The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Golden girls set eyes on Athens
- Pandemonium sours Saraswati, Soma’s homecoming

Calcutta: The Busan Asian Games conquerors from Bengal — Saraswati Saha and Soma Biswas — touched down on the city Friday amidst huge reception with determination and hunger for greater success.

With eyes wide in wonder at being hemmed in by hundreds of fans and aficionados moments after their arrival in the Netaji Subhash Airport in the evening, the golden girls declared their ultimate target was Athens.

“Asian Games gold is something I’ll never forget in life. But I want to make it even more unforgettable with an Olympic medal in 2004,” said Saraswati.

Such optimism was also unmistakably present in Soma’s words. “Nothing can match an Olympic medal”, she remarked.

Saraswati, who won the 200m gold in Busan, however, attributed her success as much to her honesty and commitment to the goal as her predecessor Jyotirmoyee Sikdar’s lack of faith in the Bengal girl.

“Yes, her comments (“Saraswati not a medal hope”) fired me up,” she admitted. “It inspired me and helped me run better,” she said.

Saraswati even made it clear she would not die away like Jyotirmoyee. “The success in Busan has made me more determined to perform better. There is no question of pondering over other things than athletics till the Olympics,” she said.

Interestingly, Friday’s reception, to some extent, was a throwback to the return of Jyotirmoyee after winning the 400m and 800m in the Bangkok Asian Games four years ago. However, she soon bade goodbye to track and settled down in household chores.

The Sahagunge-based athlete even brushed aside such view that Sri Lanka’s Susanthika Jayasinghe’s presence in the 200m would have made a significant change in her place on the podium. “Susanthika may be a tough hurdle, but don’t forget, I have the best time in 200m now,” maintained Saraswati, oozing in confidence.

In a way, it was also Soma’s reply to critics who said she was not committed to her race. “I hope these medals (a silver in heptathlon and a gold in 4x400m relay) will make them (the detractors) think otherwise,” Soma said, but did not elaborate further.

However, for Tarak Kumar Biswas, who came to the city with his wife to receive their daughter, Soma’s success now may lead to a few turns for better in their livelihood.

“The place where we live at Ranaghat (in Nadia district) is devoid of any proper civic amenities. There is hardly a good supply of electricity. Telephone lines often get defective and remain so for long. Even we could not talk to Soma in Busan after she won the medals,” lamented Biswas. “I hope things will change now in our village.”

Earlier, a convoy of about 50 cars, coupled with officials from state athletic bodies and hundreds of fans, gathered in the airport to receive the athletes. But what followed their arrival was absolute pandemonium in the name of security.

First, the airport police directed the waiting journalists and lensmen towards a wrong entry point, saying the athletes would come out from there. As the crowd homed in on that point, Saraswati and Soma were taken out through a different point.

By the time the craftiness was realised, the police had already put up a barricade around Soma and Saraswati and even chased away people, including scribes and officials, who tried to get nearer to them.

Thereafter, the duo was virtually snatched away by the officials of Rajarhat Gopalpur Municipality, where they were received with gold chains, bouquets and other presentations.

Apart from state youth affairs minister Mohammed Salim, there was no other representative from the state government. He, too, appeared far too aloof from the hoopla around.

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