Monday, 13 August 2012

Good Bye London 2012, Hello Emptiness

Rati and I are physically walking out of the wrestling arena with our India flags proudly draped over our shoulders but our minds and hearts are still in there. It is inconceivable that our Olympics is over. The last of the 19 events we have been to in the 16 days of London 2012 is over. It's all over, even the shouting. 

Not quite. Bob Gardner from Naperville, USA, clutching his Country's flag, taps me on the shoulder just as we reach the ExCel exit. "Can I please have a photograph with you and your Indian flag, our two flags in fact. My friend in the US is an Indian - Prashant," are his opening words. The Games might be over but the spirit burns bright. Bob gives me his card, I promise to email him, we do a mini photo session and I have another friend out of these Games.

New found friend, Bob Gardner, and I soon after the Games conclude.

I wake up this morning but the ritualistic switching on of the TV proves futile. None of the Olympics 24 HD channels of the BBC is showing any sport. Not even recorded stuff. I check each one of the 24 channels out of habit and a tinge of nostalgia. Yes, it is definitely time to say good bye to London 2012 and acknowledge the emptiness which fills everything. The TV is switched off and Radio 5 is switched on. My first attempt at achieving normalcy begins. 

But do allow me one last look at the last 16 days.

London tried its best. Its people tried their best. A lot of money was spent. A lot of effort was expended. The 70,000 volunteers were christened the "makers of the Games" and did their best too. The weather Gods chipped in when it most mattered.  All of this delivered a great Games. Transport was tops. Logistics were smooth. Stadia were superb. Nothing I can remember went wrong. We watched hockey, gymnastics, tennis, table tennis, athletics, badminton, wrestling, boxing, basketball, volleyball, football and archery. Each was a terrific experience.

London's Olympic legacy is a moot point though. How the many new stadia will be used is open to conjecture although the Boss of the organising committee, Lord Coe, himself a double Olympic gold medalist in the 1980s, lays tall claims of how nothing will be wasted. I do not believe this. Plenty has been and will continue to be wasted. In the 'has been' wasted category is the number of volunteers. 70,000 were far too many. Half the number would have produced far better results. And in the quest for perfection London tended to overdo most everything. 

Ofcourse, the stars were the ten thousand sports men and women who participated across 36 sports. There was heroism and heartbreak. Some wept when they won. Some others wept when they did not. Whether they weep or not my heart always goes out to those finishing fourth. This is a cruel place to finish. Perhaps in 2016 they should abolish the fourth position and instead have a fifth place after the bronze!

My sportsperson of the Games is undoubtedly Kiprotich of Uganda. He is not expected to win the marathon. But win he does. The gumption he displays before the finish is remarkable. Winners I have seen over the years prance around with their national flag after they finish. Never have I seen an athlete grab his country's flag from a supporter in the crowd whilst the race is still on and run up several metres to the finish line with it held high above his head in anticipation of victory. What a way to win!

My London 2012 badge of courage undoubtedly goes to India's Yogeshwar Dutt (see earlier post - Braveheart Dutt Does It). Call me biased or whatever but rarely, if ever, have I seen the sheer determination to win manifest itself so graphically on a sports arena. 

So inevitably now to India. Much maligned are our sports people bar the six medalists. A gigantic populous nation of over a billion and yet a pauper's medal haul. Where's it going wrong? Why is our sport so lethargic? The answer lies with us, the people of India. How many of us have watched or supported our world class archers? When did we last go to a basketball match? Who watches hockey? How many Indians have heard of Krishna Poonia? Only when us Indians care to watch and support Olympic sports will the money come in. India has already demonstrated through cricket what can be achieved with money.

I have lived in London and Amsterdam for many years. The British and the Dutch love their sport although in both countries football dominates. Before we start blaming multiple sports associations and Government bodies let us solemnly resolve to do our bit for Indian sport. Let us arise from our TV couches and go out to watch multiple sport at the stadium. The medals will follow. India has enough and more Yogeshwar Dutts in the larder.

20 years back we won no medals at the Olympics. 8 years back we won one. Now we have won six. 20 years from now we will win fifty Olympic medals. All which is required is for the Indian public to start watching and supporting sport. Let's go India, let's go!

It's time for me to go too. Watching these Olympics with Rati and sharing each day's events with you on this blog has been a wonderful life event. A huge Thank You to each one of you for reading my posts.  My first book, Inside Indian T20, is being published by Rupa Publications in January 2013. I hope to have you all as readers of my book.

