TPreparation for India’s Commonwealth Birmingham campaign got off to a bad start, losing their pioneering torchbearer – javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra. The Olympic gold medalist suffered a groin injury while winning a silver medal at the 2022 IAAF World Championships in Oregon a month ago.
However, just over a week into the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, Chopra’s absence wasn’t really felt in the sizable Indian contingent or fans in the same way that it was at the Olympics. Rather, other members of the contingent have strengthened massively – it looks like the Indians have won 9 gold medals, 8 silver and 9 bronze medals in nine sports.
India’s numerous podium finishes have dwindled from recent Commonwealth editions, and yet the relative ease with which some of the athletes have flown through the competition perhaps reflects the Commonwealth Games’ dwindling standing compared to other international tournaments.
However, it is still the first major Indian mainstream athletics tournament to take place in the Covid-era without major restrictions or bio-bubbles, especially with the postponement of the 2022 Asian Games.
With the Commonwealth Games concluding on Monday, the bigger story for India lies in the varied disciplines of the medalists compared to previous editions where shooting and wrestling dominated the scene, although it wasn’t a smooth administrative process. And that’s why the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games are ThePrints Newsmaker of the Week.
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Expansion of the pedestal pool
Of India’s 26 medals to date, 10 have been won in weightlifting, a positive improvement on the 9 achieved at the Gold Coast in 2018, with Tokyo Olympics silver medalist Mirabai Chanu taking gold alongside tournament debutants Jeremy Lalrinnunga and Achinta Sheuli .
Twenty-eight of India’s 66 medals at Australia’s Gold Coast went to the usual suspects in shooting and wrestling. With shooting removed from the Birmingham calendar and wrestling occurring in the final days of the Games, the gap was there for Indians in other disciplines to fill.
Results so far show a mix of veterans and youngsters – 35-year-old squash player Sourav Ghosal followed up his Gold Coast silver with a bronze in Birmingham, 40-year-old Sharath Kamal Achanta was part of a four-man team that won gold in table tennis and 23-year-old Murali Shreeshankar took silver in the long jump, to name a few.
Most notable, however, was India’s historic Lawn Bowl Gold in the women’s foursome category, with the winning team consisting of a Delhi high school physical education teacher, a Jharkhand District Sports Officer, a Jharkhand Police Officer and an Assam Forest Service employee.
And there could be more to come as this weekend hosts most of the athletics events, as well as the Indian women’s cricket semi-final against England and the medal ranks in hockey, table tennis and boxing.
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Federations under the cloud
However, no major tournament involving Indians seems to be without incident or controversy off the field, and the same is true of Birmingham 2022 in the case of boxer Lovlina Borgohain and high jumper Tejaswin Shankar.
In the week leading up to the games, Borgohain had complained on Twitter of “mental harassment”, apparently on the part of the Boxing Federation of India as well as the Indian Olympic Association and the Department of Youth Affairs and Sport, over an administrative ban on their coach’s entry into the Birmingham Games Village.
Meanwhile, Shankar had to fight his battle with the Athletics Federation of India at the Delhi High Court to be accepted as a substitute for India’s athletics contingent in Birmingham. Having missed the final selection processes in Chennai, Shankar chose to compete in the American College Tournament as a student in Kansas instead and was denied qualification by the AFI before deciding to appeal to the court.
Borgohain’s Birmingham dream ended in defeat by Wales’ Rosie Eccles in the quarter-finals, but Shankar defied the federation with a bronze medal to continue his success at the American national collegiate level.
A week ago, Tejaswin Shankar was training in front of 3 dogs at JLN Stadium after not being called up to the CWG roster despite meeting the AFI QF standard. Taken at the last minute after taking the Fed to court, he wins bronze in Birmingham in front of 30000 high jump today. pic.twitter.com/1YDiEsvjE3
— Jonathan Selvaraj (@jon_selvaraj) August 3, 2022
That Shankar was able to achieve this despite, and not because of, the association’s work reflects the need for those in power to reconsider and do away with some of the outdated systems behind their selection processes.
Views are personal.