Tuesday 16 December 2014


It took me some time to learn the tricks of cycling only to realise I could just ride and not perform tricks. Skating, as far as it goes I have managed once to wear the skating shoes and tried them on the roads, before my friend asked me to give it back. My time was over and 18 years hence, I still haven’t managed to buy myself a pair of skates. And now I do not have my cycle either. That’s another story.

Anyways, the above mentioned thoughts came when I got reminded of Christa Rothenburger Luding who holds a strange distinction in the world of sports. Six months younger than my mother, she holds the distinction of winning medals in both summer and Winter Olympics. I first read about her when I was researching few facts for my Sports Quiz few years ago and happen to discover the fact - that she remains as the first and the last athlete to have won both winter and Summer Olympics medals in the same year.

Born in the year 1959 in the city of Weisswasser (previously East Germany before unification in 1990) she competed in five Olympics editions in two different events. Her first participation was at the 1980 games at Lake Placid where she took part in the 500m and 1000m speed skating events. Although she didn’t manage to win any medals in the first edition, she did strike gold in her second attempt at Sarajevo Games (city previously in Yugoslavia and now in Bosnia-Herzegovina) in the 500m speed-skating event. Continuing her good form she went on to be the world champion in speed skating at the 1985 World Sprint Championship.

It was during the early 1980’s while she was being coached by Ernst Luding (whom she married 8 years later at the culmination of the 1988 Winter Olympics) she was convinced to take up track cycling during the off-season as speed skating and track cycling, both disciplines require speed and strength in addition to balance. Both events strike a resemblance - they take place in oval shaped tracks and hence the physical requisites required in both sports bear some similarities.

She received considerable amount of support from East Germany sports federation after the initial reluctance to allow her to compete in the cycling events. Having secured the permission from the President of the national Sports Federation, Christa took part in cycling championships and in the year 1986 she won a gold medal at the World Cycling Championships and thus became only the second woman after Sheila Young to become a world champion in both speed skating and track cycling.

The year 1988 turned out to be the best year of her life. She won the silver medal in the 500m speed skating and a gold medal in the 1000m at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. Few months later, she was at the other end of the globe to the Far East in Seoul to participate in sprint cycling. Having earlier won medals at the Winter Olympics, she managed to win a silver medal in the 1000m track cycling event and thereby joining an elite league of athletes winning both summer and Winter Olympics medal.

Gillis Grafstrom from Sweden, Eddie Eagen from United States, Jacob Tullin Thams from Norway and very recently the Canadian Clara Hughes have achieved a similar feat - but none managed to achieve in the same year.

Before the German reunification in 1990, Christa competed for East Germany and afterwards for Germany. She remained a dominating figure for more than 10 years and was considered to be one of the world's best sprinters in speed skating. At the World Sprint Championships in speed skating, she became World Champion twice (in 1985 and 1988), won silver medal twice (in 1986 and 1989), and won 4 bronze medals (in 1979, 1983, 1987, and 1992). She has also won the 500 m World Cup 3 times (in 1986, 1988, and 1989) and the 1,000 m World Cup once (in 1988).

After winning a bronze medal at the 1992 World Sprint Championships (in which she was unable to win any of the 4 distances), Christa Rothenburger Luding ended her speed skating career.

At the turn of early 1990’s, International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided - that winter and Summer Olympics would bifurcate  and there would be a gap of two years between the events. Starting with Lillehammer in 1994, Winter Olympics was held and is being held alternatively with the main Summer Olympics event.

This decision ensured Christa Rothenburger Luding to remain the only athlete to have won medals in both editions of Olympics held in the same year. A feat, which is unlikely to be emulated. 

Wednesday 26 November 2014


                                                     Team Switzerland with the 2014 Davis Cup title                             Image Courtesy: Guardian
Switzerland becomes only the 14th country to lift the prestigious World cup of men's tennis - Davis Cup. This is a fitting considering the Swiss team boasts of arguably one of the best tennis players ever. If winning the Davis Cup title is a single's challenge, then Federer would have found a way to win this annual event much before. Unlike the many singles titles he has won, Davis Cup is a team event. No matter how well you play, there are moments you sit tight, watch the action, cheering your teammate and hope he wins it for you, for the team and for the country.

With Stan Wawrinka playing as well as he ever did, Switzerland had two players going into the finals - who could dictate terms on their own at crucial phases of a game. They have tasted glory before for Switzerland - Remember Beijing Olympics in 2008? The iconic scene is still fresh in my memory. It was Stan and Roger show six years ago and now in 2014, it is the same story.

The 2014 Davis Cup finals happened to be the second time Switzerland qualifying for the title showdown. Turn the clock back to 1992, a golden year for Swiss tennis. Marc Rosset, surprisingly and more impressively took the single's gold medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics - a feat which has not been emulated by a Swiss player till date. On back of a remarkable success on the clay courts of Barcelona, Marc Rosset and his teammate Jakob Hlasek competed against the mighty and talented bunch of players from the United States for the Davis Cup title. The limited resources of Switzerland hurt them dearly as they lost the finals tie 1-3 to a team which had Pete Sampras and John McEnroe play doubles while Andre Agassi and Jim Courier played singles. The sole consolation had to be Rosset's win over Jim Courier which was settled in five sets.

