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

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

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

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.