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Vijender Singh: Boxing anger


“In boxing,  if you get angry toh aur zyada maar padegi ring mein. It’s all about doing your bit and winning points. Why take unnecessary panga,  get angry and waste your energy? 

—Vijender Singh. 

From Sofa to 5k: A Review


“In the morning of 3rd February, 2007, I was lying naked on a cold metal table. My entire body was being shaved, except the head. I was joking with the hospital attendant that this was a contrast to the tonsure at Tirupati, where the head was shaved and the body hair left untouched!

I was praying hard to HIM that my Coronary Artery Bypass Graft procedure (CABG aka Open Heart Bypass Surgery) should go well. So were my family members who had assembled outside.”

Thus begins the preface of P. Venkatraman’s book, “From Sofa to 5K: A Beginner’s Handbook on Running for Good Health” with a foreword by renowned cardiologist Dr. Aashish Contractor who  is also  an avid long distance cyclist and runner.

Contractor concludes his foreword as below:

“May fortitude hasten you and let temperance chasten you.”

Venkatraman outlines his  story in the prologue describing his family history of heart disease beginning with his grandfather. His father and younger brother too were similarly affected. 

Venkat details how he was always health and diet-conscious throughout his early life. 

The author began running in 2004 and by the very next year was completing half-marathons. All this physical activity, however, could not prevent a 100% blockage of his left artery.  And in Feb 2007, Venkatraman underwent heart surgery.

In January 2008, he ran the Mumbai half-marathon once more highlighting the  second coming of the inspirational founder of You Too Can Run.

You Too Can Run’s mission is ‘To Promote Running For Good Health’.

Venkatraman divested his stake in one of India’s largest BPOs where he was a Promoter Director and founded his social enterprise.

The book is an attempt to inspire others to take up running for their health and is published by You Too Can Run Sports Management Private Limited who have registered themselves as a publisher with the HRD Ministry.

Chapter 5 onwards tackles the actual subject of running for beginners.

IITian and running coach Daniel Vaz is the technical editor of the book while nutritionist Kinita Kadakia is a major contributor to sections dealing with weight loss.

Venkatraman initially  lists the psychological, social and physiological reasons for running.

There follows an entire chapter devoted to getting started—the most interesting part is how to handle aggressive stray dogs. 

Chapter 7 deals with progressive loading and has a beginner’s 5K running plan pull-out.

Most beginners are astounded that they don’t start losing pounds immediately or sometimes for quite a while despite being quite regular and disciplined with their exercise programme. Kadakia answers these questions in the chapter ‘Running and Weight Loss‘ and how losing weight is simply about burning more calories than you consume i.e. a calorie deficit has to be created and maintained.

Finally, ‘Staying Motivated‘ is simply about that—how to keep oneself going and how it all begins with setting a goal.

The book also provides a Daily Health Log sheet that  helps runners cultivate a habit of checking their progress towards their goals.

The book is of value specifically to someone who wishes to start a running regimen.

Recommended for beginners—you could do worse.

Vijender and Ronaldinho: Commonality of skill and genius


Professional sports is not always about speed and power.

It’s also about skill, precision and deception.

Nothing illustrated this better than Vijender Singh’s performance during his WBO Asia title bout against Australian Kerry Hope and Ronaldinho’s in the Premier Futsal game for Goa against Bengaluru.

Hope was the more aggressive of the two seeking to flatten Singh with his left jab and powerful right. But Vijender absorbed it all and retaliated with counterpunching of his own—Hope’s only response was to engage in ‘professional’ clinching of the worst kind.

It was the Haryanvi’s first 10 rounder but he withstood the onslaught of a man who had run a half-marathon in 1:35 just two weeks earlier.

Admittedly, it was not a very entertaining encounter. Perhaps, boxers and students of the sport would appreciate it better.

The result, though, was an unanimous decision  in Vijender’s favour.

Unlike his earlier six fights, this did not end in a knockout. The prize, however, was his.

Ronaldinho retired from international football last year.

Futsal is his second coming.

The happiest soccer player on the planet was in his element in the game against Bengaluru on Sunday scoring five out of seven goals for his side.

The Brazilian displayed his entire repertoire in a spirited performance that left the crowd astounded and his fans in delirium.

Two exponents of the art of two different games but a common thread shone through them.

Experience counts for something—after all.

