And just like that, Asian Games 2018 is history. The closing curtains on Jakarta Palembang 2018 brought with it a melancholic feeling – especially for medal-starved Indian fans who spent a majority of the last three weeks watching their athletes break new ground.
The numbers are simple: The Indian contingent, with a total haul of 69 medals, broke their previous record of 64 from 2010. But the true indicator of the Asian Games 2018 being India’s most successful in their sporting history lies in this statistic: India’s haul of 15 gold medals equals their highest gold tally of 15 achieved way back in the inaugural edition in 1951. India’s tally of 24 silver medals is its highest ever. They still finished 8th in the country list, matching their performance from 2014.
Let’s take a closer look at the dizzy highs and puzzling lows of India in Indonesia:
While the Indian women’s boxing team failed to meet expectations, the men’s contingent came back with arguably India’s finest moment of Asiad history in the ring. Light flyweight boxer Amit Panghal, a silver medalist from the Commonwealth Games earlier this year, cemented his place as one of India’s greatest hopes in the upcoming Tokyo Olympics with his performance in Jakarta. After becoming national champion last year, Panghal stunned the world by defeating reigning Olympic Champion Hasanboy Dusmatov in the final of the Men’s 49 kg category.
Bajrang Punia, India’s top freestyle wrestler, capped his most successful career season by following up his Commonwealth Gold with a thrilling victory (11-8) against Japanese grappler Takatani Daichi in the final – winning his first Asiad Gold four years after taking the silver. Bajrang’s winning moment, one of India’s first gold medals at the Asian Games 2018, is arguably the snapshot of India’s successful campaign.
On the women’s side, Vinesh Phogat (that surname is now famous, thanks to Dangal) won India’s first ever female gold medal on the mat. These two will be favorites to bring back a medal in Tokyo two years later.
India’s best male runner Jinson Johnson put behind the disappointment of finishing second in the 800m final by storming home to win the 1500m gold days later. The 27-year-old middle distance sprinter will want to make the last mark at what might arguably be his final Olympics in 2020.
Rahi Sarnobat became the first Indian female shooter to win a Gold at the Asian Games. Despite winning World Cup and Commonwealth Golds over the years, she wasn’t the favorite – teen sensation Manu Bhaker was, entering the 25m Pistol final with a record 593 in qualification. But it was the “veteran” Sarnobat who, despite qualifying in the seventh position with a 580, shot a miraculous final bunch to enter a double shoot-off with Thailand’s Naphaswan Yangpaiboon. In one of the most nerve-wrecking finals in recent history, Sarnobat clinched the gold against all odds.
On the men’s side, 16-year-old Saurabh Chaudhary shot to the limelight with a stunning 10m Gold in the Air Pistol event.
The men’s Indian Hockey team sailed through the group stages with some massively lopsided wins over inexperienced Asian opposition. But the World no. 5 side crashed to Malaysia in the semifinals, having to defeat Pakistan in the bronze-medal playoffs to restore some pride. With the World Cup in November, the team is far from a finished product.
For the first time since 1990, the Indian Kabaddi teams – men and women – failed to return with a gold medal. This is the one sport India has dominated, but the Asian Games 2018 showed that reputation alone isn’t enough. Iran and South Korea were established as the new world powers, while the Indian men were left to lick their wounds with paltry bronze medals, and the women with silver medals.
For the nth time, recurve archer Deepika Kumari, who has several Asian and world titles to her name, returned empty-handed from the big stage. The former World no. 1 lost to a Chinese Taipei archer after winning just one round. Counterpart Atanu Das fell in the men’s quarterfinal – leaving Indian archery yet again with more questions than answers.
The Badminton stars – PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal, HS Prannoy and former World no. 1 Kidambi Srikanth – were expected to come back with at least one gold medal. But Sindhu took a silver and Saina a bronze, as the men failed to enter the medal rounds. One should be expecting more from a contingent that has consistently made India a world-beating force in the last decade. This time, they fell short of their own high standards. Sindhu’s “final problem” is now a concern, and has made her a perpetual silver specialist.