The Indian athletes gave a good account of themselves in the recent Asian Games held in the Indonesian capital Jakarta and Palembang. Though there were major setbacks in kabaddi and hockey, the Indian contingent did the country proud by coming up with its best ever medal haul (15 gold, 24 silver and 30 bronze). The fact that India could strike it rich in athletics gladdened my heart. The big gains in athletics were easily the highlights of the Indian campaign.
Neeraj Chopra once again delivered on the big stage and his gold-medal winning effort in javelin throw with a new national record of 88.06 metre augurs well for the future. Neeraj is only 20 and he will only get better with more experience under his belt.
World under-20 champion Hima Das came up with another impressive outing in Jakarta. She won the 400m silver besides being a part of the quartet which won gold in 4x400m relay and silver in 4x400m mixed relay.
The remarkable thing about Hima has been how she has bettered her timings over the past one year from 55 seconds to 50.79 seconds. She's a fearless performer and comes good in big events. At 18, age is a big plus for her and the Assam girl will definitely improve her timings with more exposure and training stints.
I was keen to watch how Jinson Johnson performed. The Kerala athlete did not disappoint as he won the 1,500m gold and a silver in 800m. In fact Jinson did really well to bounce back after teammate Manjit Singh pulled off an upset win in 800m.
Another Keralite Mohammed Anas too had a fruitful outing as he won the 400m silver besides pocketing a silver in both 4x400m relay and 4x400m mixed relay events.
Tajinder Pal sets the tone
Tajinder Pal Singh Toor opened India's gold hunt in athletics with a Games record of 20.75m in shot put. It set the tone for the rest of the campaign as India reaped seven gold, 10 silver and two bronze in athletics.
There were a few surprises in store for the Indian fans as Dutee Chand bagged silver in 100m and 200m, Neena Pinto clinched a silver in long jump, and Dharun Ayyasamy earned a silver in 400m hurdles. P U Chitra won a creditable bronze in 1,500m race while the evergreen Seema Punia added the discus throw bronze to her glittering collection of international medals. I would term Seema as one of the wisest Indian athletes as she picks her competitions judiciously and the results are there for all to see.
I was a bit disappointed that India could only win a silver in mixed relay, which made its debut at the Games. Anas had given India a terrific start, but M R Poovamma could not build on that lead.
Though the men's shuttlers failed to get going, P V Sindhu and Saina Nehwal kept the tricolour flying high by winning a silver and bronze respectively. India also won historic medals in table tennis and men's sepak takraw.
The reversals in kabaddi and hockey would hurt the Indians the most. The men's hockey team was expected to defend its title and the surprise loss to Malaysia in the semifinals means the Indians now have to go through the gruelling qualifiers to book their berth in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
The Indians were expected to rule the roost in kabaddi. But Iran put paid to their hopes and our monopoly in the sport has come to an end.
Despite these setbacks it was a highly satisfying campaign for India. My only regret was that the sports lovers could not quite the celebrate the fine performances of our athletes as flood ravaged Kerala. It was only after the rains subsided, that the focus finally shifted to the Asian Games.
(The author is a former World Championship bronze medal winner in long jump)