It was magical to hear 35,000 and more sing the National Anthem with pride after discus thrower Krishna Poonia led an unprecedented India 1-2-3 at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. A 52-year wait for an athletics gold medal in the Commonwealth Games ended on Monday night – and what’s more Harwant Kaur and Seema Antil added to the joy.
We have seen a couple of Kenyan 1-2-3 sweeps on track but only a handful of diehards would have expected India to script that feat. The uncharitable may suggest that the home throwers benefitted from a weak field. Not right at all.
For sure, Australia missed its ace Dani Samuels just as its athletics captain, Steve Hooker, had predicted when she made the decision to stay home. “I think it is a medal that we lose,” he said. “She was almost a dead certainty to win. So, from a performance perspective, that is disappointing. It is a loss from that point of view.”
For all that, make no mistake, it was a field that did not lack quality.
South Africa’s Elizna Naude, the defending champion, was expected to set the pace as she had scripted the best performance among the competitors this season – a 64.49m effort recorded in February this year. Two-time champion Beatrice Faumuina was around as well and her season’s best throw was 61.11m. On Monday, they feel short of challenging the determined Indian trio.
Seema Antil earned the privilege of being the Indian track and field sport’s first repeat medal winner, adding to the silver she had claimed in Melbourne four years ago. It was clear that she had led a bunch of believers after Indian track legend Milkha Singh said recently that he did not expect the Indian flag to go up in the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.
Even as the Indians were soaking in the limelight, Hooker did not have to break into much of a sweat in winning the pole vault competition. Aware that he had already won the gold, he halted midway through his run up on his second attempt at 5.70m to put the pole down and raise his hands in acknowledgment of the crowd. It was his way of letting the Indian enjoy the limelight.
Sure enough, moments after the medals were presented to the Indians, the sports presenters in the studio played AR Rahman’s Maa Tujhe Salaam and the stadium erupted to the refrain of Vande Mataram. Three discus throwers had capped the outpouring of emotion, sparked by two silver and two bronze medals won earlier in the athletics competition.
For a nation that had won but only 10 Commonwealth Games medals in track and field sport, its showing in Delhi where it has won seven medals has been stuff that dreams are made of. With a bit more experience, Tintu Luka would have added a stellar women’s 800m medal to India’s collection but she promises to become a name to be reckoned with internationally.
Long after the three girls had completed their media conference and their interaction with the news TV channels, the roar of the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium continues to echo in my ears. It will be entrenched for time to come.