Sultan: Another megahit for Salman Khan, puts wrestling on Bollywood map


Rating: 3 stars out of 5

Language: Hindi

Directed by:
Ali Abbas Zafar

Produced by:
Aditya Chopra

Written by:
Ali Abbas Zafar

Screenplay by:
Aditya Chopra

  • Salman Khan as Sultan Ali Khan
  • Anushka Sharma as Aarfa Ali Khan née Hussain
  • Anant Vidhaat Sharma as Govind/Sultan’s friend
  • Meiyang Chang as Pro Takedown host
  • Randeep Hooda as Fateh Singh/Sultan’s coach
  • Amit Sadh as Aakash, Pro Takedown founder and Sultan’s presenter
  • Tyron Woodley as Tyron (Himself) (wrestler)
  • Marko Zaror as Marcus, the finalist wrestler.
  • Kumud Mishra as Barkat Hussain

 

Akash Oberoi’s mixed martial arts (MMA) league is in trouble. He needs a fighter who can draw in an Indian audience and fast.

His father recommends the name of Sultan—a middle-aged wrestler—living in a small town in Haryana.

Akash meets Sultan only for the fighter to reject his offer claiming that he has given up wrestling forever.

Oberoi is flummoxed and meets Sultan’s associate Govind to learn what he can do to change Sultan’s mind.

Thus begins the flashback into the story of Sultan’s past—his romance with Aarfa Ali Khan, his initiation into the sport in order to impress her (no mean wrestler herself) and her father and how he becomes the supreme wrestler of his time and era.

The duo light up the wrestling world earning plaudits at the Asian and Commonwealth Games. Both are scheduled to participate in the 2012 Olympics but Arafa becomes pregnant just before the Games. She stays home while her spouse goes on the represent India at the Games and clinch gold.

Sultan becomes egoistic after his many-layered success believing that he cannot be beaten by anyone except himself.

He refuses to participate in grassroots level mud akhada tournaments and leaves home once more for the World Championships.

He wins gold but is shattered on learning that his new-born son afflicted with anaemia lost the fight for life in his absence. The doctors could not find anyone with his rare blood type (O Rh –ve)—a blood group Sultan shares.

Sultan—with his hockey stick—knocks over the head of the statue dedicated to his Olympic triumph. 

The couple separate. Thus begins the second phase of Sultan’s life—a descent into obscurity and petitioning local politicians to approve the founding of a  blood bank in the town.

Akash seizes upon Sultan’s requirements and promises him that the cash earned by fighting in his MMA league will deliver his desired dream of a blood bank named after his son.

Sultan undergoes strenuous training under Fateh Singh—a blacklisted MMA fighter—and learns the ropes of the new sport.

Sultan is thoroughly thrashed by every opponent but defeats them by outlasting them and throwing them over with his classic akhada moves.

In typical Bollywood style, the fight scenes and background score tug at the heartstrings and Sultan is reconciled with Arafa when he is critically injured in the semis. Disregarding medical advice, Sultan fights on and emerges victorious in the final round.

Sultan visualizes Marcus as his younger, arrogant self depicting the maxim that man’s biggest victory is over himself.

Sultan launches a blood bank with his prize money and is reunited with his wife who resumes wrestling. Some years later, they are blessed with a baby girl whom Sultan starts training in the sport.

Highlights of the movie:

Sultan’s gloves imprinted with the words ‘Venum’.

Sometimes you wish Sultan would just stay down after absorbing the kind of punishment he does at his age. MMA is a young man’s sport and the storyline is all pathos with very little logos.

Can you  imagine that an Olympic Gold wrestler would find it hard to raise funds for a blood bank? State and central governments should be falling over themselves to support any such endeavour. Had Sultan’s return to the ring had been an attempt at redemption,  it could have resonated more with the audience. But maybe that’s been overdone and  clichéd. 

Dialogues delivered in earthy Haryanvi seem to be literal translations of inspirational English quotes.

The movie is populated with product placements—the most prominent one is Videocon’s D2H placed quite strategically at the back of Sultan’s scooter.

Songs are  largely forgettable.

While there is no glossing over Arafa’s sacrifice and dismay at learning that she’s on the cusp of motherhood, one felt that Anushka could have portrayed her angst better and that it is perhaps the beginning of the rift between husband and wife. 

Salman Khan’s scene where he tears off his shirt to self-loathingly view his pot-bellied self in the mirror is perhaps his best attempt at method acting ever. 

Randeep Hooda as Fateh Singh is impressive.

A must see for Salman fans—they don’t need reviews anyway.

