first_imgTEAM WORKS: Indian women’s hockey XI celebrates”Forget this win. Celebrate and forget it. Our performance is not up to the mark even of the last Asian Games.” That’s shooter Ashok Pandit, Commonwealth Games gold medallist from 1990 to 1998, talking about India’s mass of medals from Manchester 2002.Oh, shouldn’t he,TEAM WORKS: Indian women’s hockey XI celebrates”Forget this win. Celebrate and forget it. Our performance is not up to the mark even of the last Asian Games.” That’s shooter Ashok Pandit, Commonwealth Games gold medallist from 1990 to 1998, talking about India’s mass of medals from Manchester 2002.Oh, shouldn’t he be shot himself? For throwing a bucket of cold water on celebrations full of cash prizes and the hot air of speeches.But Pandit knows and understands. India’s big bag of 72 medals from the Games may be its biggest in any multidiscipline event, but sadly it is not a sign that India is about to become a formidable sporting power. The shooters come homeTo crunch some quick numbers: of the 72 Indian medals, 30 came from weightlifting and 24 from shooting. Golds in women’s hockey, boxing and wrestling, and silvers and bronzes in boxing, table tennis, badminton, judo and wrestling made up the remaining. In shooting, Indians are genuine contenders but not yet championship-class at the world level. The cream of the world’s shooters come from outside the Commonwealth. At the World Shooting Championships that were held in Finland just before the Manchester Games, India won a bronze. The highest-ranked Commonwealth country on that medals table was Britain, tied 20th. India is a power, though a slipping, sliding one, in women’s weightlifting, which made its debut in Manchester: as a result, lifts well below the Indians’ personal best were enough to win them medals.The athletes don’t shy away from this truth. Shooter Anjali Vedpathak Bhagwat, who won four golds in Manchester, says, “Oh, we expected to do well…  the Asian Games are going to be much, much tougher.”advertisementTriple gold-medallist lifter Kunjarani Devi says, “The emphasis this time was on results, medals… we were conserving ourselves for the Asiad.”For the recordsClick here to EnlargeWhile celebrations are in order, over-the-top euphoria, they will tell you, is not. But national shooting coach Sunny Thomas snaps, “We didn’t buy medals or beg for them. We went out and won each one of them.” The best of this bunch did it in a manner befitting all champions.Like the women’s hockey team that has survived two months that would have made Job scream at his God and lose his religion. Reversals of all kinds cost it a spot in the World Cup: just before a qualifying series, the US team fled India, citing security threats. When the tie was rescheduled, the Indians discovered the US team had been given advance warning, arriving early in England, the neutral venue, and worse still, occupied hotel rooms meant for them.SHOOTING STARS: Gold-medallists Bhagwat (left) and Shirur broke the Games recordIn the four-nation tournament meant as a warm-up for Manchester – the Indians lost a contentious final to England on the back of poor umpiring. Which then continued in the qualifier versus the US. And it was all followed up by the Games – where an Indian penalty stroke was disallowed, a 0-3 deficit had to be turned into a 4-3 win and – to top it all – a golden goal in the final was first turned down.Only after 35 minutes of waiting was the gold medal finally India’s. “Fight karne ki aadat ho gayi (Fighting has become a habit),” grins Mamta Kharab, scorer of the golden goal. The squad that averages 5 ft and 50-55 kg against the world norm of 5 ft 5 in and 60 kg, didn’t win gold on “oriental” skill or fitness alone, but because of the size of the fight they packed into their small frames. If it comes to small frames and big ambitions, they have company in light-flyweight boxer Mohammed Ali Qamar, sixth of seven children, a 22-year-old alley cat from Kidderpore, Kolkata. The judges in his final against Darran Langley of England didn’t seem to notice every time he landed a legitimate punch, so Qamar decided to help them along, raising his hand every time he struck. It earned him points, gave him “josh” and got the crowd booing.RING LEADER: Qamar had to overcome biased judges tooHe pretended they were cheering him instead and a five-point deficit going into the last round was turned into India’s first Commonwealth boxing gold. Next stop? “We’ve got close to an Olympic medal but it’s never happened. I’d like to be the one to do it.” When he beat an Olympic quarterfinalist in the first round, his astounded Kenyan opponent said, “India, Sri Lanka… only cricket. But boxing?”They don’t ask that of the shooters any longer. Ever since topping the medals table last year at the Commonwealth Championships, India was clearly the team to beat at the Games. “But it’s not easy to do that anymore,” says Bhagwat, ranked No. 6 in the world, a soft-spoken 32-year-old whose sure words carry the authority of a rifle crack.advertisementRelative ValuesClick here to EnlargeBhagwat, with more than 10 years of shooting behind her, is no unsure rookie but a World Cup winning silver-medallist this year, the first Indian to qualify for an Olympic final (finishing eighth in Sydney 2000) and the first to win a qualifying berth for the 2004 Olympics in Athens. In a sport where a single point separates medal winners from also-rans, Bhagwat and her partner Suma Shirur smashed the Commonwealth Games record by 17 points.Morad Ali Khan, a Tata Steel executive, and Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, an armyman, were originally not cleared to compete in the Games, a fallout of a long-running squabble between the national federation and the Government.In the double-trap event, they beat Aussies Mike Diamond, a former world champ, and Mark Russell, Olympic silver medallist. The shooters will agree that the experience of regular internationals has toughened them. But for two years, they have not received enough ammunition for home-range practice.Pandit talks of his own kind, but speaks for all athletes saying, “Why isn’t the Government as generous with money when it comes to training like it is when we win medals? It’s all connected, you know.” If their hurdles still remain, the heroics of the Commonwealth champions will be in vain.last_img