Thursday, October 14, 2010

Glasgow calling after Delhi’s Perfect ’10

After hitting the high-notes in its New Delhi edition, the Commonwealth Games move to the Scottish Highlands in 2014, and the Jawaharlal Nehru unfurled the first look of Glasgow’s aspirations as host nation, and ended as the most spectacular segment of the closing ceremony - perhaps owing to its novelty for the Indian audience.

Rest assured when India toasts to its succesful conduct of the Games and retires for a sleepy night, the ten-minute presentation by 352 performers of Thursday, will put an end to the perennial joke on their attire by the cacklers —Why do Scottish men wear Skirts?

Matching India’s blingy colours with their own multi-hued tartan kilts, a vibrant modern one with sporty uppers,a lone piper with the sing-songy bagpipe took centrestage as the baton was passed on to the Scottish hosts. The merry lot then put on show some of its iconic sites with the help of some hand-carried silver giant inflated bloats - the Arc Bridge over River Clyde, the Armadillo auditorium the Celtic Knot and finally their mythical Loch Ness Monster —with perhaps the Nessie replacing our Shera in four years.

A kilometre and 800 metres cloth was used to create the different coloured labyrinths and mazes and finally the blue and Saltire Scottish flag, even as Delhi applauded the 2014 teaser.

The last time the Games were held in Scotland — at Edinburgh — India, alongwith other African and Caribbean nations had stayed away for political reasons at the height of South Africa’s apartheid troubles. However, the 2010 hosts will look to mount a massive challenge on the medals table in another four years when they visit Glasgow - a city known for its legendary football rivalries between Celtics and Rangers and in pop culture for ABBA’s Super Trouper rhythm.

The Scottish contingent have been a merry lot in their omnipresent white and blue gear and hat-props, and a little teaser of their sports anthem ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)’ got the rugby stadium tapping their feet when their sevens side took to the pitch. On Thursday, the entire chant-song hummed at football’s Hampden Park and rugby’s Murrayfield Park blared to a dazzled Delhi audience. Amongst other things though, Glasgow will drop tennis from its schedule, so Andy Murray will not make it to the next Games either.

Commonwealth Games closing ceremony includes a game of tag – and lots of security

The closing ceremony of the 19th Commonwealth Games began Thursday in spectacular fashion at the Indian capital's Jawaharlal Nehru stadium.

Just as New Delhi was starting to get used to the rhythm of life as host of the Commonwealth Games, the party has wound down.

The closing ceremony of the 19th Commonwealth Games began Thursday in spectacular fashion at the Indian capital's Jawaharlal Nehru stadium.

Commemorations started with a celebration of traditional Indian sports such as kabbadi, which is essentially an evolved version of tag.

Spectators, however, could be forgiven for confusing such sports with combat training, as thousands of knife- and spear-wielding warrior-dancers and fire-twirlers moved around the grounds.

And, much like the opening ceremonies, an estimated crowd of 60,000 people was watching it all from the stands.

The creative director of the spectacle was filmmaker Bharatbala, who planned the ceremonies for 18 months. The combined cost of the opening and closing ceremonies was said to be in the region of $67 million. Some 6,000 performers took part.

Security, as expected, was extremely tight, not just at the stadium but across Delhi. In fact, Thursday was a public holiday in the city, with most markets, shops, offices, schools, and bars and restaurants closed. Authorities were keen to avoid tempting fate by allowing gathering places for crowds. Road traffic in central New Delhi was restricted.

There were about 7,500 security personnel at the stadium, while snipers, commandos, and specially trained paramilitaries were in place.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa was the guest of honor at the closing ceremony – something that has raised the hackles of many Tamils. More than 100 people were arrested Thursday in the southern state of Tamil Nadu after staging a protest against Rajapaksa's presence. They said that India should take a firmer stance against the Sri Lankan government over alleged human rights violations against the island nation's Tamil population during the long-running civil war.

But Tamil Nadu is far from New Delhi, where residents are now either heaving a sigh of relief that normal life can resume, or lamenting the end of the biggest – and most chaotic – party the city has ever known.

Saina, Jwala & Ashwini take gold tally to 38

There’s life beyond self-doubt. Even for a country that has suffered chronic bouts of that dark feeling often when the words Commonwealth Games were uttered these last few months. Fitting then that it was three  extremely self-assured sportswomen from India — seasoned shuttle-sharks Saina Nehwal and Jwala Gutta, and a third, Ashwini Ponappa, emerging as Jwala’s finest understudy over the last 10 days — who guided the country into that realm of supreme confidence and pride, that only a sporting medal could guarantee.
No dazzling pyrotechnics at the closing ceremony or Incredible India assertions prior to that held the same power of the two gold medals, coveted on the final day. Any hue lesser of the medal, any effort less on part of the badminton players, any shuttle less retrieved would have left the nagging feeling of some unfinished business to these Games.