Rajdeep Sardesai, Sania Mirza se panga mat le


How could a seasoned journalist like Rajdeep Sardesai appear so crass, insensitive and sexist on national television?

That’s the question that must be uppermost in the minds of most of his fans (I am one of his many admirers—he also happens to be a Xavierite)  when the veteran journo committed a faux pas by asking India’s number one female tennis star, Sania Mirza , the following query:

“Amidst all the celebrityhood, when is Sania going to settle down? Is it going to be in Dubai? Is it going to be in any other country? What about motherhood… building a family… I don’t see all that in the book, it seems like you don’t want to retire just yet to settle down.

…You don’t talk about retirement, about raising a family, about motherhood, what’s life beyond tennis is going to be…”

The response was swift and acerbic—typical Sania.

“You sound disappointed that I’m not choosing motherhood over being number one in the world at this point of time. But I’ll answer your question anyway, that’s the question I face all the time as a woman, that all women have to face — the first is marriage and then it’s motherhood. Unfortunately, that’s when we’re settled, and no matter how many Wimbledons we win or number ones in the world we become, we don’t become settled. But eventually it will happen, not right now. And when it does happen I’ll be the first one to tell everybody when I plan to do that.”

Sardesai quickly backtracked realising his erroneous line of questioning.

He said:

“I must apologise, I framed that question very badly. I promise you, you’re right, I would never ask this question to a male athlete…”

True, very true. Such a question would never be put to a male sportsperson.

Neither should it be put to any sportsperson.

There was very little logic  or reasoning to Sardesai’s enquiry. These are the type of questions every single career woman (or man)  learns to field  from ‘friendly’ , inquisitive neighbourhood ‘aunties‘—not from a TV presenter of Sardesai’s caliber.

While not detracting from the many sacrifices she has made to come so far,  it must be pointed out that Mirza is in her late 20s—not late 30s. She is a happily married, healthy young woman. She can have it all—should she choose. 

The interrogation was improper. And Sardesai had his just desserts.

Mirza was on television promoting her autobiography ‘Ace against odds’ coauthored with her father Imran Mirza and journalist Shivani Gupta.

Remembering Mohammed Shahid while he fights yet another battle in Gurgaon


I don’t remember watching Mohammad Shahid play.

Hassan Sardar—his Pakistani counterpart—was much more of a household name in those days.

But I do recall—faintly—the 7-1 drubbing of the Indian men’s hockey side in the 1982 Asiad final in New Delhi.

It was a tragedy—a loss wasn’t unexpected—-but  humiliation was disaster.

Mohammed Shahid was a member of that squad; he was also part of the 1980 side that last won gold for India at an Olympics.

But it was goalie Mir Ranjan Negi who was anointed villain of the piece. He was termed a ‘traitor’ and there were claims that he had been bribed by his opponents.

Negi said:

“Everywhere I went, I was abused by the public. Nothing matters to me more than playing for my country. I am a proud Indian and will always be so. There were lots of things that happened in the run-up to the final. You find out. I will not speak about the politics that contributed to our defeat.”

His team-mate Zafar Iqbal later said:

“The entire team was to blame; we forwards missed chances, the defence left huge gaps that the Pakistanis exploited. Despite making great efforts to cover the gaps, poor Negi became a sitting duck and the Pakistanis scored at will […] He was blamed solely, but every player was to blame […] The atmosphere was vicious. I remember someone claiming that he had seen Negi come out of the Pakistan High Commission on match eve […] Some even enquired whether Negi, with his first name Mir, was Muslim.”

Hassan Sardar believes that the scoreline was no indicator of how close the final really was.

He says:

“Do you know who the man-of-match that day was? It was our 17-year-old goalkeeper, also named Shahid (Ali Khan) who made more than eight saves that day. Nobody remembers that, the scoreline should have been 7-5 or 7-6, just an indication of how good the Indian team was back then.”

Mohammed Shahid now lies in a hospital bed in Gurgaon fighting for his life against a liver condition that afflicted him following a bout of jaundice and dengue.

Shahid is an employee with the Railways. They will be picking up all his medical expenses.

His condition is still critical.

The Sports Ministry has announced a grant of Rs. 10 lakhs for the former Olympian.

Sundeep Misra of Firstpost describes  Shahid thus:

“In the late 70’s and early 80’s, you didn’t go to watch hockey. You went to watch magic; mesmerizing magic created by a man from Benares called Mohammed Shahid.

