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Dismal Start

Dismal Start
With every closing day at the Rio Olympics, the exhilarating hopes of the Indian supporters are taking a back seat. The past week for the Indian contingent has been extremely rough. The dejected mass is raising questions on the athletes and their lack of preparation. However, the thing to ponder over is, are they really the ones to be blamed?

Day 1 at the Summer Olympics started with the Indian men’s hockey team beginning their campaign with a morale-boosting 3-2 win against Ireland in their opening pool encounter. Rower Dattu Bhokanal produced a creditable performance to reach the quarter-finals of the men’s single sculls event. At the shooting ranges too, Apurvi Chandela and Ayonika Paul crashed out after losing in the quarter-finals of the women’s 10m air rifle event. Apurvi was placed at the 34th position with a combined score of 411.6 while Ayonika was secured the 43rd spot with 407.0 points among 51 shooters. A bright medal hope Jitu Rai finished eighth in the men’s 10m Air Pistol event. He produced a string of poor shots to gather a total score of 78.7 and was the first to be eliminated from the eight-man final.

On the tennis courts, the players could not yield any positive results with the men’s doubles combination of Leander Paes and Bopanna and the women’s doubles pair of Sania Mirza and Prarthana Thombare crashing out in the opening rounds of their respective categories.

Day 2 of the ‘great games’ turned out to be as disappointing for India, as it was on the first day. Deepika Kumari, Bombayla Devi and Laxmirani Majhi impressed early on but eventually lost to world champions Russia in the quarterfinal of the team event.

The only ray of hope was the Indian women’s hockey team as they displayed tremendous fighting spirit and bounced back after being two goals down to eke out a 2-2 draw against higher-ranked Japan in their opening Pool B match. However, the celebration didn’t last long. India lost 0-3 to Great Britain in women’s hockey.

Day 3 at the games was also not much of a shocker (both ways). After a timid start, things appeared to improve with experienced stalwarts- Abhinav Bindra and Gagan Narang expecting to provide the much-needed turnaround for the Indian shooting contingent. But both failed to figure on the podium as Bindra finished fourth and Narang a dismal 23rd. Great medal hopes from these champion shooters came crashing down.

India’s archer Laxmirani Majhi too crashed out of the individual archery event after failing to qualify the elimination round one, 7-1. In the men’s trap shooting, both shooters were not close to qualifying.
Day 4 looked bright for the players as Archer Atanu Das and boxer Vikas Krishan entered the pre-quarterfinals. What was impressive about Das was the manner in which he held his nerve during his last shot in the fifth and final round.

The men’s hockey team also stood up to the challenge posed by Argentina to virtually seal a last-eight spot on a reasonably successful day for Indian athletes in the Rio Olympics 2016 on Tuesday.
Day five brought mixed fortunes for India but the country’s wait for their first medal at the Rio Olympics 2016 continued.

The biggest upset of the day for India was shooter Jitu Rai failing to qualify for the men’s 50m pistol, an event he has excelled in the past and was touted to be a serious medal contender. The Indian women’s hockey team had a disastrous outing against Australia, losing  1-6. However, the women’s archery pair of Bombayla Devi and Deepika Kumari, as well as boxer Manoj Kumar, brought some positives to India with their strong victories to advance further.

India’s Bombayla Devi and Deepika Kumari were on target as both won two games in a day to advance in the women’s individual recurve event.

Pugilist Manoj Kumar’s stunning win over London Olympics’ lightweight bronze-medallist Evaldas Petrauskas in the opening round of the light welterweight (64kg) category was one of India’s brightest sparks on Day 4. Manoj dominated all three rounds to carve out a 29-28, 29-28, 28-29 verdict and advance to the pre-quarterfinals. 

Indian weightlifter Satish Sivalingam finished 11th in the men’s 77 kg Group B, to end his campaign in Rio. He lifted a total of 329 kg but was far from the best lift of 346 kg in his group. In a clean and jerk attempt, he lifted 176 kg in the first lift and later lifted 181kg in the second attempt. But he again failed to lift in the third and bowed out of the event.

Hopes never really surged when India’s Avtar Singh lost to Popole Misenga of the Refugee Olympic Team in judo’s 90 Kg Elimination Round of 32. The judoka from Punjab, lost by a single point at the Carioca Arena 2 on Judo Mat 2, following the end of five minutes of regular time.

Indians participated in events like archery, badminton, golf, boxing and hockey on Day 6. It was another mixed bag for India. Indian shuttlers had a mixed day in office as singles players Saina Nehwal, P V Sindhu and Kidambi Srikanthmade a resounding start to their campaign, but the women’s doubles duo of Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa and the men’s doubles pair of Manu Attri and B Sumeeth Reddy lost their opening matches.

India’s mixed doubles pair of Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna started their campaign on a positive note, defeating Sam Stosur and Jonathan Peers of Australia in straight sets. The Indian pair overcame a strong challenge from their Australian opponents in the first set to carve out a 7-5, 6-4 victory in one hour and 13 minutes, to book their places in the quarter-finals.

At the hockey field, the Indian men’s hockey team failed to convert as many as five penalty corners seconds from the final hooter to go down 1-2 against Netherlands, but still managed to book a quarterfinal berth. India’s golfers Anirban Lahiri and S S P Chawrasia scored three-over 74 and 71 respectively in the opening round. World No 69 Lahiri got off to a poor start as he bogeyed the first hole. He continued to struggle by making bogeys on the sixth, eighth, 11th and 12th holes. He somehow recovered to make two birdies on the 15th and 18th hole to bag a 74. While Chawrasia was at the tied the 27th spot at the end of the opening round, Lahiri was left languishing in joint 50th position, with six other golfers.

India’s campaign in women’s archery came to an abrupt end with the elimination of both Deepika Kumari and Bombayla Devi at the pre-quarterfinal stage. Both Deepika and Bombayla crashed out after being found wanting in a pressure-cooker atmosphere. The slender hopes in archery now rests on the less fancied Atanu Das, who is in the pre-quarters of the men’s event.

Young boxer Shiva Thapa (56kg) bowed out of the Olympic Games after being out-punched by fourth-seeded Cuban Robeisy Ramirez in the opening round. The 22-year-old, competing in his second Olympics, lost 0-3 in a one-sided contest, in which he also ended up sustaining a cut above his left eye.

The Indian boxing challenge is now limited to Vikas Krishan (75kg) and Manoj Kumar (64kg), both of whom have advanced to the pre-quarterfinals.

While the Indian contingent struggles to end the medal drought, many in the country have been blaming not only the players but the association as well. Most athletes in India don’t get enough funding for proper training, except for cricketers who advertisers seem to flock to are never short on funding. It’s time we get over our cricket obsession and turn out attention to other disciplines crying out for attention and funding.

Snide remarks by a majority of ‘haters’ and self-appointed “opinion shapers” like Shobhaa De did precious little to boost the flagging morale of our Rio contingent.

The burden of expectations seemed to weigh heavy on some of the star performers. They appeared nervous and unable to deal with the pressure of a big occasion. When push came to shove they seemed to fade away.
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