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Upbeat Indians set sights on Athens 2004 track

New Delhi: After setting the field ablaze at the Asian Games, the Indian athletes returned home promising to bring more laurels for the country at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.

Double gold medallist K.M. Beenamol, who arrived here from Busan late Wednesday night along with Bahadur Singh, Shakti Singh and Neelam J. Singh, said she hoped to perform better in next year’s Afro-Asian Games and in Athens.

“I am quite happy with my performance. I am looking forward to winning a medal in Athens,” the diminutive runner told reporters.

Beenamol, who won a gold in the women’s 800m and 4x400m relay and a silver in the 400m, said her hard work had paid off. “I have worked really hard in the last four years. But I have to continue in the same vein to be successful in future events.”

Indian athletes won 15 medals, including six golds, in track and field events. However, the news of middle-distance runner Sunita Rani being stripped of her medals after she tested positive for a banned substance certainly took the sheen off their achievements.

Indian Olympic Association president Suresh Kalmadi tried to downplay the scandal, saying that one odd incident should not be allowed to overshadow their performances.

“The athletes did reasonably well in Busan. This incident should not become the talking point,” he said, adding that the strictest action would be taken against Sunita Rani.

Despite the scandal, the athletes were pleased with their showing in Busan which helped India finish eighth with a total of 34 medals — 10 gold, 12 silver and 12 bronze.

Bahadur Singh, whose only valid throw fetched him a gold in the men’s shot put, blamed the circle which restricted his movements and forced him to make errors.

“It was very difficult to be within the circle after the throw. So I was forced to come out after every attempt. Otherwise, I could have thrown the ball a bit further,” he said.

Bahadur had a top throw of 19.03 m, while Shakti Singh took the bronze with a throw of 18.27 m.

Long jump gold medallist Anju B. George said that though she had missed a medal in the triple jump by a whisker, she was happy to win one in her favourite events. She won the gold with a jump of 6.53 m. “I am happy with my performance. I missed a second medal as I was not comfortable in triple jump.”

In the triple jump, Anju and Kazakhstan’s Tatyana Bocharova were tied at 13.26m, but the Kazakh was awarded the bronze.

Meanwhile, some athletes complained of not getting the same kind of support that the government extends to other sportspersons in the country.

Questioning the rationale behind providing “financial and other support” to a “few and selected” players, the athletes said they “deserved better treatment”. “We are not given individual coaches nor any foreign exposure. Yet everybody expects us to do well in such events,” said a medal winner requesting anonymity.

Referring to the facilities extended to shooters, who disappointed with their performances in Busan, the athlete hoped the performance at the Games would serve as an “eye-opener” to the government and that it should put greater emphasis on the promotion of track and field.

After a brilliant performance in the Commonwealth Games, the shooters were provided financial help and assistance by the sports ministry, but they fizzled out in Busan, winning only two silver medals. Most of the foreign coaches appointed by the Indian Olympic Association train athletes in batches and even Anju or Neelam do not have personal foreign coaches — their husbands coach them.

“They should be sent to other countries, particularly Europe and the US,” said P.K. Srivastava, manager of the Indian athletics team in Busan, urging private firms to come forward to sponsor such tours.

Anil Kumar, who won a bronze in the men’s discus, also said athletes needed corporate help.

Amateur Athletics Federation of India secretary Lalit Bhanot, however, disagreed. “The AAFI provides them with all the support needed to excel at the international level. It looks after all their requirements,” he said.

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