BY B SHRIKANT
Birmingham– As the day started at its usual time on a busy Tuesday, the city of Birmingham woke up with a huge hangover caused by competition, celebrations, disappointments, heartbreaks, and emotional outbursts caused by an overdose of sports, sports, and more sports as the 22nd Commonwealth Games came to an end.
The venues wore a deserted look with only workers toiling hard to get them back to their pre-CWG roles or get them ready for the next event. Also absent were the friendly, but often clueless, volunteers that at most times went out of their way to help the sportspersons and the visitors that came out for the Games.
As life in Birmingham returns to normal, the athletes that were the centre of attraction for the last 11 days of sports extravaganza are on their way back — and some of them have already returned.
The Indian contingent, whatever is remaining of it as the weightlifting, wrestling, athletics, and judo squads have already reached India, will leave Birmingham basking in glory as they pulled off some great performances to finish fourth in the medals table with 61 medals — 22 gold, 16 silver and 23 bronze.
Australia as expected topped the table with 178 medals (67-57-54) but were run close by hosts England, who produced their best-ever performance ending with 176 medals (57-66-53) while Canada were a distant third with 92 medals (26-32-34).
The Indians have all the reasons to be proud of their Birmingham show as they managed to win these many medals without contribution from shooting, which had earned us 16 medals in Gold Coast when India had finished with 66 medals and a third place in the standings.
India’s best performance at the Commonwealth Games was in 2010 as hosts — a second place finished with 101 medals (38-27-36). But the 2010 edition had more sports besides shooting like archery and tennis in which India won medals.
So, if we take those things into consideration, Birmingham 2022 was huge success for India. There were gains for India at these Games which augurs well taking into account next year’s Asian Games and the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
The most heartening aspect of India’s performance in Birmingham was the eight medals won in track and field with youngsters like steeplechase Avinash Sable, triple jumpers Eldhose Paul and Abdulla Aboobacker, walkers Priyanka Goswami and Sandeep Kumar, javelin thrower Annu Rani, long jumper Murali Sreeshankar and Tejaswin Shankar stealing the show. India claimed eight medals in athletics including gold in the triple jump by Eldhose Paul, the first gold medal in that discipline by an Indian the silver won by Mohinderpal Singh Gill in 1974 was our best in TJ.
The undoubted star for India in track and field was Avinash Sable who challenged the Kenyan hegemony in the 3000m steeplechase, finishing second, losing the gold medal by 500th of a second. Abraham Kibiwot, the gold medallist, presented a brave front but it was sure he had his heart in his mouth for a few seconds as Sable made a late charge to the finish line virtually hanging onto the Kenyan runner’s shoulder as he crossed the finish line.
It was a tactically a brilliant race as sable broke to the front early and forced to Kenyans to speed up and exert energy early so as to keep ahead and thus they could not produce a strong finishing kick. Sable found some hidden reserves somewhere in his body and produced a deadline finishing kick. His timing of 8:11.20 is a new personal best and the national record while Kibiwot took gold in 8:11.15 with his compatriot Amos Serem taking bronze in 8:16.83.
Eldhose Paul, who led a 1-2 finish in triple jump, was the other big gain for India from track and field, one who could be further groomed into a medal winner at Paris. He hopped, skipped and jumped into history books as India’s first gold medallist in the triple jump finishing ahead of Abdulla Aboobacker. Paul had the best effort of 17.03 metres for gold while Aboobacker finished with 17.02 to take silver. India’s Praveen Chithravel finished fourth, narrowly missing the bronze medal.
Though Paul’s effort is nowhere close to the distance of 17.98 that Pedro Pichardo of Portugal but he sure is a good prospect considering his age.
The wrestlers and weightlifters, as expected, dominated the show, winning 22 of the 61 medals that India bagged. Wrestlers won 12 medals while weightlifters 10 but that was expected as the competition in both these sports is not tough at the Commonwealth Games level.
Still, the manner in which Bajrang Punia, Shakshi Malik, Deepak Punia, Ravi Kumar Dahiya and Vinesh Phogat won their gold medals was a treat to the eye. They were dominant and did not give others the chance to come closer. Rio Olympic bronze medallist Sakshi Malik won her first medal in Commonwealth Games would have boosted her confidence ahead of the World Championships and Asian Games. She trailed her Canadian opponent but came back strongly to pin her down after a brilliant double-leg attack.
In weightlifting, Mirabai Chanu, Jeremy Lalrinnunga and Achinta Shauli won gold with impressive performance despite the poor standard. Sanket Sargar won the silver medal, injuring himself in the processing needing surgery.
The other gains for India were from the lawn bowl rinks where the team of Lovely Choubey, Rupa Rani Tirkey, Pinki, and Nayanmoni Saika won an unexpected gold in Women’s Fours while the Men’s Fours of Sunil Bahadur, Chandan Singh, Navneet Singh and Dinesh Kuma claimed a silver. India also came close to winning a medal in the Men’s Pairs event.
