Saturday, May 27, 2006

Olympic Medals and India

Few people seem to care, but there is an Olympiad going on. Out of 150 countries participating, India is seeded second and is actually expected to win medals. As we all know, India and Olympic medals are not often used in the same sentence. If we forget about the glorious past of field hockey, the country of one billion people has managed to win exactly four individual medals in sixty years. So when an Indian team is seeded second out of 150 teams in an Olympic event not named Kabbadi, it calls for a celebration.

India is fielding its strongest team ever and it should improve on its best ever result of sixth-place finish at the last Olympiad. Their seeding is primarily driven by Anand's monstrous rating, but overall it is a very balanced team with Sasikiran on the second board, Harikrishna on the third and Suryashekhar the-other Ganguly on the fourth. The bench strength of Sandipan and D P Singh is a bit suspect though. I think Ganguly and Sasikiran hold the key. Both are aggressive and tactically very strong. The team will need quite a few 3.5-0.5 and 3-1 wins to finish among the medals. To do that Sasikiran and Ganguly will have to take some chances even with black.


Currently India is clubbed with four other teams at 12-16 in the ranking table, but it is early days yet and they are only two points behind the leaders - Russia and Armenia. There is enough time left to come back from that shocker of an opening round against Morocco. The extra two odd points lost there could, however, still cost them dearly. Germany, the sixth round opponent, is a very experienced side with two veterans - Jussopow and Graf. It should be a very interesting match tomorrow.

India has a very good chance of winning a medal in the women's section as well. They are the ninth seed and can definitely finish in top three if Koneru Humpy gets strong support from Swati Ghate, Harika Dronavalli and Mary Ann Gomes.


Chess Olympiad historically has not always attracted the top players and Anand himself skipped it for a long time. However, on reading his rediff interview immediately after the last Olympiad, one gets the impression that he badly wants India to win an Olympic medal. From a purely chess perspective, that is a bit surprising coming from a player who has twice won Chess Oscar ahead of Kasparov and has won every major tournament in the world. Olympic medals are not the topmost priority for the top chess players as they are not for the top tennis pros. I think Anand shares the frustration of Indian sports followers and realizes KD Singh Babu, Leander Paes, Karnam Malleshwari and Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore could use some company. If he can help India win the gold that eluded even those four great individuals, it would be the first time in 28 years that a country other than USSR (or former USSR) would come out on the top. It would also be the first time in 67 years that a non-Eastern-European country would win.

6 comments:

Arnold said...

Hmmm.. Very interesting indeed.. Used to a chess freak myself a couple of years ago, but have more or less given up since.. I was pretty surprised to hear the India is seeded second... Anand is world class no doubt, but I'm not very confident with the other three..

The Wikipedia link shows USA having won it in 1976. Are you sure your statement ("It would also be the first time in 67 years that a non-Eastern-European country would win.") is correct?

Dipanjan said...

That was an Olympiad boycotted by the East European countries, so that does not quite count.

dazedandconfused said...

Nice post. Am a keen follower of chess myself and blog about it now and then. Though chances now look slim, what with Anand drawing every other game...

The women seem to be doing much better though...

Dipanjan said...

Yes, medals are impossible now. I wish they took a few more chances. The number of draws on all boards is surprisingly high this time. The last couple of Olympiads, Sasi and Ganguly at least really went for it, not this time. They do risk losing a lot of ELO points as all four of them are now quite highly rated; still I expected more aggression from them. Coming straight from a very strong M-Tel tournament, Anand probably is very tired as well.

Oh well, maybe next time. Indian media, chess players and followers need to get behind them a lot more. I am sure that would have helped them to strive harder.

Razib Ahmed said...

I am happy that India is doing so well in chess. However, I feel that the media is not promoting the game of chess adequately. The media seems to be too much obsessed with cricket. Even if India wins this Olympiad, I guess nothing will change.

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