Those were the kind of skills that couldn’t be taught. No amount of coaching camps, elite coaches could create supple wrists that, honestly, were an extension of the hockey stick. Shahid, short but lithe displayed his dribbling skills like a card-dealer in a casino. Defences retracted inwards, backing off not willing to take on this twisting and turning dervish whose only challenge in life seemed to be cutting through defences like a combine harvester in a wheat field. Fans watched in disbelief. Opposition coaches gave up. Defenders wanted to quit the sport. Little kids wanted to know ‘dodge kaise karte hain’. Commentators lost their voice if Shahid didn’t have the ball. In those days, Mohammed Shahid was hockey.”

A Times Of India story called him “the genius of dribble”.

Shahid himself was much more self-effacing.

He said:

“Look, I am Mohammed Shahid. That will not ever change. Yes, I was India captain; people said I had God given talent with dribbling skills. Mujhe bhi yaad hai, har waqt mar dodge, mar dodge. Par ek time ke baad mann bhar gaya (Even I remember dodging past players all the time. But after a while, it was enough).”

Sardar has fond memories of playing against Shahid.

He said:

“Yeh bade afsos ki baat hai (It is quite unfortunate to hear of this) Kya kamaal ka khiladi tha! Aisi behetreen stickwork modern hockey mein bahut kum dekhne ko milti thi. We may have been sworn rivals on the field, but I was a Shahid fan. All our pre-match plans would revolve around how to check Shahid and he would simply destroy it all. We could never catch him

But do you know, Shahid and I were part of a dream attacking trio that could never be realised. Shahid would often tell me, ‘Hassan-bhai, had we played together in the same team, no one would have been able to touch us.’ Imagine a team where Zafar was left-in, I was centre forward and Shahid on the right…”

Hassan laughingly recollected an incident during the 1986 bilateral series when he was at the receiving end of Shahid’s wizardry and threatened to sort Shahid out by visiting his hotel room.

He said:

“Blind with rage, I told him, ‘Arrey, mujhe sey panga kyun le rahe ho?! Lag jayegi, toh udte hue jaoge.’ But it just wasn’t us alone. None of the European teams could ever catch him. In the Pakistan camp, we would say, ‘Yeh sabke phephre nikal deta hai, bhaga bhaga ke…”

Shahid has the respect and love of his countrymen, teammates and opponents.

Here’s hoping that he makes a full recovery and soon.

——————————-

Mohammed Shahid passed away aged 56 on July 20, 2016. May his soul rest in peace. 

Winning ugly is still winning: Why be a beautiful loser?


Everybody loves a winner.

Even more so, a pretty one.

Like Federer, like Brazil in the 50s and 60s.

Sometimes, winning is everything.

So when the purists crib that Portugal were unaesthetic in the triumph at the European Cup this year, let’s put their comments in the right perspective.

It is Portugal’s name that will be inscribed on the trophy and history will record them as victors.

Will it matter , in a few years, how they emerged kings despite winning just one game in normal time? Will it matter that they barely made the pre-quarters, drawing all their three group Games?

It will not and Cristiano Ronaldo knows and recognises this better than anyone else.

Hobbling on the sidelines in the final, the man from Madeira cheered and spurred his teammates on inspiring them to the podium in his absence.

In the process, he went one better than his rival and the best player on the planet, Lionel Messi.

Messi may be beautiful, he may be sublime, but he has still to win a title for his native Argentina.

Ronaldo has his measure there.

Unlike tennis, badminton or squash, soccer is a team sport.

And one man does not a team make.

Winning need not be elegant, it need not be pleasing to the eye or the spectators.

Sometimes, it’s simply about getting the job done, doing what’s needed when it’s required.

Yes, we love to see our winners be gorgeous, heavenly and glorious.

But for every Federer, there’s a Nadal.

And for every Spain, there’s a Denmark, a Greece and now a Portugal.

Imran Khan: Fairy tales


“We grow up with fairy tales,  but in life there is no happily ever after. And if there were,  I would get bored of life. To me,  life is interesting when one is struggling.” 

—Imran Khan,  cricketer and politician. 

Roger Federer almost pulls off another miracle


He almost pulled off another miracle,  didn’t he? 

After coming back from the dead against Marin Cilic in the quarters, Roger Federer was leading 2-1 against Milos Raonic only to lose his bearings—figuratively and literally—failing in the last two sets in yet another gruelling five-setter. 

The Swiss missed the French Open this year—his first Grand Slam since 1999,  ending an unbelievable streak of appearances. 

