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P T Usha

Indians shell-shocked in Athens

August 22, 2004

As the Turkish Airlines flight touched the runway at the Athens airport on Thursday evening, my mind was filled with joy. In the last 20 years, I have seen five Olympics, four of them as an athlete. But nothing could beat the excitement of coming to a place where the idea of Olympics was mooted many years ago. It would be a great experience, I knew.

But my joy was shortlived. Mr. Johnson, an old family friend, received me at the airport with a grim face. Something was wrong, I could guess. As we got into the car, Johnson's wife, who is from Kerala, informed me about the doping scandals involving weightlifters Pratima Kumari and Sanamachu Chanu. I was stunned and could not utter a word for a few minutes.

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Time we learn from Rathore

My worst fears have come true. In my first column I predicted that this Olympics might witness a few explosive doping scandals. But I never expected that any Indian would be in the thick of things like this. I felt totally shattered.

Later, when I went into the Games Village to meet the Indian athletes, I could see the impact the whole issue has made on them. There was deathly silence in the Indian camp. The athletes were hardly talking to each other. They were shell-shocked. The euphoria that erupted after R S Rathore's silver-winning feat at the shooting ranges was completely missing. The very officials, who threw a lavish party for Rathore only the other day, were not to be seen anywhere. They seem to have abandoned the boat and run for cover. Some of them have even kept their cell phones off to avoid embarrassing queries from the media. It is being rumoured that people in the Indian camp are anticipating worse things in the next few days.

While both Pratima and Chanu will have to take the blame for whatever has happened, I cannot help but sympathise with the two. There is no point putting their heads on the chopping block. It is the system that encourages athletes in India to take the back door way to attain success. I refuse to believe that the two lifters were the only culprits. I am convinced that the coaches, officials and the entire weightlifting management were the part of this. These people are now conveniently washing off their hands. The Government now should take strong action against all these people if it really wants to clean up the Indian sporting arena.

But, then, I don't understand why the international media here in Athens is targeting only the Indians as drug cheaters. After all, it is not the Indians only who have tested positive in the last few days. Even the honesty of some of the Greek athletes is very much in question. But, here, the others are teasing any ordinary Indian walking on the streets. Is it because we come from a poor and third world country?

Coming back to athletics, I only hope the weightlifting fiasco does not distract Anju Bobby George. She should keep her calm and do her best in the long jump event. After all, she is our main hope in athletes.

On Friday, K M Binu ran a fine race in the 400m heat to finish third and qualify for the next round with a time of 45.48 seconds. He has clipped the national record by 0.06 seconds. It is no doubt a good performance, but I thought he had given away too much in the heat itself. Now he will have to do something extraordinary to reach the final. Can he do it? I am only keeping my fingers crossed.

J J Sobha and Soma Biswas were placed 20th and 26th respectively in heptathlon after four events. I am not too disappointed with their showing, as both of them have given an improved performance. I am happy that they are trying their best.

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