The 18th Asian Games came to an end on Sunday after a fortnight of action-packed medal events. With 15 gold, 24 silver and 30 bronze medals, India had their best ever overall tally at the Asiad and equalled the gold-medal mark set in 1951 at the very first Asian Games.
The last two weeks provided us plenty of moments to celebrate as well as some talking points, while we build-up to the next Olympics campaign.
Here’s a look back at India’s campaign in Jakarta and Palembang.
(In case you missed it: Complete list of India’s medallists at the 2018 Asian Games.)
From the Games that saw many a record broken, and many a streak ended, there are, of course, plenty of contenders for the best performer tag. Vinesh Phogat and Bajrang Punia both lit up the wrestling arena even if the overall performance from the Indian grapplers was below par. From teenagers to experienced hands, India’s shooters delivered across the board. A gold medal in rowing came as a pleasant surprise, one day after the ignominy of not finishing with a single medal in the first set of finals.
Athletics saw India finish with their second best medal at the Asiad and that’s where the individual star performers were numerous. Jinson Johnson continued having a memorable 2018, Dutee Chand announced her arrival at the Asiad in style – that 100m final was one for the ages. Muhammed Anas returned with three silver medals to his name. But for this category, it’s tough to look past his female counterpart – another quarter-miler who returned with three medals, one of them gold.
Considering her rise in 2018 and her ability to bring her best to the big stage, make it difficult to look past Hima Das for this. After Neeraj Chopra and Tejaswin Shankar’s expolits in the field events, Das is a genuinely exciting talent in the making for India on the tracks. And like she said after her 400m silver, if her focus remains on improving her timing constantly, her progress in the next couple of years will be worth watching closely.
Despite a largely memorable campaign, there were a few disappointments for India as well. While PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal did what they do best – create history – the men’s singles campaign was, to put it mildly, a failure. In a draw that did not feature Lee Chong Wei and Lin Dan, K Srikanth, much like in the Worlds, looked off colour and weighed down by the success of 2017. HS Prannoy’s struggles continued as well. While the defeat in team events was understandable, not finishing on the podium in men’s singles will have to be filed under the “medal missed” category.
Then there was Sushil Kumar. Plenty has been written about his inglorious exit at the Asiad and whether it is time he steps away from the mats. In squash, where India produced their best overall performance, one cannot help but wonder if the singles players could have bettered their bronze medal efforts given they were all seeded in the top four.
Ultimately, though, the biggest disappointment of the Games has to be a toss-up between the men’s kabaddi and men’s hockey teams. Two events where a gold medal was chalked down as a near certainty before the Games produced two bronze medals. Now, how do we pick one here?
For the hockey team, it was one bad day at the office. There is no doubting that this team is talented and has the potential to play much better than they did against Malaysia in the semi-final. (We will not talk about the group stage games which were glorified warm-up sessions for the medal matches). The cost of that one bad day is a potentially long, winding trip to Tokyo 2020. Whether there are deeper issues with player mentality, we will know when the World Cup comes around later this year where there won’t be any easy matches. But for now, disappointing as it is, the men’s hockey team can look to regroup and prepare for better results ahead.
The men’s kabaddi team however, is a different story. For them, the Asian Games is a big stage. The only multi-national, multi-sport event where they get to showcase their talents. Sure, there are more lucrative options for them these days in the circuit but this was India’s sureshot gold medal at Asiad for years now. While defeat is a part and parcel of sport, it’s the manner in which the men’s kabaddi team’s campaign unfolded that pips this category in their favour. Controversies in the lead-up, absence of big names, a defeat to South Korea in the group stages that did not prove to be enough of a wake-up call – all these make the kabaddi campaign an utterly forgettable one.
One can only hope the sport doesn’t go the hockey from here.
It is Manjit Singh’s late burst in the 800m final that provided the most pleasant surprise for India at the Asian Games. Here was a guy who almost gave up the sport due to a paucity of funds, a guy who finished eighth best among the qualifiers, a guy who was seen as the second fiddle to Jinson Johnson. But in a matter of a few seconds, he went from fourth to first in a gripping final. It was a 1-2 finish that Indian fans are unlikely to forget anytime soon.
Most memorable medal
Hima Das and Neeraj Chopra’s record-breaking efforts, Swapna Barman’s historic heptathlon gold medal, Manjit Singh’s late burst, Amit Panghal defeating the Olympic champion in his category, Vinesh Phogat defeating the very opponent who ended her Rio Olympics campaign in tears, on her way to a famous triumph – the first Indian woman wrestler to win the Asiad gold – were all memorable gold or silver medal moments. But the most memorable, in this writer’s eyes, will be two bronze medals from table tennis. There are few events at the Asian Games where the field is truly world class, Olympic quality. Table Tennis is one of them and India winning not one, but two medals in a sport dominated by the Asian nations is a testament to the improvement made by the Indian paddlers.
And for Achanta Sharath Kamal, a long-awaited medal that felt better than a dream come true.
It’s understandable that most discussions and headlines in the aftermath of the games will be about the medal winners. But with 500-plus athletes representing the nation, it’s worth dedicating a few words to the majority of the contingent that did not return with a medal. Some of them had disappointing results like mentioned above but there were a few, who despite not adding to India’s tally, can be proud of their efforts and work towards getting better.
The boxing contingent, for one, would be disappointed at winning just two medals after their stellar showing at the CWG but a combination of tough draws and being at the end of some brutal punches saw the likes of Gaurav Solanki, Shiva Thapa and Sonia Lather get knocked out early. But as this report suggested, there is no need to panic just yet for the boxers.
The badminton men’s doubles pairing of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty continue to show the world that there is hope yet beyond singles for India’s shuttlers, while Ashwini Ponnappa and Sikki Reddy came within one win from ending the long wait for a women’s doubles medal.
But this category goes to Manu Bhaker, whose stellar 2018 came to a medal-less end. Making her Asian Games debut, the 16-year-old – considered by many as the poster athlete for the NextGen Indian shooters – made two finals, one with a record qualifying score but ultimately fell short of the podium. The sight of her walking away from her position and slumping into her chair, disappointment writ all over her face, after she got eliminated in her favourite event, the 10m air pistol event final, is one of those haunting images of the Games. It was a reality check for Bhaker, but she has shown she is not fazed by the big stage in her nascent career.
“She’s a bit adamant about that [winning]. It’s not a very typically 16-year-old thing but it’s something that’s typical of a champion,” her coach Jaspal Rana told ESPN.
Bhaker might not have finished with a medal in Indonesia, but bigger triumphs await her if she takes this Asian Games campaign in her stride.
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