I don’t expect India to win any medals in athletics, said Milkha Singh — the country’s lone gold medallist in CWG history prior to the 19th edition — before the spectators began shouting their throats off cheering the Indian athletes at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.
However, turning despair into promise, and inspired by near capacity crowds at the imposing venue, India’s track and field stars scooped up no fewer than 12 medals, including two golden ones.
The achievement attains a new dimension when seen in the light of India’s record at the CWG. The tally reading a mere 10 medals from 18 previous editions has been topped by the spirited efforts in a single edition.
Inevitably, it had to be that many firsts were registered, principal among them being Krishna Poonia’s win in the discus throw — the nation’s first athletics gold among women. Seemingly, India has risen like a phoenix.
Sure, the unexpected haul has brought athletics back into the limelight; and with it have soared hopes of an encore at the Asian Games scheduled in Guangzhou, China, in November.
But looking deeper, the legendary ‘Flying Sikh’ may not have been entirely off the mark, given that he first made the remark way back in August when it was not known that some of the strongest athletes in the Commonwealth would not be in the fray here. Apart from the redeeming fact that India won 12 medals, the harder fact is that just three national records were broken by our athletes, and only two of them resulted in medals — that too bronze.
“It is definitely a delightful feeling that India has won so many medals,” says former sprint queen PT Usha. “But performances have not been our best. We must improve a lot to compete with the best athletes at the Asian Games. Some of the medals, in which the performances did not even come close to national records, cannot be held in the greatest esteem.”
In the event, the most notable performance belonged to triple jumper Renjith Maheswary. His national record setting distance of 17.7 m fetched him only a bronze but en route he had hopped, skipped and leaped to Asia’s best mark in recent times.
It brought back memories of Mohinder Singh Gill, who won silver (1974) and bronze (1970) in the triple jump. Fittingly, a video of Gill’s famous efforts were shown on the giant screen at the stadium while Maheswary was scripting glory for himself.
The new national mark in the men’s 4x100m relay holds plenty of promise at the Asian level. A medal from the sprints was the last thing expected, given the global nature of the event at hand. But taking advantage of the depleted squads of various nations here, the women too joined in with bronze.
“We have been working hard for the last few years and are very happy that our efforts are paying off,” says Abdul Najeeb Qureshi, who also equalled the 100m national record in the individual event. On the positive side, the squad members — comprising N M Shameer Mon, Suresh Sathya, Rahmatulla Mollah, Krishnakumar Rane and Qureshi — are still in their early twenties.
“We hope our performance here brings the sprints into focus in our country. If we continue to train hard, I am sure we can improve our timing,” says Qureshi.
The other national mark came in the women’s triple jump, where M A Prajusha covered 13.72m but still finished fourth. She later clinched silver in the long jump with a lowly 6.47m, which pales in comparison to Anju Bobby George’s national record of 6.83 m.
Significantly, India reaped five medals from the throw events. Traditionally, two of India’s strongest events have been discus throw and the women’s 4x400m relay, both of which fetched gold in Delhi.
Considering that the world standards have come down slightly in these events of late, the measurements of Indian stars are nearer the top in these two.
While Poonia, Harwant Kaur and Seema Antil made it a rare clean sweep for India in the women’s discus, Vikas Gowda notched a creditable silver in the men’s event. None of these events came with national records or personal bests in the individual events. There lies the potential.
“I am sure if we can sustain the kind of practice we have been doing for the CWG, we can hope for medals in the Asian Games and the Olympics,” says Poonia.
Chief national coach Bahadur Singh and Ashwini AC, who played a pivotal part in India’s golden run in the 4x400m relay, echo similar sentiments.
“I cannot say how many medals we will get in the Asian Games,” he says. “Our aim is definitely to improve and win medals. But one thing that I can guarantee is that our performance will be maintained.”