On the individual front, the veteran table tennis star, Achanta Sharath Kamal surprised everyone by winning four medals — three of them including the Men’s Team — gold medals. Sharath was in brilliant form, playing his role as India defended the Men’s Team gold. But the medals that were more satisfying were the Men’s Singles gold and the one in Mixed Doubles in the company of youngster Sreeja Akula.
Sharath turned the clock back by 16 years to win the singles gold medal beating Liam Pitchford of England, ranked 20th in the world, 4-1. It was a comfortable win for someone that had played the last match on the previous evening and must have reached his dwellings around midnight. He had played six matches daily in the last couple of days and his victory in the singles gives an insight into this physical and mental strength that makes one excel in such a schedule.
The Mixed Doubles gold medal was an even better tribute to the adaptability of a 40-year-old player who could forge a successful partnership with around 16 years younger than him and that too after training with Sreeja Akula for 2-3 days. Young Sreeja was another gain for Indian table tennis as she showed great composure and grit to come back and play Mixed Doubles after suffering two heartbreak defeats in singles.
However, Manika Batra, who dazzled her way to victory in the women’s singles title at Gold Coast in 2018, turned out to be a big disappointment as she returned from Birmingham without a single medal even though she participated in four disciplines.
Overall, the table tennis contingent, which had bagged eight medals in Gold Coast, could manage only five medals in Birmingham 2022 while para-TT star Bhavina Patel and Sonal Patel contributed gold and bronze to make the tally look more healthy. Bhavina showed that she is one of the best in her category in the world with easy wins in the entire tournament.
The Indians did well in badminton too though the defeat in the Mixed Team final to Malaysia was a big dampener. PV Sindhu, the two-time medallist at the Olympics and a former World /Champion, was the highest-ranked female player in the fray and duly won the women’s singles title despite being troubled by a niggle in her Achilles, which restricted her movement and speed in the semis and final. She managed to claim her first singles gold at the Commonwealth Games.
The men’s doubles pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty too won their maiden gold medal in individual competitions as they came up with a superb display to beat the English pair of Ben Lane and Sean Vendy in straight games.
Lakshya Sen showed class and determination in coming back from a game down to beat a strong opponent and claim his maiden Men’s Singles title. Kidambi Srikanth, who had won silver four years ago, had to be satisfied with a bronze medal.
India failed to repeat its Gold Coast success in boxing too. In 2018, India had won nine medals in boxing, topping the table with three gold, three silver and as many bronze.
In Birmingham, India won three gold medals with World Champion Nikhat Zareen, Nitu Ghanghas and Amit Panghal triumphing in their respective weight categories. But Olympic bronze medallist Lovlina Borgohain was a huge disappointment as she made an early exit despite kicking up a storm on social media by complaining about her coach not getting the proper accreditation to be with her in the village. Mohit Ahlawat got
In squash, Saurav Ghosal won his first individual medal — a bronze in men’s singles beating a strong opponent in James Wilstrop of England in three straight games in the final. He also partnered with Dipika Pallikal Karthik for the bronze medal in mixed doubles.
However, the big squash contingent was a bit of a letdown that it was only a few months back that India had emerged world champions in both the Mixed Doubles (Ghosal/Dipika) and Women’s Doubles (Dipika/Joshna Chinnappa) with excellent performance at the World Doubles.
The hockey teams was happy to win medals at the Commonwealth Games after going medalless at Gold Coast in 2018, though the women’s team could have won a silver or even gold while the men could have avoided slumping to another humiliating defeat to World No 1 Australia in the final.
The Australians turned out to be the stumbling blocks for the women’s team too as they lost their semifinal 3-0 in the shootout after coming back from a goal deficit to level things up in the last-four stage match. But the shootout could have been better managed as the officials lacked coordination and made Australia take their first attempt again despite Indian goalkeeper Savita saving it, because the timer had not started. Australia scored off that retaken penalty shootout. The Indians were rattled by the turn of events and could not convert any of their three attempts.
The Indian women’s cricket team, which was hosted in a hostel as they usually do instead of the various Games village, bagged the silver medal as cricket returned to the sport for the first time after 1998.
India did well in the T20 format to beat hosts England in the semifinal and just fell short against Australia in the final. However, the Aussies once again benefitted as they were allowed to play all-rounder Tahlia McGrath despite testing positive for Covid.
The women’s cricketers like Harmanpreet Kaur, Sneha Rana, Smriti Mandhana, Shafali Verma and Renuka Singh Thakur gave a good account of their talent as the sport looks to get further international recognition by making it to the Olympics.
Whether the T20 version of cricket makes it to the Olympics or not, it sure was a hit at Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.
It sure helps the Game in becoming more relevant by introducing new-age sports. But the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) still needs to do a lot if the Games have to become more appropriate to current times and relevant. (IANS)