Thiruvananthapuram | Meet records tumbled in a heap, established stars performed as expected even as some lesser known faces managed to surprise with lion-hearted performances in the 35th National Games where the Services Sports Control Board ended up being the most dominant force for a third year running.
Although hosts Kerala won the highest number of medals — a total of 162 — to round off their best ever haul in the event, they could not stop SSCB from getting the overall trophy. SSCB finished with 159 medals, three less than the 2011 edition. But they stole a march on others with a whopping 91 gold, 21 more than what they fetched in Ranchi.
To begin with, the Games faced almost all the problems that had been there in past editions. The top stars pulled out citing a variety of reasons, the stadia were barely ready, the opening ceremony proved to be a damp squib despite the presence of cricket megastar and Games Goodwill ambassador Sachin Tendulkar and to top it all, the organisers faced allegations of corruption in developing the infrastructure.
But once the action started on February 1, the athletes made sure that the focus turned to achievements instead of shortcomings.
The first few days were dominated by swimmers, who pushed the limits to make the pool a graveyard for existing meet records. The biggest star to emerge from it was local favourite Sajan Prakash, who won half a dozen gold medals and earned the moniker ‘Golden Shark’ in the state.
Also proving his mettle was Asian Games bronze-medallist Sandeep Sejwal, who represented Madhya Pradesh, and SSCB man and Madhu PS, both of whom signed off with four gold medals against their names. Among the women, veteran Richa Mishra and 15-year-old Manna Patel, who produced outstanding performances, to finish with four and three gold respectively.
On the wrestling mat, Haryana lived up to its powerhouse tag demolishing rivals to sign off with 18 gold, and were neck and neck with SSCB on the medals table before the latter took control courtesy their star-studded shooting lineup.
The likes of Jitu Rai and London Olympics silver-medallist Vijay Kumar shot on target to ensure that SSCB secured the top honours with 15 gold medals in a total haul of 26 at the range here.
Vijay, who had been battling injuries and a loss of form of late, gave himself a confidence boost with a rich haul of five gold medals at the Games.
However, once again, SSCB could not outshine Kerala in athletics and the hosts retained their track and field supremacy with a total of 34 medals, 13 of them gold, 14 silver and seven bronze.
In fact, it was athletics which propelled Kerala to the second spot in the overall standings after lagging behind Haryana and Maharashtra in the first week.
Asian Games medallist Tintu Luka (800m and 4x400m relay) and O P Jaisha (5000m and 10,000m) were among the standout performers for the state, which cheered its athletes with all the vigour at almost every event, ensuring that packed houses lent the much-needed spark to the showpiece event.
Odishas controversial sprinter Dutee Chand, who is fighting to revoke an international ban on her for failing a gender test, showed tremendous grit to emerge as the 100m champion with a meet record.
However, Asian Games gold-medallist long distance runner Preeja Sreedharan, who was competing in her final event, endured a bitter-sweet campaign and signed off in front of adoring home fans with a 10,000m silver medal.
Haryanas javelin thrower Rajinder Singh was among the lesser known athletes when he reached here but created a name for himself by breaking a rare national record in the Games.
There were some extraordinary performances at the gymnastics hall as well where Asian Games bronze-medallist Dipa Karmakar shone bright with a haul of five gold medals for Tripura. In fact hers were the only medals that the small north-eastern state could manage in the entire Games.
In weightlifting, the honours were shared between Haryana and SSCB with two gold and two silver each but Commonwealth Games silver-medallist Vikas Thakur, representing SSCB, shone the brightest by breaking the 85kg national record.
The boxing arena in Thrissur not just witnessed exchange of punches inside the ring but some sparring outside as well.
For one, the competition was severely compromised after most of the big names pulled out either due to injury or for the fear of a ban by Boxing India, which is at loggerheads with the IOA. The tug of war has been on ever since the IOA refused to grant recognition to BI despite having the International Boxing Associations approval.
Nonetheless 27 states took part and as was expected, SSCB walked away with most number of medals to finish on top. SSCBs march to the top was also aided by their canoers and kayakers, who combined to contribute 18 medals, 16 of which were gold.
In badminton, however, the newly-created state of Telangana outperformed competition to be the top team with nine medals, three of them gold.
The Games were also hit by a tragedy when a young Maharashtra netball player Mayurish Pawar lost his life due to drowning during a beach outing with his teammates but the show went on, which seemed to be the perfect tribute to the departed soul.
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