As it turned out, India’s athletes  settled for nothing less than gold in the last competitive events of the Games, playing out of their skins, and dwelling on that nucleus of their character that marks out the two Hyderabadis, Saina and Jwala, and the baby of the team, Bangalorean Ashwini, as the fiery, fearless young Indians.       

The final day of the Commonwealth Games had thrown an open challenge to the hosts—that of overhauling England who had 37 gold medals for a second-place finish on the medal’s tally. India were one short with 36 at the start of the day, and as anguishing images of the hockey loss were beamed in, the Siri Fort stadium and the two precious gold medals it held suddenly became citadels that needed to be defended with grit and honour.

The trio aren’t mechanised robots though, automated to excellence at a switch of button. So a fair amount of sweat, some jangled nerve-endings and plenty of adrenaline—whipped up undoubtedly by the crowd—went into securing medals from a discipline that had suddenly acquired urgency and immediacy owing to the shoot-off with England.

There was no dearth of demons to conquer either. Nehwal admits she still gets nightmares of the Olympic quarterfinal loss that denied her a medal. She’d left this venue six months ago after going out in tears from an Asian championships semifinal.

Jwala hasn’t had the smoothest of run-ups to the Games with endless speculation about her personal life, besides a greenhorn partner by her side, who needed support more than she’d offer. And Ashwini simply didn’t want to be the one spoiling the party because of jumpy nerves.    

While Ashwini went retrieving the flying shuttles at the stroke of noon, whacking them back at express speed and with strength that doesn’t show in her petite frame, Jwala put her wrist wizardry to its ultimate elasticity-test returning serves and smashes at the net, as they downed some dogged resistance from the Singaporeans. Securing a historic women’s doubles gold medal for India in badminton, they had taken India’s cause forward as badminton’s distant venue—hitherto quiet—suddenly became part of an Indian march to out-medal England.

When Saina came for her final match, India needed the one gold, and the desperation crept into her game as she went for some anxious winners. Forty-five minutes on, she was staring shockingly at a scoreline that saw her match-point down at 21-20 in the second set in what she later labelled the toughest final of her career.

Self-doubt struck all the tiers of the capacity stadium en masse, but not the core of the heart where it was kept at bay by her coach’s relentless encouragement and her own deep inner-strength, celebrated in fancy words by writers, but never tested in front of a home-crowd in the Capital.

Pulling winners out of her armoury of drop-shots and running for every net-flick even as her opponent increased the doggedness-stakes, Saina launched counters, plotting every point in mini-seconds and on her rushing feet pushing the match into a decider with a roar that she usually reserves for the end of the match. Keeping the momentum going, Saina attacked the Malaysian on her far back-hand, and then clung onto a lead like a rare icecream cone, when coach Gopichand allows her.

When Mew Choo Wong hit the shuttle long giving Saina a 19-21, 23-21, 21-13 win, it was an entire nation celebrating the return from a brink, celebrating how self-doubt could be conquered in sport. Apt that CWG’s poster girl should serve up the final dessert.

India's `Olympic Dream' Distant as Commonwealth Games Cross Finishing Line

New Delhi’s Commonwealth Games ended with martial art battles and a laser show after a record haul of gold medals for India and last-minute fixes to venues rescued an event that had threatened a national embarrassment.

During a two-hour closing ceremony that also featured army marching bands wearing tartan capes and leopard skins, and a dance tribute involving 2,010 children, the games flag was handed to officials from Glasgow, host to the 2014 event. Suresh Kalmadi, chairman of the local games organizing committee, thanked officials for overcoming “serious roadblocks. We have learned a lot.”

Empty stadiums early in the event and repairs to the athletics track after the opening ceremony gave way to ticket sales of about 50,000 a day as India won 101 medals, 38 of them gold, to lie second in the overall standings behind Australia. India reached the final of men’s hockey, a national favorite, before being thrashed 8-0 in today’s final.

Commonwealth Games Federation President Michael Fennell today praised the “very high standard of venues.” While transport and ticketing problems had to be fixed during competition, there “is no doubt that the overall image of the games has been good,” he said. “Delhi has performed.”

