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Asian Games 2018: Magna Jakarta

Indonesia, surrogate hosts after Vietnam pulled out, delivered a memorable — if not entirely perfect — Asian Games

Gold medallists Lestari Puji, Susanti Rahayu Aries and Sallsabillah Rajiah of Indonesia listen to their national anthem as they celebrate on the podium. (Source: Reuters)

Indonesia’s first gold at Palembang came when Aries Rahayu Susanti, donning a jilbab — a black hijab precisely — pulled on a red national jersey and went scaling a wall with such precision that the nation couldn’t stop gushing and clapping as the gold came in speed climbing. It was a stunningly speedy summit climb — made all the more special when the silver too went to an Indonesian, Puji Lestari, wearing a head scarf, both beating a Chinese.

This was besides the country’s first gold medallist in Jakarta — Defia Rosmaniar, the taekwondo queen. At a time when a global debate rages on the head scarf, the pair of 23-year-old gold medallists went about their business of winning the top medals in some of the most intense disciplines.

That, combined with the gamut of Iranian medallists — including the kabaddi golden girls — proved that these women can’t keep waiting for the world to resolve their right-wrong debates on what women wear. There’s medals to be won, opponents to be lorded over.

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Much talk rages on about women disallowed from watching sport in mid-eastern countries. No such travesties in Indonesia. For four magical days, Anthony Ginting and Jonatan Christie held the country in a spell – and hundreds of women in head scarves crowded viewing squares and the stadium, jumping, screaming and cheering lustily for every point with which the two singles players scalped the might of Asia. Christie would first cross himself and then bow down to his adoring fans the moment he won.

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China shifting goalposts

The earliest flutter at Jakarta’s international airport was caused by not a star athlete, but a star coach. Marcello Lippi had checked in, and football-crazy Indonesians went beserk, according the World Cup- winning Italian coach the warmest of welcomes. He was here to check out the Chinese squad which is coached by Massimilano Maddaloni.

Word trickling out of China is that all those years of dominating badminton, table tennis, diving and gymnastics is all very well, but China now craves success beyond Games medals. Sure, they’d want to prolong their stronghold over sports, but football will be the next thrust for the country that picked up its customary bounty — 289 medals, of which 132 were gold. While the Chinese swept basketball and volleyball here, the one team sport they’d really want to break through in is football.

While the women would pick silver, the men wouldn’t cross the Round of 16, going down 3-4 to Saudi Arabia.

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Sensational Salwa Eid Naser

The Chinese state TV was searching for common ground with Indians in the athletics arena, hoping for some combined outrage against imported African athletes, which might’ve cost them some medals. The obvious was Hima Das losing out to World Championship silver medallist Salwa Eid Naser.

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A tad unnecessary, if you ask us, given it was entirely within the rules, and on a composed mature level, inevitable, given Salwa is what the Indian would need to go up against all the year round on the circuit and while fighting for the biggest events beyond the Asiad.

What was brought into sharp relief was how in athletics there are finishing kicks, and then there are the Salwa finishing kicks – spurts of such sensational power, strength and regal denouements that the Indian girl would learn that the Finnish finish of the U20 Worlds is just the start.

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What sits in Hima’s favour is how her arms swing to full extent, her body stays upright, and the glorious high knee action with full extension of the trailing leg.

A cursory look at Naser’s World Championship numbers gives her the fastest acceleration in the world between the 200 and 400 metres. Her splits at the biggest event were 12.01 seconds at 100m (where she lay back at 6th), 11.49 at 200m (she hiked up to 4th), 12.43 at 300m and 13.93 where her acceleration was faster than even the gold medallist, though she would miss out on gold. All in all, this has been the best season of Salwa’s career.

The Asiad saw much of the same, as Hima was shaded both times the two went head to head. In her biggest race, Salwa had stayed fourth till 370m, and come up to second in the last 30m. It’s as impressive as kicks get.

It’s time to get past the euphoria, and start micro-focusing on Hima’s reaction time, split times, mean speed, total steps, step lengths and rates, contact time with the floor and swing time – when foot is not in contact with the ground. The big league is where Indians want to see Hima Das. And the Asiad and Salwa couldn’t have fetched up soon enough to put future challenges into perspective.

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2032 hosting

The kerfuffle on the final days of Asiad 2018 was about Indonesian president Joko Widodo telling IOC head Thomas Bach that the country was ready to drop its name into the hat for the 2032 Games after a successful hosting of the Asian Games — at short notice, they stepped in after Vietnam pleaded out.

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Now, the dissemination of information on certain disciplines had been missing, a few sports of interest to India weren’t even broadcast, and on the whole the two-city plan made the Games highly clunky. Indonesia’s been swelteringly hot — not the best conditions for world-beating timings — and the Jakarta traffic can live up to its name of being the devil.

But those planning to enter the competing fray — Brisbane-Gold Coast, a couple of German cities and of course India — might do well not waving off Jakarta’s credentials. The Games have passed without any serious mishaps, Jakarta has a buzzing night life and the infrastructure around the Games clusters is seriously impressive, even if at some arena capacities might need to be seriously bulged up.

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Like Incheon, at Jakarta too, some stadiums would go half-filled, with badminton reaching a crescendo that only this country can manage. But the city has character, is solidly policed, safe at nights and most importantly, engaging with its music and mischievous smiles. But everyone wears a helmet, the volunteers are incredibly helpful and there might not be a better country from the Islamic world — an open and mirthful society, that didn’t fall short when called upon to step in.

First published on: 03-09-2018 at 03:01:08 am
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