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Subcontinent readies for Asian Games

Subcontinent readies for Asian Games

Where the Olympic Games underscore some of the subcontinent's inadequacies in the sport arena, the Asian Games have been fruitful for athletes from the region.
The subcontinent comprises a major slice of the world's population, but it's been 22 years since an athlete or team from the region won an Olympic gold medal. The 1984 gold for Pakistan's field hockey team, remains the subcontinent's last Olympic triumph.
The December 1-15 Asian Games at Doha, Qatar provide an opportunity for these South Asian nations to salvage some pride.
Several Asian Games gold medal winners have become heroes for this generation of athletes.
The Asian Games field hockey final used to be a south Asian monopoly, featuring traditional rivals India and Pakistan, but the South Korean men gatecrashed in 1986 to make the event a keenly watched contest.
"For subcontinental teams, the field hockey gold medal remains one of the most cherished ones at the Asian Games," says former India captain Ajitpal Singh, who led India to its only World Cup title in 1975.
India, whose capital New Delhi hosted the inaugural Asian Games in 1951, has seen its medal haul grow since 1990, when it could only muster a lone kabaddi gold medal at Beijing.
Beside the subcontinent's rural sport of kabaddi, India's gold medal prospects at Doha are spearheaded by former world billiards champion Pankaj Advani and shooters Rajyavardhan Rathore and Manavjit Singh.
Advani joins another former world champion, Geet Sethi, and Asian Games gold medalist Ashok Shandaliya.
On cue
In 1998, when cue sports made their Asian Games debut, Shandaliya defeated Sethi in the final, while the two paired up to win the team event.
Yasin Merchant, a member of the 1998 gold-medal winning pair, will lead India's challenge in snooker.
Athens double-trap silver medalist Rathore heads India's shooting lineup, along with this year's world trap champion Singh. Missing from the squad is air rifle world champion Abhinav Bindra, who pulled out due to a back injury and is replaced by Gagan Narang.
Tennis stars Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi are again on the gold medal trail, but this time they also have women's tennis up-and-comer Sania Mirza for company.
The reigning Asian Games men's doubles champions, and winners of several Grand Prix titles, Paes and Bhupathi no longer play together on the ATP circuit, but they are pairing up again for the Asian Games. Paes will team up with Mirza in the mixed doubles, while United States-based Shikha Uberoi will pair with Bhupathi.
World champion Jayant Talukdar is looking to clinch India's maiden Asian Games archery gold medal, while world No. 1 speed-chess player Vishwanathan Anand has decided not to travel to Doha.
Pakistan's biggest gold medal hopes rest on the shoulders of Melbourne Commonwealth Games champion weightlifter Malik Shujauddin, who also claimed gold at this year's South Asian Games in Sri Lanka.
India's weightlifting team was suspended from international competition in the wake of several positive doping tests. India is now allowed to compete if it pays a fine of US$50,000, but the national weightlifting body has decided to skip the continental games.
Pakistan's medal hopes in boxing were hit by a doping scandal involving Mehrullah Lassi and Faisal Karim, who tested positive for using cannabis at the South Asian Games. Pakistan is hoping that fighters Ashgar Ali Shah and Noman Karim are able to make up for the absence of Lassi, who won gold at the 2002 Asian Games in South Korea.
Striker Rehan Butt will lead Pakistan's field hockey aspirations, but his team is missing five key players who have chosen to remain with their European teams. Sohail Abbas, who holds the world record for international hockey goals, is among those dropped from the squad. The omissions include two former captains, Waseem Ahmad and Mohammad Saqlain.
Sri Lanka's medal hopes have also suffered a major setback due to injuries to runners Sugath Tillekeratne and Damayanthi Darsha.
"I'm not very sure if we'll win any gold now. We had hopes on these two, but they are not going," said Hemashiri Fernando, president of Sri Lanka's national Olympic body.
Bangladesh will be hoping to stop India's four-gold winning spree in kabaddi, which is Bangladesh's national sport and fetched it a silver at Busan in 2002.


Updated : 2021-10-22 01:04 GMT+08:00