India Down Under: Gold Coast Games one to remember, Olympic stage beckon for youngsters

71 participating nations, over 6,000 athletes and officials, and 11 days of nerve-wracking action came to an end in the Commonwealth Games on Sunday at Gold Coast.

For India’s 200 plus strong contingent, the Games down under was a good stepping stone to test their mettle ahead of the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, and what a memorable showcase it was!

With 66 medals, India finished in a hugely commendable third place in the overall medals table, one of their best showing overseas, second only to the Manchester Games in 2002 where India won 69 medals (30 Gold, 22S and 17B) to finish 4th in the medals tally.

The Indian athletes surpassed the 64 medals accumulated in the Glasgow edition four years back, and this was their third- best showing in the Commonwealth Games overall. Their best showing came in Delhi where egged on by the vocal home support, the Indian contingent bagged a whopping 101 medals (38G,27S,36B). Here are a list of hits and misses from the Gold Coast Games.

How has India fared: A comparison of the last 4 overseas CWG games

Table Tennis:

Manika Batra’s squeal in triumph, jumping and throwing her hands up in the air will probably be one of the most heartening images from the Commonwealth Games Down Under. After all, she had only clinched a historic gold for India in the women’s table tennis singles event, a sport dominated by Singapore since its introduction in 2002.

The 22-year-old Manika beat defending champion world number 4 and favourite Feng Tianwei of Singapore 4-3 in the semi-finals and tactically outwitted Feng’s compatriot Mengyu Yu 11-7, 11-6, 11-2, 11-7 in the finals to become only the second non-Singapore winner in the event.

The 22-year-old also spearheaded India’s triumph in the women’s team competition, defeating Singapore. Batra went on to clinch a silver and bronze in the women’s doubles and mixed doubles respectively, winning a medal in all her events.

The men’s team ensured a memorable double in the team event for India as they defeated Nigeria 3-0 in the finals after an inspired victory against defending champions Singapore in the last four. Veteran Sharath Kamal also won his third medal in the singles event, a bronze after his gold in Melbourne Games (2006) and bronze in 2010.

It was a splendid show by the Indian paddlers at Gold Cost

The Indians were by far the dominant side in the Oxenford Studios, placing across all disciplines, winning 3 gold, 2 silver and 3 bronze medals in 7 events.

Shooting:

A traditional strong hold in this event, expectations were high for the 27 Indian shooters and they delivered handsomely, bettering their 4 gold, 9 silver,4 bronze medal show at the Glasgow Games. (in terms of gold medals)

The first shooter to take center stage was 16-year-old Manu Bhaker. The Haryana shooter, who won gold in the 2018 ISSF World Cup in Mexico, showed maturity beyond her years and won gold in the 10m air pistol event in her first ever Commonwealth Games appearance. The more experienced Heena Sidhu finished second. Sidhu went one better in the women’s 25 m pistol, standing atop the podium.

17-year old Mehuli Ghosh shot a stunning 10.9, the maximum score possible in the women’s 10m Air rifle final but just came up short in the shoot-off to Martina Lindsay Veloso of Singapore.

Incredibly, the 16-year-old Bhaker was not the youngest winner in these Commonwealth Games for India. That tag went to 15-year-old Anish Bhanwala, who shot a perfect 5 out of 5 in the final round of the men’s 25m rapid fire pistol to round off a memorable campaign for India, which included 7 Golds, 4 silver, and 5 bronzes.

Veteran Jitu Rai created a Games record on his way to men’s 10m air pistol glory, while another young shooter, 22-year-old Om Prakash Mitharval won bronze in the event. Mitharval later went on to clinch the bronze in the 50m pistol competition, while defending champion Rai failed to make the cut.

The shooting contingent returned with maximum medals from Gold Coast

In a tense finish, Shreyasi Singh held her nerve to bag gold in the women’s double trap shooting event, bettering her silver won in Glasgow in 2014.

Tejaswini Sawant won her seventh medal in the Commonwealth Games in the women’s 50m rifle 3 positions event, breaking the games record on the way, while compatriot Sanjeev Rajput took gold in the men’s event as India finished atop of the competing nations with 7G, 4S, 5B.

Wrestling:

India won a haul of 12 medals at the Carrara Sports and Leisure Centre. Rahul Aware kicked things off for India winning gold in the men’s 57 kg category. Sunil Kumar lived upto expectations, storming to his third successive CWG gold medal in under 1 minute and 30 seconds against South Africa’s Johannes Botha in the 74 kg freesyle category. Bhajrang Punia bettered his silver medal showing in the Glasgow games, this time clinching gold in the men’s 65 kg freestyle event, while Sumit Malik bagged gold in the men’s 125kg.

NOTE: Wrestling was not in the CWG programme in 2006

One may remember Vinesh Phogat being stretched off the mat after suffering a knee injury during her bout at the Rio Olympics, and the 23-year-old overcame her disappointment by comprehensively beating her Canadian opponent Jessica Macdonald 13-3 to clinch gold in the women’s 50 kg freestyle category.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment in the wrestling front came from Olympic bronze medalist Sakshi Malik. The 25-year-old was in tears at the podium as she settled for bronze in the women’s 62kg category. A firm favourite, Malik suffered two back-back losses and won a closely fought bronze medal contest 6-5 against New Zealand’s Tayla Ford, leaving Vinesh Phogat as the lone woman gold medalist in wresting in the Gold Goast Games. Malik will look to bounce back from this disappointment in the Asian Games later this year.

