| A file picture of Saraswati, Beenamol and Soma
Busan, Oct. 5: India’s female athletes bear a heavy burden. The whole contingent is looking up to them to shore up the country’s medal tally at the Busan Asian Games.
A week into the 14th Games, the 350-strong Indian team has no more than a gold, two silver and one bronze medals to boast of. It’s now crystal clear that the likes of K. Beenamol and Saraswati Saha will have to deliver if India are to surpass their Bangkok tally of seven golds.
“I know people are expecting me to win two golds at these Games, but I also know that such expectation is no guarantee of my victory,” Beenamol said at the Athletes’ Village Saturday afternoon shortly before leaving for the team’s first practice session. “It all depends on how I perform on the given day.”
The schedule does not favour her. She starts off with the 800m first round on Monday but will have two races the next day — the 400 first round and 800 final.
“My events are clashing, ideally I wouldn’t have liked to run both races the same day,” she said as the team waited for the bus to take them to the Asian Games Main Stadium.
Chosen as the Indian flag-bearer at the opening ceremony, Beenamol could not make it to Busan in time for the marchpast last Sunday. Hockey star Dhanraj Pillay filled in for her.
“We were at the camp then and the coach (Russian Yuri Ogordonik) felt my preparations would be affected if I came to Busan so early. It was a great honour but there was nothing I could do,” said Beenamol, who landed here with the rest of the 55-member athletics squad Friday night.
Strangely, Indian Olympic Association (IOA) president Suresh Kalmadi said Friday that Beenamol had herself decided not to come for the opening ceremony. Another classic case of the country’s premier Olympic body being in the dark about its affiliated organisations.
The decision to field Beenamol in 800m was a relatively late one. “That’s why the coach didn’t want me to leave training so early.”
Saraswati, another strong medal contender, has a packed programme on the first three days too. She will try her luck in the two sprints, with 200 being her personal pick.
“If I can face the way I have been doing in the past few months, a medal should come,” she said, refusing to dub herself as the favourite.
“It’s a strong field with Susanthika Jayasinghe, a Chinese and a Kazakhstan girl providing stiff competition.”
She hasn’t ever competed with Susanthika and is looking forward to the battle with Sri Lanka’s Olympic bronze-medallist.
“She is a big name but I will be under no pressure. I am looking to improve on my best of 22.82 seconds,” said Saraswati who recently became the first Indian to run 200m in under 23 seconds. In fact, she twice clocked sub-23 timings in the last two months.
Having started off as a 200 specialist, the Bandel girl switched to 100m after winning silver in the junior ATF meet. It was only at the start of this year that she resumed doing the 200m.
“Our stint in Ukraine helped as we did a lot of hill training there,” said Saraswati who will also anchor the 4 x 100 relay team.
The one problem she noticed on her first day in Busan was the strong wind. “I hope it’s not windy like this during my events,” she observed.
Boost for Soma
Soma Biswas, who will be doing heptathlon and the 4 x 400 relay, is delighted to have personal coach Kuntal Roy with her. “This is the first time he will be around at a major competition, so that’s a huge boost,” said Soma who came a below-par fourth at last month’s ATF championships in Colombo.
“Our focus all year has been on the Asian Games, we have been away from home for months on end just to get ready for Busan. She couldn’t have prepared better, that much I can tell you,” said Roy.
Soma’s big test will be on Monday and Tuesday. She is determined to brush off the Colombo failure with a medal, which will be her best Puja gift.