With Novak Djokovic knocked out early,  die-hard Fed fans believed this was his best chance to clinch his 18th Slam. But it was always going to prove an uphill battle for a 34-year-old. Realists would not begrudge another championship for the great but their expectations are always tempered and tinged with a healthy dose of skepticism. 

In the end, it proved to be too much even for the tennis machine. The cracks and the strain were visible towards the end of the fourth set with Roger dropping his serve in the final game to lose the set without taking it into another nail-biting tie-breaker. 

But he had done enough to revive Wimbledon out of its stupor. 

Britain’s favourite son,  Andy Murray,  might clinch yet another title on the hallowed grass of the All-England Championship. 

But for many,  this Wimbledon is simply to be Federer’s thing of beauty—forever. 

Bhaag, Milkha, Bhaag: Biopic for masses and classes


Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Language: Hindi

Directed by:
Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra

Produced by:
Rajiv Tandon
Raghav Bahl
Maitreyee Dasgupta
Madhav Roy Kapur
Rachvin Narula
Shyam P.S
Navmeet Singh
P. S. Bharathi

Written by:
Prasoon Joshi

Based on
The Race of My Life by Milkha Singh and Sonia Sanwalka

  • Farhan Akhtar as Subedar Milkha Singh a.k.a. The Flying Sikh
  • Japtej Singh as young Milkha
  • Divya Dutta as Isri Kaur, Milkha’s elder sister
  • Meesha Shafi as Perizaad
  • Pavan Malhotra as Hawaldar (Constable) Gurudev Singh, Milkha’s coach during his days in the Indian Army
  • Yograj Singh as Ranveer Singh, Milkha’s coach
  • Art Malik as Sampooran Singh, Milkha’s father
  • Prakash Raj as Veerapandian
  • K.K.Raina as Mr. Wadhwa
  • Rebecca Breeds as Stella
  • Dalip Tahil as Jawaharlal Nehru
  • Dev Gill as Abdul Khaliq
  • Nawab Shah as Abdul Khaliq’s coach
  • Jass Bhatia as Mahinder
  • Sonam Kapoor as Biro, Milkha’s fleeting love interest 

The movie begins with the Flying Sikh’s heart-breaking loss at the Rome Olympics in the 400 metres. Milkha Singh is far ahead of the field but turns his head to see where his rivals are and loses vital seconds. The result is a fourth place finish; yet, he too breaks the Olympic record along with the medallists.

Milkha is haunted by ghosts of his childhood past from Govindpura, in the then Punjab Province, British India—now Muzaffargarh District, Pakistan.

Milkha’s parents, a brother and two sisters were slaughtered before his eyes in the violence that ensued following the partition of British India. 

The film takes off with Milkha’s return to India and his refusal to lead a contingent of Indian athletes to Pakistan to race against Abdul Khaliq—-the fastest man in Asia.

Milkha’s back story is narrated by Pavan Malhotra as Hawaldar Gurudev Singh, Milkha’s initial coach,  and how he made the journey from a refugee camp to becoming the foremost Indian sportsperson of his generation and arguably of all time.

The movie is gripping while depicting life in a refugee camp, Milkha’s initiation into a life of petty crime but meanders in the scenes portraying his first love Biro and his moments with her.

To prove himself worthy of Biro, Milkha quits his criminal ways and joins the army.

The young Sardar starts running to gain an extra glass of milk, two eggs and to be excused from regular drill.

Milkha is soon on his way to becoming one of India’s top athletes and makes the cut for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.

There he meets and falls for Stella, played by Rebecca Breeds, the grand-daughter of his Australian technical coach. Breeds is charming, delightful and lights up the screen with her cameo.

The Games, however, are a disaster for Milkha on the field. He loses his race and vows to make good by breaking the existing world record of 45.90 seconds.

He trains hard over the next four years with unyielding determination and even rejects a romantic overture from Indian Olympic swimmer Perizaad.

Milkha takes the world by storm in the run-up to the Rome Olympics and is one the pre-Games favourites for the 400 metres.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Milkha makes the journey across the border for the Friendly Games against Pakistan after being persuaded by Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

The highlight of the movie is his visit back to his village Govindpura where he exorcises demons of the past and is reunited with his boyhood friend Sampreet.

The Friendly Games race against Abdul Khaliq is a formality with Singh much too strong and powerful for his opponents.

The film ends with an adult Milkha Singh completing a victory lap visualizing his boyish self running alongside him.

Overall,  an enjoyable movie especially for sports fans and a ‘Don’t miss’ if you’re a follower of Indian athletics. 

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