My email id is I would love to hear from you.

Good bye!

The Thames on the night of 25 July - Rati's favourite picture and one which has lasting memories of London 2012 for me.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

India's Games End With A Silver Lining

If India's yesterday was Yogeshwar Dutt, then her today is Sushil Kumar Solanki's. The 66 kgs freestyle wrestler, World Champion in 2010 and the Beijing Olympics bronze medallist, begins the last day of London 2012 early. His first round bout is the first thing in the morning against the Beijing Olympics gold medallist - the defending Olympic champion from Turkey! No worries. Sushil's publicly declared obsession with Olympic gold powers him to a convincing victory over the Turk. One down. Three to go and the gold is his.

Next to the quarter finals where the bout is taken to the deciding third round. Some early jitters but Sir Sushil (when will he be knighted!) makes it to the semis in good order. The semi finals bout is the most nerve wracking there is. Win and you are guaranteed a medal, a silver. Lose and you could go home twiddling your thumbs.So the semi final Sushil must win. And win he does after looking down the barrel half way through the final round. Great back to the wall wrestling which should provide the perfect booster dose for the finals.

The Sushil Final - Rati and I have tickets for ExCel to watch the 66 kgs finals. We pinch each other to convince ourselves we are indeed going to be present to watch Sushil make history. Except for our hockey players in the days of yore no Indian has ever won more than one medal at the Olympics. We are going to witness history being made.

The two of us set out for ExCel with three India flags of varying sizes but of the highest quality money can buy (bought at the Khadi Bhandar shop in Bangalore). Our flag waving begins as we approach the arena. In tandem a group of Indians are already getting into the Sushil finals mood at the ticket entrance. Rati and I join in on the "India, India", "Sushil, Sushil" chants. We enter the arena and discover to our glee that there are several Indians in the crowd, many with flags but all with a furious zeal for an India gold.

Shri Solanki enters the arena to a raucous welcome. Us Solanki supporters are in fine fettle and voice. I sweet talk the usher, a nice London girl, into allowing a group of us to stand in the entrance landing for the Sushil bout. "If there are any complaints I can't help you," she warns. Facing complaints is no price to pay to watch from such a vantage point the fight of our lives, to wave our flags and scream our lungs out.

Sushil Kumar, in blue, is under the cosh right from the outset. 

One flew over the Japanese nest - Sushil in orbit. Blue is in ascendency.

The much needed pep talk from the Coach after losing the first round. The towel is being frantically waived to cool Sushil.

Our man in red is unable to make this superior leg hold count. It's not Sushil's day!

As Sushil and his Japanese opponent lock arms in combat for gold I am confident our man would make it past this final hurdle too. After all he's been in devastating form in the previous rounds, is the world champ and has the backing from us Indians in the crowd. Gold was ours.

It is not to be! Inexplicably Sushil Kumar never does get into the game. Apart form the opening minute of the final he is outplayed by the Japanese. We cheer wildly but the cheer in Sushil's grappling seems bust. Rock bottom is reached when he is lifted clean off the ground and turned around for a final clinching three points. Gold to Japan. Silver to India.

As I reconcile myself to another India silver at these Games Rati informs me of news from India about Sushil being dehydrated before the finals. Has the build up to the Games for Sushil taken its toll? Have the three fights earlier this morning drained him mentally and caused his bodily systems to malfunction? Ours is not to ponder. Ours is to bask in the dazzle of Solanki's Silver.

Game's up. The Japanese is declared winner.

The silver lining for Sushil and India is that Indian sporting history is made. No Indian in an individual sport has won a second Olympic medal. Today changes that. Today is a day I will not forget. Today will put be on par with great Indian sporting achievements I have personally witnessed. All three of these achievements by serendipity happen to have been in this City, London.  Prakash Padukone winning the All England badminton in 1980 at the Wembley Arena, India winning the cricket World Cup in 1983 at Lords and Shri Solanki winning Olympic silver in 2012 at ExCel. Salaam Sushil Solanki. 

Sushil Kumar Solanki on the victory podium immediately after he receives his silver.

The writing is on the wall. Sushil Kumar - SILVER.