Photographs on the British Broadcasting Corp.’s website showing unclean bathrooms at the athletes’ village, missed construction deadlines, the collapse of a stadium footbridge, the resignation of officials for “financial irregularities” and warnings of terrorist threats forced Scotland, Canada and New Zealand to delay their departure for Delhi.

‘Miles to Go’

Those failings exposed the progress needed before India can fulfill its ambition to host the Olympic Games, said Boria Majumdar, a sports historian and the author of “Sellotape Legacy: Delhi and the Commonwealth Games.”

“The way the whole thing unfolded -- the lead up, the infrastructure delays -- shows we have miles to go before we can mount a serious Olympic bid,” Majumdar said in an interview.

The Indian Olympic Association had said a successful event this year might spur a bid for the 2020 Olympics. “I have a dream of bringing the Olympics” to India, Kalmadi said at a Oct. 12 press conference in the capital. “When, I don’t know.”

Last-minute work on the track and infield at the 60,000- seat athletics venue will “have certainly brought up an amber or a red light” with the International Olympic Committee, said Ian Henry, director of the Centre for Olympic Studies and Research at the U.K.’s Loughborough University, on Oct. 13. “The report card at the end of the day is a very positive one for the manner in which the games were conducted.”

Singh’s Inheritance

The Oct. 3-14 event, held every four years and featuring 71 countries and territories, most of them former British colonies, is dwarfed by the 204 nations who took part in Beijing’s successful $70-billion Olympics in 2008.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who inherited the Commonwealth Games from his predecessor and had to rally senior ministers last month to ensure they went ahead, spent $4.6 billion on arenas, roads and power to highlight a “confident” new India.

Instead, 97 percent of respondents to a Sept. 23 online newspaper poll believed the games, and the role of Singh’s government, had damaged the country’s image. Moody’s Analytics Inc. said that investors may reassess the attractiveness of India’s $1.3 trillion economy after preparations foundered.

Fennell on Sept. 25 expressed his disappointment with Delhi’s organizing committee, saying at a press conference that the lack of preparedness had hurt the country’s reputation. “I would hope at the end of all this, India would have learnt a great lesson,” he said then.

Sick Swimmers

After a spectacular opening ceremony that won global acclaim, early events were poorly attended, forcing Kalmadi to open more ticket booths and consider allowing school children in for free. When a dozen members of Australia’s swimming team fell ill, competition and practice pools were probed. Tests showed nothing unpleasant lurking in the water.

“Patently problems were magnified in the Western media,” Loughborough University’s Henry said. Organizers need to tell the world they understand the need for a more “rigorous approach to staging major events,” he said.

A bigger competition in India is unlikely to be “on the anvil,” Mahesh Rangarajan, a New Delhi-based political analyst, said in a phone interview. Singh’s “Congress party’s priorities are elsewhere: socio-economic reconstruction, creating jobs, improving education,” he said.

The cost of the games is almost half what the government will spend this year on a rural jobs program that has benefited more than 41 million village households. India has 828 million people living on less than $2 a day, the World Bank estimates.

Record Inflows

India’s economy, which has grown at an average 8.5 percent in the past five years and that the International Monetary Fund expects to expand 9.7 percent this year, may prove more resilient than Moody’s forecast.

Foreign funds have purchased Indian stocks valued at a record $21.83 billion this year, lured by the potential of Asia’s third-largest economy.

“People in the international investing community already know the difficulties of putting their money in India,” said Laveesh Bhandari, director at New Delhi-based Indicus Analytics Pvt., a research group. Despite its handicaps, “India is still lucrative,” he said.

Meet the first family of the Commonwealth Games

The Commonwealth Games now have a first family  -- in Australia. Alana Boyd won a gold medal in pole vault at the Delhi Games, emulating the medal-winning performance of her parents over two decades back.

Alana Boyd, 26, is the only child of two Games champions to win her own gold medal at the track and field competition at New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, The Australian reported.

The pole vaulter repeated the feat of her mother Denise Robertson who won the 200m at the 1978 Edmonton Games, and her father Ray who won the pole vault at the 1982 Brisbane Games.

The proud parents watched Alana receive the gold medal.

Alana admitted that she had felt the pressure of public expectation as she was the child of famous parents, but not any more.

She said her parents had always been supportive.

"They are fantastic parents, they couldn't have done more. They are great," she was quoted as saying.

She denied that her gold medal-winning genes gave her an unfair advantage and added: "I am sure there are a lot of others out there who have good genes, and it's not just genes, it's hard work as well."

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