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The Indian contingent at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games outshone, not just in the disciplines it participated in but also in the expectations of pundits, experts and critics. With shooting removed from the sporting disciplines at the Commonwealth Games for the first time since it was re-added in 1974, all believed that India would not be able to cross even the tally of 50 total medals, let alone repeat its performance of 26 gold and 66 total medals of CWG Gold Coast 2018.
However, the Indian athletes and administrators showed they could look beyond shooting. India not only won 61 medals, including 22 gold at Birmingham 2022 but surprised all by winning in events where not even the ardent fans believed it could.
New and unlikely heroes
Lawn bowls were not considered a medal event by India. The Indan teams did participate and even came close to winning a bronze in 2018. If someone said on July 28, 2022, that India would win not just a medal but gold and silver in lawn bowls, they would have been laughed at.
However, the Indian Women's fours team in lawn bowls, comprising Lovely Choubey, Pinki, Rupa Rani Tirkey and Nayanmoni Saikia, created history by winning the gold, beating heavyweights like England and South Africa on their way. Inspired by them, the Men's fours team also made it to the final by beating England in the semis and winning a silver medal.
In athletics, Avinash Sable's national record and personal best effort (8:20:11) almost edged out the Kenyan trio. He missed the gold by just 0.05 seconds. Most importantly, the army man broke Kenya's hegemony as it was the first time that a non-Kenyan finished on a podium in 3000 meter Steeplechase event since the 1994 Commonwealth Games.
Murali Sreeshankar's silver medal in the men's high jump was also the first for India in the discipline since 1978. Priyanka Goswami winning silver in the women's 10,000 meters race walk and Sandeep Kumar winning the bronze in the men's race walk was also a first for the Indian athletics contingent.
However, the best result for the Indian athletes came in the men's triple jump when Eldhose Paul and Abdulla Aboobacker finished one-two in a field where India had never won a gold medal. Annu Rani's bronze in Women's Javelin was also a first for an Indian woman in a sport that the country got acquainted with in real terms after Neeraj Chopra's overwhelming success at Olympics.
Old warhorses shine once again
While India found new heroes in athletic and lawn bowls, the old warhorses like Achanta Sharath Kamal and Bajrang Punia ensured that the faith reposed in them wasn't a mistake. Sharath Kamal became the most decorated Commonwealth Games athlete India has ever produced, winning his seventh gold and overall 13th medal. This was Sharath's fifth appearance at the quadrennial event; at 40, he still seems to be going very strong.
India dominates badminton and wrestling
Wrestling is one sport that India has made its own after Shooting at the Commonwealth Games. The Indian team broke all previous records in this edition and finished with six gold and 12 medals overall. It is the most number of gold medals that India has ever won in a single Commonwealth Games.
India was always a distant second in badminton at the Commonwealth Games behind Malaysia. However, it started changing since the last games at Gold Coast when Saina Nehwal and the Indian mixed team won the gold beating Malaysia.
Though the team had to settle for silver this time, India won gold in both the men's and women's singles and the men's doubles, a category in which it had never before won a gold medal. Satwik Sairaj and Chirag Shetty created history by winning the men's doubles gold. This clearly showed that India had taken the lead from Malaysia, and it is now the team to beat in badminton.
Lifting the weight of the nation on young shoulders
Along with shooting and wrestling, weightlifting is where India has started to dominate since the 2006 Commonwealth Games. This time around, too, it won three gold medals. The young guns Jeremy Lalrinnunga and Achinta Sheuli created the buzz alongside Mirabai Chanu.
The way Jeremy fought injury and Achinta the pressure of creating a national record, to go and win a gold medal at the ages of 19 and 20, respectively, shows that our nation's weight is on young shoulders, and they are lifting it nicely. India won 10 medals and topped the weightlifting medals tally with three gold medals.
The disappointing phenomenon of buckling under pressure continues
While the success stories are many, the disappointment rung in too. Sure medal hopes like Lovlina Borgohain, who won the bronze medal at Tokyo Olympics, were primed to win gold at Birmingham 2022. But she had to bow out at the quarter-final itself on a split decision.
Indian women's cricket team did well and surpassed all the expectations by winning a close semi-final against hosts England. In the final, though, where they should have chased down 44 runs from 36 balls with eight wickets in hand, the pressure demons encircled the Harmanpreet Kaur-led side and much like the 2017 Women's ODI World Cup, the women in blue lost the match eventually by nine runs to finish second.
The biggest disappointment came from the Indian men's hockey team. The Olympic bronze medalist not only let a 3-0 lead pass away against England in a league match to draw the game 4-4 but also just managed to win the semi-final against a low-ranked South Africa by one goal margin at 3-2.
However, the gold medal match against Australia just broke the Indian hockey fans. Losing is one thing, but to lose 7-0 and not be able to create even one penalty corner in the entire 60-minute game was shocking.
Birmingham 2022: An edition to remember
In the end, pride was written all over their faces when Sharath Kamal and Nikhat Zareen walked with the Indian tricolour held high in their hands during the closing ceremony.
Be it the crying celebration of Saurav Ghosal after winning the first-ever individual medal in squash for India (bronze in men's singles) or Sharath Kamal lifting his blue headband and running into the stands after his men's singles gold in table tennis, or Nitu Ghanghas showing grit to beat senior professionals at a young age of 21 to bag gold in boxing, it indeed made a Commonwealth Games to remember for the Indian contingent and the Indian sports fans.
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First Published: Wed, August 10 2022. 20:27 IST