Sushil does us proud and creates history. India's first individual double Olympic medallist. Salaam Sushil Solanki. Salaam

The 30th modern Olympics in London is over. Rati and I have Olympics withdrawal symptoms since walking out of the wrestling arena. The 16 London 2012 days are done and dusted. These days have whizzed past. They have been some of the best days of my life. For sure. Time will now hang on my hands. This blog though will be a  reminder of the days I cherished at the Games from 28 July to 12 August 2012. 

Tomorrow I will post my final London Olympics blog. Until then, it's good night from me.

Bathed in the tricolour, Rati and I are all smiles after Sushil gets his medal. The Olympics is  over and we have withdrawal symptoms. What will I do now? Time will hang on my hands! 

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Braveheart Dutt Does It!

Yogeshwar Dutt for those 45 minutes today between 6.05 pm and 6.50 pm fought from the memory of having fought in many a wrestling battle over the years and the sheer determination to win a medal in his third and last Olympics. He is too exhausted and in pain to draw on his physical reserves. Dutt fights three bouts in these 45 minutes with a mere 15 minute gap between each. 

Mere mortals cannot do what Yogi Dutt did today.  Supreme fitness of mind and body is insufficient. Yogi Dutt assumes yogic proportions in transcending the pain and fatigue barriers. Not only is the Indian wrestler forced to fight his bouts almost non-stop but he also has to contend with a swollen right eye. His right eye is not a pretty sight. The swelling is such that Dutt can hardly see out of it. Plus he appears ready to collapse in a heap anytime. Yet Dutt soldiers on bout after bout against the world's top wrestlers to win the bronze in the 60 kgs category. A superhuman effort. Hats off to you Sir. 

Tomorrow we are off to the ExCel to watch the 66 kgs wrestling and this means Sushil Kumar Solanki, the world champion. Our fingers are already crossed, our Indian flags ironed and our throats well conditioned to scream our lungs out. 

Rati and I are consumed by the Dutt bouts on TV and manage to catch the medals ceremony before rushing out to the North Greenwich Arena to witness the finals of the women's basketball between the US and France. Americans are master hoopsters and this team is no exception. They give the French a drubbing. We sit on the last row of the highest stands and it seems we we are half way up to Everest. This is the same arena where Piggy Chops was crowned Miss World way back in 2000 when it was known as the Millennium Dome. Today the crown goes to the USA.

The entire US team (in white) of five surround the lone attacker. Yet the French lady manages to score. 

The half time entertainment on court is as good as the American hoopsters play. The sound and light dazzle and we are left looking for more.

Now for contrasting performances by the Indians earlier in the day.

A sunny hot day in London and an extreme sport is happening on the roads around Buckingham Palace, the 50 km walk. On BBC I watch Indian's Rana finish 36 out of 54 in the field. No discredit here Mr Rana. The walkers from the USA, Spain and Korea finish behind you Sir. Contrary to what the name denotes, host GB's King finishes like a pauper, in last place. Sabaash Rana.

Indian hockey, 8 time Olympic gold medalists, reached it's lowest depths in Olympic history by not only finishing last but also achieving a humiliating all loss record. If our hockey Olympians can seek any solace then it is in what Pierre de Coubertin said of the modern Olympics when he founded it (see photo below).
The founder of the Olympics, Pierre de Coubertin's words still keep their relevance. His Olympic ethos is reiterated on the Olympic Stadium's screen.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Blame It On Rio

The Brazilians are built for fun and frolic. Their DNA is soaked with juicy doses of music, dance, sport and a sunny disposition. Blame it on Rio (the 1984 movie) or where ever but the Brazilian is made in heaven to both play and watch sport like football (I've always known this) and volleyball (I've discovered this earlier today). Rati and I saw this for ourselves this evening at the men's volleyball semi finals at London's Earls Court.

Earls Court in London is old but retains the old world charm to deliver a super ambience for the volleyball.

Brazil shocked and awed. They shocked their semi final opponents Italy with a blistering display of precision volleyball and explosive spiking (smashing). They awed their numerous supporters. They also awed us neutrals in the crowd. These Brazilians play their volleyball like their countrymen do football, with an aggressive flare and a sense of the show man. Their supporters complement them perfectly. The support the Brazilians receive is infectious, good natured, fanatical and fun.

Life's a samba for the Brazilians. They sing and dance their team to the volleyball finals.