Babita Kumari Phogat, sister of Geeta Phogat, did not defend her CWG title, coming up short against Canada’s Diana Weicker in women’s freestyle 53kg final.

Badminton:

India clinched a historic gold in the mixed team event, beating defending champions Malaysia in a thrilling encounter. Former World no.1 Saina Nehwal clinched the tie for India, defeating Soniia Cheah in 3 games to give India their first gold in the mixed team event. Nehwal went to do the double as the 2010 commonwealth games gold medallist beat compatriot PV Sindhu to clinch gold in the women’s singles final, becoming the first Indian to win two single golds at the Commonwealth Games. With medals in all events, barring the mixed doubles, India clinched 2 Gold, 3 Silver and 1 bronze, their strongest showing in the games.

India clinched a historic first gold at an International Team event

Weightlifting:

With 5 gold medals, the Indian weightlifters were the most successful amongst participating nations in the 2018 Games and once again it was the youngsters who came to the fore. All of India’s 9 medalists were 25 or younger, the youngest being 18-year-old Deepak Lather who won bronze in the 69 kg category. Sathish Sivalingam successfully defended his gold in the 77kg category, while Saikhom Mirabai Chanu produced a three games records enroute to her gold in the 48kg category.

(NOTE: Seperate medals were given for snatch and clean and jerk and total in 2002.)

Youngsters shone bright at the weightlifting event

Boxing:

India had their best display in boxing at the Commonwealth Games in 2018, picking up 9 medals, 3 of them gold. World Champion Mary Kom stole the show and at the age of 35, added the Commonwealth Gold medal to her elusive kitty storming to victory in the light flyweight (48kg) category in her maiden appearance at CWG. Gaurav Solanki (52kg) and Asian Games champion Vikas Krishnan (75kg)  also clinched gold for India.

Athletics:

India registered 1 gold, 1 silver and 1 bronze medal. Neeraj Chopra is by far one of the best prospects for an Olympic medal in Tokyo, and the 20-year old proved his class by sailing to a gold medal in the javelin throw.

In discuss throw, veteran Seema Punia clinched silver, her fourth successive medal in the CWG, while 23-year-old compatriot Navjeet Dhillon snatched bronze with a dramatic final throw.

The performances Muhammed Anas in the men’s 400m is also worth mentioning. Anas broke the national record enroute to a merit able fourth place finish, while 18-year-old Hima Das, despite finishing sixth in the women’s 400m, broke her personal best twice in the semi-finals and finals.

In another track event, the 1500m finals, Jinson Johnson broke the 23-year-old national record to finish fifth in the event.

Squash:

Defending champions  Joshna Chinappa and Dipika Pallikal Karthik, who claimed the country’s first medal in squash at Glasgow, came up just short in the women’s doubles against New Zealand’s Joelle King and Amanda Landers-Murphy.

Pallikal Karthik and Ghoshal also clinched India’s first ever medal in the mixed doubles event, a silver. The pair defeated top seeds Joelle King and Paul Koll of New Zealand enroute to the finals. This was India’s highest medal haul in squash at the CWG.

However, it was a mixed games for Ghoshal, a medal hopeful in the men’s category. The third seed suffered a second round defeat  to Jamaica’s Christopher Binnie, ranked 65 in the PSA world rankings. Ghosal who just missed a medal in the previous edition at Glasgow looked set to progress into the later stages but squandered a two-set lead to bow out.

Indian Hockey:

The Indian men’s hockey team failed to clinch a medal for the first time since the 2006 Games after finishing a disappointing fourth. India won the silver in the 2014 and 2010 games, finishing as runners up to Australia and went in with high prospects of finishing on the podium. However, the India team looked to be body of nerves right from the onset, with defensive lapses costing too many goals at crucial times, and their low penalty corner conversion rates did not help either. Despite coming through undefeated in the group stages, India lost to less-fancied New Zealand in the semi-finals and went down 2-1 to England in the bronze medal match. Sjoerd Marijne’s side will look to address issues quickly if they are to mount a serious challenge in the upcoming Asia Cup and Hockey World Cup.

The Indian women’s team too came back empty handed from the CWG for the third year running. Despite losing out to lower ranked Wales in their opening encounter, the team coached by Harendra Singh showed remarkable determination to beat Olympic champions England, the second ranked team in the world, in the group stages. However Indian eves could not replicate their gold medal winning performance at the 2002 games going down 6-0 in the bronze medal playoff against England after a collapse in the final quarter. Their last CWG medal came at the 2006 Games in Melbourne where they clinched silver.

The final points tally of the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
Pic Courtesy: GC CWG official

From youngsters breaking barriers to veterans like Mary Kom holding their own, there was plenty to cheer for the Indian fans at Gold Coast and one hopes this is only a glimpse of what can be replicated at the Olympic level.

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