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Anju still a cut above rest
- Gold harvest for Bengal paddlers, title eludes footballers

Hyderabad: Kerala star Anju B. George stood out among some 600 odd athletes at the 32nd National Games with her performance which included a national mark in the triple jump event.

The unflinching commitment of the Kerala triple jump specialist saw her leave an indelible mark at the Games here when she rewrote the only national mark in athletics, with an effort of 13.67 metres.

Anju later announced her decision to quit the event to focus on the long jump. She said she was bidding farewell to the hop, step and jump event to focus on her pet event ó long jump.

The Kerala athlete is, undoubtedly, a cut above the rest and such was the awe and brilliance in Anjuís record-breaking effort that it looks the present lot requires quite some time to break it.

Anju capped a wonderful season having won a bronze at the Commonwealth Games and a gold at the Busan Asian Games after recovering from a right ankle injury last year. The five-day showpiece track and field event also witnessed nine new Games records, including five in women, being set. But it was Anju who was the cynosure of all eyes as besides her feat in the triple jump, she won her pet long jump without much ado.

However, the Games this time were shorn of much of their sheen due to absence of stars K.M. Beenamol, Sunita Rani and Neelam J. Singh among women and both Anil Kumars (sprinter and discus thrower), Shakti Singh and Bahadur Singh in menís.

Their absence, though, took the backseat and the issue of athletes switching their allegiance to Andhra Pradesh gained prominence. Andhra Pradesh announced an unprecedented cash incentive ó Rs 3 lakh, Rs 2 lakh and one lakh each for gold, silver and bronze medals, respectively and the move fetched instant results. The hosts topped the overall tally with 94 gold, 84 silver and 63 bronze.

Punjab (146 overall) and SSCB (117) finished a distant second and third while Bengal gathered 12 gold, 11 silver and 19 bronze in their kitty and came ninth in the overall tally.

Shikha steals show

Riding on the skills of Ďimportí Richa Mishra, hosts Andhra Pradesh almost managed to dislodge Karnataka as the countryís swimming superpower, but a brilliant Shikha Tandon made sure that did not happen.

Andhra ended with a haul of 14 gold, seven of them won by Richa, but Karnataka still managed to reign supreme with 16 yellow metals. The 19-year-old Richa will, thus, return home richer by Rs. 37 lakh after winning seven gold medals, an equal number of silver and two bronze medals.

Shikha, on the other hand, was the star securing top podium finish in nine events, including three relays, besides three silver and two bronze medals. Swimming was not included in last yearís Punjab Games because of technical reasons. Bengalís Akbar Ali Mir bagged two golds and a silver.

Bengal reaped a gold harvest in table tennis winning all the three gold medals up for grabs on the concluding day of the event. In menís singles, Sourav Chakraborty won the gold after a hard-fought 11-3, 12-10, 10-12, 11-13, 11-13, 12-10, 12-10 win over defending champion Soumyadeep Roy of Rajasthan in the final. In the womenís singles, top seed Mouma Das justified her top billing with a 11-6, 11-7, 9-11, 11-9 triumph against statemate Poulami Ghatak in the title-decider.

Mouma then partnered Sourav to bag the mixed doubles gold. Shibaji Dutta and Anindita Chakraborty gave Bengal silver while Ranabir Das and Poulami got the bronze in that event.

Bland fare for connoisseur

Soccer did not have any surprises in store in the 32nd National Games as the Punjab men and Manipur women defended their titles successfully. But a depleted menís field and a general lack of public interest highlighted the need for a fresh look at the national football schedule.

Bengal, who finished runner-up losing to Punjab 1-2 in the final, played well upfront as also in the midfield, but the shoddy display of their defenders proved costly. But the real disappointments were Goa and Maharashtra, both bowing out in the pool stage itself.

In womenís meet, Manipur continued their supremacy bulldozing all opposition and defeated Bengal 1-0 win in the final.

Amidst a number of controversies, hockey remained one of the most popular sports, which saw Punjab and Haryana reassert their supremacy in the menís and womenís section, respectively. Punjab dislodged defending champions Services to win the menís gold while Haryana retained their womenís crown without much difficulty. Maharashtra, led by the mercurial Dhanraj Pillay, also displayed positive hockey before being edged out by Punjab in the final. Pillay, as expected, was the star attraction of the competition.

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