The match lasts a full 1.5 hours. There is so much action in high quality volleyball that the match seems to last a half hour. Time flies when you are having fun. Never a dull moment is there through the 90 minutes. Even the breaks in play prove to be so absorbing. As soon as play stops the music blares, the Brazilians sing, dance and wave their flags and a good time is had by all except the Italians playing and watching. The Italians do not enjoy anything this evening. They try their best but are no match for the men in yellow. The Brazilian blitzkrieg puts paid to any thoughts of an Italian fight back.
The Italians in blue do have their moments. This lethal spike strikes home despite the two man Brazilian block.

Rati who has never watched the game before is thrilled with the evening. So is everyone at the stadium who is non-Italian.

The Brazilians have awed me this evening alright. I've already begun to find out how I can acquire tickets for the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Don't blame it on Rio!


Thursday, 9 August 2012

"All Three Maan, All Three! Again!"

It was back to the stupendous Olympic Stadium early this morning, Day 13 of the Games. The semi-finals of the 4 x 400 metres relay was the highlight of this long session extending from 9 am to 4 pm. Waking up at 7.15 am is a new experience for me but I do manage to get to the athletics on time even if only in near zombie condition.

The Olympic flame burns bright in the stadium.

A shining sun signals the arrival of summer in London town. The day is hot and so is the action in the Olympic Stadium. But our Kumari in the high jump qualifications turns cold to bring up the rear with aplomb, standing joint 28th with a measly 1.80 metres jump. 

"Gemme the baton pronto; gemme". The 4 x 400 metres relay in full flow.

I get to admire the remote controlled mini cars which ferry the discuss, hammer and put from where the athletes throw them to the home base. These cute mini vehicles built on the design of the British car, the Mini Cooper, has caught the imagination of the public here. Then there's the technology and precision involved in the manner in which the hurdles are whisked away. 

The dinky remote controlled cars are taking a rest. These objects zip around ferrying the discuss, put and hammer all over the place.

Creating unemployment? A hi-tech transport solution for the hurdles. How about manpower?

Top: A fine example of the Fosbury Flop. The head is earth bound. Bottom: a pole vaulter is suspended in thin air?

I rush back home after the athletics to catch some shut eye (remember the early start to my day!). Rati and I are soon headed back to the Olympic Park to watch the hockey semi final between Great Britian (Team GB as they are lovingly referred to) and Holland, a mouth watering prospect. Crowd support does wonders and the home hockey players have ridden on near fanatical support in the Riverbank Arena to make it this far.
Horror movie? Four orange Dutch defenders in face masks defend a rare Great Britain penalty corner strike. 

The two of us are firm supporters from the beginning of the men in orange, Holland. Thank heavens for this. In the most lop sided semi final result in Olympic hockey since 1936 GB are not able to summon even Dutch courage to battle the Dutch. The British are wiped out. The final score is 9-2 to Holland and this is not a typo! Rati and I are thrilled at the Dutch dazzle and enjoy our evening to the hilt.
The British blow their trumpets. The score is 1-1.

The British stop blowing their trumpets. The score is Holland 9, Great Britain 2!
Notice the drummer on the left (see photograph above) has abandoned his drum and seats himself down resigned to his fate.

Whilst walking back from the hockey we merge with the spectators emerging from out of the main Olympic Stadium. The Jamaicans are over the moon. I ask a group of them about the results of the 200 metres final which was run during our hockey match. "All three maan, all three! Again!" comes the triumphant response. Bolt and his two fellow countrymen have made a clean sweep of the 200 metres medals. When will we have a finalist, let only a medalist, in a sprint Olympic final I wonder and proceed to have a phylosophical discussion with Rati on the genetic disadvantages of us Indians when it comes to running fast, jumping high or throwing far. If only we could run as fast as the new bullet train which takes us from the Olympic Park, East London, in a zippy 6 minutes to King's Cross, Central London.

Day 13 proves decidedly lucky for the Jamaicans but not so for India. We did not not jump high enough in the morning and later in the day run fast enough as Tintu Luka finishes 6th in her 800 metres semi final. No finals for Tintu and it'll be no gold for India this Olympics unless our wrestling men manage to wrestle one on the last day of the Games. Rati and I will be there at the ExCel on Sunday afternoon to cheer our wrestlers. Let us pray and hope.

Meanwhile I satiate my India medal appetite by watching the day's highlights past midnight on BBC and gloat over Magnificent Mery receiving her bronze. The British media refer to Mery Kom as a women's boxing legend. Will the Indian media and public ever take the cue?

