Fancy Bazaar is a bustling market where hawkers sell what are called genuine fakes. T-shirts, sunglasses, jeans with original labels are sold at half price or less. The place is bustling with bargain-deal hunters, mostly locals or tourists who make a stopover before heading into the more scenic parts of the state, or the North-East.
On Tuesday, the market was swarming with tourists who don’t frequent these by-lanes. Athletes and coaches from South Asian countries had a day off and were out looking for a good deal. With only the evening’s closing ceremony to look forward to, the morning was utilised for sightseeing and shopping.
Most deals were struck and prices slashed when the vendor noticed the 12th South Asian Games logo on the jerseys of those with whom he was haggling for money. “You have come for Asian Games?” was the question to which the shoppers had to just nod their head and say ‘yes’. The matter was settled with a smile and a ‘thank you’.
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Only eight countries, including the hosts field their athletes for the SAG. Nearly 50 have participated over different editions of the Asian Games. At this edition of the South Asian Games, India won a total of 188 gold medals. Since the first Asiad held in New Delhi, India managed a total of 139 gold. With 23 disciplines and over 4,000 athletes, the 12th edition can be hyped as the biggest-ever South Asian Games.
Yet, for the man on the street here, these were the ‘Asian Games’. But let us not let facts and numbers come in the way of a feel-good story. And there were many such narratives during the fortnight. Afghanistan made it only because the Indian sports ministry and the Indian Olympic Association sponsored their trip. Afghanistan’s national Olympic council were short of funds. The largesse was money well spent. On the chartered plane from Kabul was the only double Olympic medallist at the games, Rohullah Nikpai (Taekwondo), and Afghanistan’s largest women contingent at any multidisciplinary event, 30 in all.
Women from Pakistan were here too, some of them like the boxers were taking their first steps in international competition. They made no bones about being Mary Kom fans. There were others from across the Wagah border who were bolder. Sixteen-year-old Yashim Maryam Khan showed little respect for her opponents as she won the gold in the fin-weight category of taekwondo.
An emotional Yashim, crying out of joy, jumping into the arms of her coach will be one of the photographs of the games. Nikpai carrying a hurt and injured Naveed Khan, his opponent in the below 68 kg category, to the Pakistan corner after winning the gold was a picture of sportsman spirit.
Pakistan beat India on two occasions in men’s hockey yet no bad blood spilled over. The bitter memory of Pakistan’s ugly celebrations at Bhubaneswar during the Champions Trophy was replaced by one of spectators giving them a standing ovation during the victory lap. This Pakistan side is in the process of rebuilding and India fielded a second string side. But the lack of stars and the result didn’t matter to those watching the two arch-rivals play a hockey match for the first time in the North-East.
Nepal, the hosts of the next edition of the games, saluted the spirit of their gritty champion in judo, Phupu Lhamu Khatri — the winner of the gold in the below 63 kg category. The medal was special for two reasons. It was the country’s first gold in judo at the games in over two decades. Besides Phupu Lhamu is the daughter of Dorje Khatri, who was killed in the avalanche on Mount Everest nearly two years ago, which killed nearly 20 sherpas.
Next generation players gained by participating in these games. Sunayna Kuruvilla, the 16-year-old squash player from Chennai, was part of the women’s team which won gold beating Pakistan. Seventeen-year-old Tejaswin Shankar won silver in the high jump competing against an Olympian and an Asian Championships medallist from Sri Lanka.
A legend also bid farewell at the games as Bembem Devi, Indian women’s football team captain, retired after playing for two decades. Over 23,000 watched India beat Nepal 4-0 at the JLN Stadium as Bembem bowed out on a high.
For all the brickbats the organisers faced, the hiccups, the teething problems, one thing they got spot on right from the start was the ticket prices. A ticket for the women’s final cost just Rs 30. In a region which was witnessing big time sport for the first time, one wouldn’t burn a hole in the pocket by going for the games.
Yet, not everything ran like clockwork and this wasn’t a glitch-free games. There were reports of empty seats at certain venues in the first week though those who wanted to purchase one saw a ‘sold-out’ message on the official website.
The wind gauge for athletics competitions didn’t work on the first day resulting in timings not being ratified, ‘athlete vehicles’ were not on time, always leaving some of the visiting participants at their wits’ end. It proved to be a logistical nightmare to transport athletes and officials staying in over 100 hotels, in Guwahati and Shillong, to the various sporting venues on time. The non-issuance of visa to a Pakistan hockey player resulted in coach Rehan Butt having to fill in.
The quality of the competition was more South Asian Games than ‘Asian Games’. Indian boxers won all medals in boxing, including the three in the women category, is an example of the mismatch. People, though, didn’t want to miss the opportunity to watch Mary Kom boxing in her part of the country and lapped up the action.
As the curtains came down with a colourful and entertaining closing ceremony (singer Shaan was the main act) at the stadium in Sarusajai the organisers, who put together these games in less than four months, were breathing easy. Speeches by dignitaries at opening and closing events are mostly accompanied by ‘boos’. Here they listened patiently to those on the dais before the song and dance show of the closing ceremony of their ‘Asian Games’ began.
Gulliver: 188 golds; Lilliputians: 51
India really did not need the likes of Mary Kom, Sarita Devi, Apurvi Chandela, PV Sindhu, Ramkumar Ramanathan and K Srikanth to fetch up for the country to top the medals tally at the wretchedly un-competitive SAG. The face-offs were a mockery of their talents and effort — wasted mindlessly in an Olympic year. By sending the elite athletes for this regional meet, India missed out on an excellent opportunity to create new stars out of younger talents who could’ve been tested for their nerve at this level. As the state governments get busy honouring the medal winners, here’s looking at the no-contests that highlighted the gulf in class between India and the rest.
Gold medals won by India, almost four times the combined gold haul by the rest of the participants — 51. The hosts had a gold-silver finish in all five categories in badminton. P.V.Sindhu’s team final score against Kavindi Ishadika Sirimannage read 21-7, 21-5.
In tennis all the five finals were all-Indian affairs. Was it some Open Nationals or international meet?
Volleyball, Kho kho, Kabaddi, Handball — men and women — both titles picked by the hosts.
The team gold in the men’s 50 metre Rifle 3 position event was won by India. Chain Singh, Gagan Narang and Surendra Sinh Rathod’s combined score of 3490 was almost 100 points ahead of bronze-winning Bangladesh (3398).
Mary Kom beat Sri Lanka’s Anusha Kodituwakku Dilrukshi through a technical knockout (TKO) in a flyweight category bout lasting less than 90 seconds.
Vikas Krishan was running temperature and on antibiotics. He still beat Tanveer Ahmed in 75 kg to win India’s seventh gold medal.
# That India lost the men’s finals in hockey and football against this miserable competition. It’s a result worthy of a national level enquiry.
# Judo returned a relatively poor haul. In three divisions out of 12, Indians did not win gold.