Scandals, Rebellion, Gold

Updated: Dec 29 2002, 05:30am hrs
This was the year of the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games. From an Indian point of view, the year ended on a high note if we take the performances of these two multidiscipline events into consideration. But at the same time, doping scandals involving Indian sportspersons somewhat diluted the performances, making it a year of mixed results.

At the Commonwealth Games, Indian shooters were bang on target with ace woman shooter Anjali Bhagwat emerging as the golden girl in Manchester. Jaspal Rana and Abhinav Bindra also hit the bulls eye. Long jumper Anju B George added a silver lining to Indias haul, picking up a rare athletics medal in the Commonwealth Games. But the sporting world will remember weightlifters Madasamy and Satish Rai, who had to return their medals after testing positive for banned substance in their bodies.

Even before the felicitation ceremonies for the Manchester Games were over, came the Asian Games in Busan. The main stadium in the Korean city reverberated with the strains of the Indian national anthem as one athlete after another ran with gold in their kitty. It was again Anju George who set the ball rolling with a gold in long jump. Once the trend was set, K M Beenamol, Saraswati Saha and Bahadur Singh followed suit, charming the sport loving Koreans. But just when the world began considering India a new force in Asian athletics, Sunita Rani was caught using a banned steroid, nandrolone. The two medals shed won were taken back by the Olympic Council of Asia, even as she appealed to the International Association of Athletics Federations for reinstatement.

Just before Busan, the Indian athletics fraternity lost one of its greatest motivators, athletics guru Mohammed Ilyas Babar. The 70-year-old coach succumbed to a brief illness in Hyderabad. Babars death coincided with the passing away of another track giant, Emil Zatopek, in Czech republic. The triple Olympic gold medallist was known as a human locomotive for his total domination in long distance running. At the Helsinki Games in 1952, Zatopek had won three gold medals.

Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi made news again when they picked up the doubles tennis gold medal in Busan. Once the Games were over, however, they parted ways. But in their trail they left behind Sania Mirza, a rising star in Indian tennis. The 16-year-old Hyderabad lass had the distinction of partnering Paes and winning a silver medal in the Busan Games. Mirza was clearly the find of the year in Indian tennis and is expected to go a long way.

Old horse Dhanraj Pillay continued to carry the burden of the Indian hockey team. Pillay was easily the fastest and fittest player as India claimed a silver medal in the Asian Games at Busan. That he so nearly missed the Player Of The Year award from the International Hockey Federation is a different matter. Pillay, however, was adjudged the best player in the Champions Trophy where India finished fourth. This was after the team was put through a tough training schedule at the Commandos camp at Manesar in Haryana.

Controversies continued to dog the hockey team. It finished sixth in the World Cup in Malaysia, where factionalism dominated more than the skills of the players. For the first time in the history of Indian hockey, national coach Cedric DSouza was sacked mid-way through the tournament. C R Kumar was told to take control of the team.

The Indian womens hockey team did one better. It won gold in the Commonwealth Games. Young Mamta Kharab was undoubtedly the pick of the year.

Cricket and cricketers were more in the news for controversies than match winning performances. There was a direct confrontation between the players and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) on the issue of contracts between BCCI and the players. The conflict led to the forming of a players union, with former Indian skipper Ravi Shastri as its leader.

On the positive side, Virendra Sehwag emerged as a possible successor to the legendary Sachin Tendulkar and Parthiv Patel made his sensational Test debut.

On the international front, former South African skipper Hansie Cronje died in a plane crash. He was in the midst of match-fixing scandal that had rocked the cricketing world recently.

Mr Pritam is a senior sports journalist.