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Run Tintu, Run

Today was our first look see into the grand Olympic Stadium, the same place the opening ceremony was held. Having passed this stadium several times on the way to the hockey, Rati and I were relieved to finally make our entry into the epicentre of any Olympics - the main stadium. 

It's a stadium with dramatic proportions. The external facade is imposing enough. Our entry into the action area was greeted gleefully by the attendant. "Down to your left Sir, you have lovely seats," he announces. And lovely our seats turn out to be. Lovelier still is the insides of the stadium and the athletics action to follow. 

After Great Britian's current most favourite athlete, Mo Farah, runs a fine race in a 5,000 metres heat to deafening applause it is time for Tintu Luka to run the second heats of the women's 800 metres. Our sprint Queen PT Usha's dutiful pupil, Tintu, has a tough draw. Two world class ladies in her heat who have won world championship gold medals and the like.

A daunting race to run for Tintu in a pressure cooker environment. The stadium is packed to the hilt with 80,000 noisy spectators. Her competitors are some of the best in the world. Easy for an Indian athlete to crumble. Not so for Terrific Tintu. She keeps pace with the front runners from the start.

Terrific Tintu Luka remains undaunted in a cauldron of a stadium. Tintu's in all black and in second place in the middle.

Only the first three in each heat qualify for the semi finals. 200 metres from the finish Tintu falls back into fourth place where she remains up to 10 metres to go. A last gasp effort and she finishes in a blur along with the third placed runner.  The huge display boards in the stadium flash "PHOTO" next to Tintu's name.

300 metres from the finish Tintu's in third place but about to be overhauled by the lady in red. Soon she ends up in a photo finish for the precious third place.

So it's a photo which decides young Ms Luka's fate. Tension mounts. Time to bite our nails? Rati and I settle for holding our breath instead. And then the display changes. Before Tintu Luka's name appears the important figure.....3! She has made it and lives to fight another day. As a result our day takes a sudden turn for the much better and we begin to enjoy the so many interesting sights the Olympic Stadium has to offer.

Terrific Tintu's third place is confirmed on the giant display board while she's seen in a dead heat for third place on the left.

We appreciate the guts and gumption Attar has to become the first woman from Saudi Arabia to become an Olympic athelete. The samosas we eat soon after taste the best I've eaten for hundreds of years. The queue we stand in to get into the London 2012 Megastore cancels the pleasure the samosas have just given us. Such crowds I have not experienced before!

The lady in the white headgear, Attar, running the first ever Olympic race by a Saudi woman.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Hockey Horrors

India has through history beaten Belgium in the hockey world cup and olympics. This afternoon India ensured this piece of history is altered. Our hockey heroes contrived what I thought was impossible by being blanked 3-0 by a belligerent Belgium. We scored only 6 goals in our 5 league matches, lost all of them and earned the distinction of being the only team in the competition not to score even a single point.

Our beloved Aussie Coach, Mr Nobbs, got the physical condition of our players ship shape. Somewhere along the line old Nobby forgot that simply running around more or faster than the others does not a hockey match win. He threw out most of the senior players, brought in a bunch of bacchas who are just past their junior days, so much so that India has the youngest team in the competition.All this is great if Nobby is preaparing the team for Rio and the 2016 Olympics. Someone forgot to tell him it is London and not Rio we needed a team from him! Maybe in Rio.....

Our hockey men have their backs to me and their backs to the wall.

Our chaps in blue keep attacking but the opponents keep scoring the goals!

We keep running around in circles and Nobbs, standing to the left of our flag, fellin' dizzy and clueless.

The hockey is best forgotten except for an earlier match I witnessed wherein the Aussie steam rolled Pakistan 7-0. The animals where there at the Olympic Park to brighten my Olympic day. The police horses in all their majesty. A guide dog, cute and all Labrador. And the Dog Relief Area (see photos below) more than made up for Nobby and his men.

Horses for courses. This horse is on course to do his job in the Olympic Park.

A cute black Labrador I snapped close to the hockey stadium. This one's a professional - a highly trained Guide Dog. 
The dogs at the Olympics are having a field day. This enclosed area, the pink sign on the wooden wall declares it's a "Dog Relief Area", is for the pooches to relieve themselves. Don't miss the toilet paper on the wall. Wonder whether it's meant for a pooch or a person!

Later in the evening we watch our good man Gowda on TV in the discuss final. He throws well, for an Indian that is. By Olympic standards he was good enough to finish only 8th. Relatively speaking he did us proud merely by reaching the finals. Good on you mate.