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ATHELETICS IN INDIA

Devendra Bhardwaj*

    No Indian athelete has ever succeeded in winning a medal in the Olympics or the world championship. But some of them such as the "Flying Sikh" Milkha Singh, hurdler Gurbachan Singh, middle-distance runner Sriram Singh, the "Payolli Express" P.T. Usha and the new sensation Jyotirmoyee Sikdar have done the country proud by their sterling performances at the international level. Indian atheletes have performed particularly well in the Asian Games. As many as 56 gold medals were captured by Indian atheletes in the 13 Asian Games held so far.

    India has produced some very talented shooters, the pick of the bunch is undoubtedly Dr. Karni Singh of Bikaner, who claimed a silver medal in the world clay pigeon (trap shooting) event held in Cairo in 1962. In fact, the Indian ace and Vladimir Zimenko of the erstwhile USSR had tied for the top spot. But in the shoot-off Zimenko won the gold by the narrowest margin of one point. Randhir Singh of Patiala, Ashok Pandit of Maharashtra and in recent times Mansher Singh and Jaspal Rana brought glory to Indian shooting through their superb performances at the international level.

    Although polo, once the game of the kings, is not played as widely as the other sports, it has certainly brought glory to the nation both before and after Independence. The greatest moment in the history of Indian polo was in 1957 when the Indian team led by the redoubtable Sawai Man Singh of Jaipur won the world polo championship held at Deauville, France, warding off the formidable challenge of strong contenders like Argentina, England, Spain and the host France. The other members of the victorious Indian team included such legends as Rao Raja Hamut Singh, his talented son, Kanwar Bijey Singh and Lt. Col. Thakur Kishen Singh. In 1995, the young Indian polo team under the distinguished leadership of non-playing Captain Col. Kuldeep Singh Garcha, himself a player of great repute, qualified for the World Cup polo finals held at St. Moritz, Switzerland after beating Pakistan and Zimbabwe, the African champions. The young Indians, however, finished only fifth in the World Cup beating the hosts, Switzerland, twice in the elite six-nation tournament which was eventually won by Brazil. India’s Manupal Godara had the distinction of being the top scorer with 11 goals alongside Diego Pando of Switzerland.

Wrestling

    Wrestling has a long tradition in the country as this ancient sport is played and practised at the grassroots level. But our successes at the highest level have been few and far between K.D. Jadhav won a bronze in the Helsinki Olympiad and Bishambar Singh and Uday Chand won a silver and a bronze in the world wrestlling championships respectively. Indian wrestlers, however, have given much better performances in the Commonwealth and Asian Games.

    Boxing, weightlifting, swimming, basketball, volleyball and golf are other sports in which India has produced many talented players. But the overall achievement has not been very creditable. Our pugilists have performed well at the Asian level and to some extent in the Commonwealth Games. Padam Bahadur Mall, Hawa Singh, Kaur Singh, Mehtab Singh, Badri Singh, Chandra Narayan and Dingko Singh have won boxing golds at the Asian level. "Buddy" D’Souza, Muniswamy Venu, Birender Singh Thapa, C. Machaiah, Gopal Dewang, Dharmender Singh Yadav, Zoram Thanga and Venkatesan Devarajan are the other fine Indian boxers. They have all performed creditably.

Weightlifting

    Indian weightlifers have done well only in the Commonwealth championships. Otherwise their overall performance has at best been mediocre. However, the emergence of a few truly outstanding women weightlifters in recent years has brightened up the scenario. N. Kunjurani Devi and Karnam Malleswari in particular have given scintillating performances.

Golf

    Once considered a game of the rich and elite, commercialisation has made golf highly professional and lucrative. Although India produced a number of talented amateur golf players such as P.G. "Biloo" Sethi, R.K. Pitamber, Ashok Malik, Vikramjit Singh and Harmeet Kahlon a new crop of ambitious young pros like Chiranjeev Milkha Singh, Gaurav Ghei, Arjun Atwal, Jyoti Randhawa, Ali Sher and Vijay Kumar -to name a few- are doing well in the professional circuit. Chiranjeev Milkha Singh is the first Indian to qualify for the tough European circuit. Among the ladies, Simi Mehra is playing and doing well as a professional in the USA.

Basketball and Volleyball

    Although India never won a medal in basketball at the international level, it produced a number of talented players like Khushi Ram, Sarabjit Singh, Hari Dutt, Abbas Moontasir, Hanuman Singh, Ajmer Singh, S.K. Kataria and Gurdial Singh. Volleyball is played throughout India at the grassroots level. But the success at the international level is rather limited. India’s best ever performance in volleyball is a gold in the first Asian volleyball tournament held in Tokyo in 1955. Since then there have been only a few minor successes. Palaniswamy, Nripjit Singh, Balwant Singh, Shyamsunder Rao, Ramana Rao, Jimmy George, Abdul Basith and Sandip Sharma are some of the top Indian spikers.

Swimming

    India is a land of rivers. But, ironically, in competitive swimming there has hardly been any worthwhile success. Sachin Nag with a gold in 100 metre freestyle in the first Asian Games in 1951 and Khazan Singh with a silver in 200 metre butterfly in the Seoul Asiad in 1986 are the only two notable achievers. In long distance non-competitive swimming, however, Mihir Sen, Arati Saha, Arti Pradhan, Taranath Shenoy, Anita Sood and a few child prodigies such as Kutraleeswaran, Chhavi Madan and Rupali Repale created huge waves through their sensational feats.

Yachting

    Indian yachtsmen have some fine performances to their credit. Farokh Tarapore and Kelly Rao won India’s first gold in a world championship in the Enterprise class at Mumbai in 1991. Two years later, Motiwala and Pushpendra Garg won the world Enterprise championship in Zimbabwe, Soli Contractor, Afsar Hussain, S.K. Mongia, Zarir Karanjia and Fali Unwalla are among India’s fine performers in yachting.

Body Building

    "Pocket Hercules" Manohar Aich, Monotosh Roy and Premchand Degra have been India’s top exponents of body building.They did the nation proud by winning the coveted title of Mr. Universe. Parimol Roy, Moloy Roy and Sunil Kumar Patra are the other body builders to excel in this sport.

*Senior Sports Writer