Rehan on board
India’s No. 1 swimmer has finally made it, qualifying for the 200m butterfly event at the Beijing Olympics in his last attempt at the Telstra Australian Grand Prix in Sydney.
K. MURALI KUMAR
Rehan Poncha… determination pays.
He was the champion at the National Games and the National Championship and carried the tag of the best Indian male swimmer. This certainly weighed down on Rehan Poncha in his quest for a berth for the Beijing Olympics. After a prolonged journey that started in Panaji during the National Championship in 2007, Rehan has finally made it, qualifying for the 200m butterfly race at the Beijing Olympics in his last attempt at the Telstra Australian Grand Prix in Sydney.
The cut was 2:01.79s and Rehan smashed his way past that Olympic qualifying mark with a National best of 2:01.40s, which eclipsed the 22-year-old record of Khazan Singh (2:02.38s). Khazan, incidentally, won a silver medal with that effort at the Seoul Asian Games and it is the only medal that an Indian swimmer has ever won at the Asiad.
The versatile Rehan was a mid-distance swimmer, revelling in 400m freestyle and 400m individual medley. But looking at his performance at the National Championship last year, coach S. Pradeep Kumar wanted Rehan to qualify for the Olympics in the 200m butterfly event. “He had an outside chance in the 400m freestyle and 400m individual medley, but a two to three-second margin in the 200m butterfly was attainable and accordingly we worked to go past that mark,” said Pradeep.
Rehan made two abortive attempts to qualify for the Olympics — at the Australian National qualifying trials that allows foreign participants as well, and later the Malaysian Open Championship. At the Kuala Lumpur meet, Rehan timed 2:02.90 which raised his hopes. He then worked hard at the BAC pool in Bangalore for the next two months preparing for the Sydney meet, which was his last chance of qualifying for the Olympics. After equalling Khazan’s mark in the heats, he was on target in the final where he finished fifth.
“Before this meet, we had a plan and he knew that he had to gain an extra 16mm per stroke to attain the qualifying mark and he did just that,” said Pradeep.
A delighted Rehan said: “I might not win a medal at the Beijing Olympics, but the target is the 2012 Olympics and my immediate goal is the 2010 Commonwealth Games.”
“If he had not qualified, I would have even quit as a coach,” said Pradeep. Mercifully for Rehan and Indian swimming, the coach remains.
Pradeep was all praise for his ward for sticking with him despite the odds. “In fact, I told him to train elsewhere if he felt he could qualify for the Olympics, but Rehan insisted that he would only train with me even if he could not qualify.”
Such strong faith moved Pradeep who re-doubled his efforts to help his ward win a ticket to Beijing.
With Rehan on board, the country, for the first time, is fielding a four-member squad which also includes Virdhwal Khade, Sandeep Sejwal and the US-based Ankur Poseria. It is certainly a good sign for Indian aquatics.
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The triumphant Indian Oil Corporation (Mumbai) team.
IOC wins a thriller
Indian Oil Corporation, Mumbai, won the ICICI-YSCA Trophy in Chennai on July 6, a green light on the scoreboard heralding a remarkable one-wicket victory over Chemplast Sanmar ‘B’, which had looked like a runaway winner less than an hour before.
All-rounder Paresh Patel brought IOC, chasing 185 to win, back to life after it had been on the precipice at 91 for seven. Patel and fellow left-arm spinner Gaurav Jathar lofted, cut and slog-swept their way to a 70-run partnership off 57 balls. The stand ended when S. Vidyut got one to climb sharply on Jathar, whose attempted pull looped into backward point’s hands. Anand Rajan was run out at the same score, leaving Patel and last man B. S. Sandhu 22 to get.
Patel, middling everything by now, reduced the deficit to 8, hitting R. Raghuram over his head for four and then refusing a single after playing the next ball to the off-side sweeper before clouting a six and another four down the ground.
Sandhu played with a straight bat. He pushed for a single to mid-off, and then another to midwicket off the last ball of the penultimate over when Patel could have chosen not to run and keep the strike himself.
The final over was bowled, appropriately, by Vidyut, who had broken the partnership between Jathar and Patel. Sandhu tickled the first ball fine to the leg side and the batsmen scampered for two as the ball ran between the wicketkeeper and a diving short fine leg. Two more singles off the next three balls and it was Sandhu facing Vidyut with the scores tied. Patel then shot down the wicket as soon as Sandhu made contact with the next delivery and dived into the crease just as the ’keeper removed the bails after collecting Huzefa Patel’s throw from short fine leg. The square-leg umpire drew a rectangle in the air and all eyes were on the scoreboard when the green light flashed.
Patel’s unbeaten 59 (48b, 7×4, 1×6) may have won the final for IOC, but his bowling was no less impressive. The 22-year-old left-hander from Orissa picked up four wickets in the semifinal, three in the final and eventually the award for the bowler of the tournament.
Earlier, Vidyut scored 74 off 66 balls with 10 boundaries, a majority of them struck down the ground, as Chemplast made 184 for seven in 30 overs.
IOC and Mumbai under-22 opener Shrideep Mangela was declared the batsman of the tournament. The left-hander cracked 127 against Indian Bank in the superleague and calmly stroked an unbeaten 66 in the semifinal against IOB ‘A’.
The scores: Chemplast Sanmar ‘B’ 184 for seven in 30 overs (S. Vidyut 74) lost to IOC, Mumbai, 185 for nine in 29.5 overs (Paresh Patel 59, Harshad Khadiwala 45).
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Sportspersons in the country aim to excel not as much for trophies as for rewards in the form of a job. And the best place to look for such rewards is the government, more specifically the Public Sector. After all, you can’t blame the sportspersons for trying to make their future secure in a land where sport is still rooted in amateurism. So, when the All India Public Sector Sports Promotion Board (AIPSSPB) held its annual general body meeting in Kolkata recently, the question that did the rounds was: ‘What’s new and how much more?’
In all, 35 member Public Sector units, led by the host, Oil and Natural Gas Corporation, discussed AIPSSPB’s plans for the new season. “I really wish there is a cricket tournament for women. I would request the Board here to give it a try,” said Jhulan Goswami, the current ICC Women’s Cricketer of the Year (2007). Goswami was one of the three guests of honour present at the awards function that followed the AGM. The other two were Koneru Humpy, the World No. 2 chess player and the youngest woman ever to become a GM, and discus thrower Anil Kumar. The AIPSSPB AGM added chess and basketball to the list of sporting activities (football, cricket, table tennis, volleyball, carrom, badminton, golf and hockey are the other disciplines) it would focus on in the upcoming season.
“I could further my career in top-level chess because of the support I am getting from my employer ONGC,” said Humpy. “I hope to continue with my good work and do well in the women’s World Cup in Russia,” she added.
Anil Kumar, also of ONGC, is making a comeback after serving a two-year IAAF suspension for doping. He said he hoped to return to his best form soon.
The AIPSSPB board retained most of its office-bearers, including its president Dr. K. Ramalingam (chairman, Airports Authority of India) and secretary-general Ramesh Sachdeva (Food Corporation of India).
Indian Oil Corporation was the overall champion (44 points) last season (2007-08) while ONGC (41 points) was the first runner-up. Air-India (33) won the bronze medal as the second runner-up.
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