night of top quality soccer at King Abdullah Sports City Stadium.