Marc Rosset (left) and Jakob Hlasek did their best in 1992 to win the Davis Cup and finished second to USA

Switzerland as a country is complexly united and never allow their individual differences to come in the way of being a single entity. While individuals might go and achieve great things, they are seldom secluded and revered or given a red carpet treatment. Yes, they are acknowledged as celebrities and that's where the distinction ends. Even these 'celebrities' are foremost Swiss citizens and here people as a group always takes priority over individuals. So, quite fittingly Davis cup victory is something this tiny country will be proud of, as the honour is bestowed to 'Switzerland' and not to individuals. 

Tuesday 25 November 2014


                Roger Federer and Lleyton Hewitt face each other in 2015 for an experimental match       Photo Courtesy: News.au
The trend to get smarter, slimmer and compact keeping in view of the times and the time is catching up with tennis as well. While there have been changes implemented steadily, tennis fans worldwide would now soon be served with the fast food version of 'tennis'.

Starting this November, there will be two premier international tournaments held in different cities across Asia. The format is compact and the organisers have taken a certain degree of liberty to make it interesting and equally exciting.

In 2015, Roger Federer and Lleyton Hewitt will face each other (January 12) in Sydney for an exhibition match. This is no ordinary match and will certainly be different than the previous 27 games they played against each other.

Forget the long hours waiting with baited breath, heart rate pumping as the final set goes on and on. Every point became agonisingly painful if you happen to support a player and is losing. In this experimental match, there is no slow death for a player; instead it is quick, precise and to an extent time bound. The format of the game will have four modifications to the conventional tennis rules.

a. No advantage scoring - Its 'deuce' and one error on either player's part, the game is gone. The pressure is intense on the player to hold the serve at deuce. This rule is a time saver.

b. No service lets - Let, first service. Now, how many times in a game does one hear this call? Without service lets, a lot of time can be saved.

c. Tie breakers at three games all - Match is poised at 3-3 and spectators have just warmed up. It's time for a tie breaker. To me, I believe just having six games before having to decide the set by a tie-breaker is too quick for my liking. Instead, I would go for a tie-breaker at 6-6 with first to reach 4 points taking the set. For now, I choose to be open-minded and participate as a spectator in this experiment.

d. Sets to first-four games - Whoever breaks the serve has the momentum as long as he holds the serve in the set. This is too quick for my liking and like I mentioned in the above point - I will wait, watch and then give my opinion.

Though I belong to a group of traditional tennis lovers, I do see a point as to why there is an emphasis to have a shorter format of tennis. Cricket too underwent this change in the past decade and since, the shorter format has been commercially successful. The point which will be debated - Will we miss out on watching epic battles which test the skills, stamina and a lot more from the players before a winner is decided while there are 'quickie' tournaments where everything is clockwork and the game can be wrapped up under two hours.Which will appeal in the longer run?

In an era where people are content with mere headlines than the content that follows it, the shorter version of tennis, if approved by the International Tennis Federation will have commercial advantages and make a fantastic product for TV audiences. The question remains as to how will you integrate this format in today's tennis world. Will you have age-restrictions? or do you create a parallel tournament with a possibility of having shorter formats of the four major Grand Slam tournaments? Will there be a separate Davis Cup for shorter and longer formats? or will the tennis as a whole be truncated for the sake of time saving practices and taking the excess load out of tennis players? 

The ATP and WTA tour operators will be monitoring this closely as they would be quick to jump to the shorter format if there is more money to be made. Or will the idea remain rooted only at the club and social events?


Shorter format of tennis will reduce the time while basics of playing tennis would remain the same. The International leagues namely International Premier Tennis League (by Mahesh Bhupathi) and Champions Tennis League by Vijay Amrtitaj have big names on their rooster and have rules amended to suit the nature of this business-cum-sport venture. How will this and the exhibition match in January would impact the rule changes needs to be seen. It is too early to make an definitive opinion - however going by the trend in world of sports, shorter format of tennis is here to stay - whether one likes it or not.  

Friday 7 November 2014


                                  Carlos Pace after winning the 1975 Brazilian Grand Prix                                            Courtesy: FOM

With two races more to complete yet another F1 season, one thing is sure - the eventual winner will be decided in the finale showdown at Abu Dhabi. Lewis Hamilton leading with 24 points to his closest rival and team mate Nico Rosberg. Hamilton can win this weekend and can take a lead of 49 points (assuming Rosberg does not finish) and yet lose the title if he fails to finish and Rosberg wins the last race. How? Courtesy of double points awarded for the last race; no matter what happens in Brazil, technically it is not over! and if recent history is to go by, last races have decided the world champions in the past.

Abu Dhabi is sometime away and for now the attention shifts to Autodromo José Carlos Pace in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The circuit still famous for its traditional name 'Interlagos' named after its location in a region between two artificial lakes (Guarapiranga and Billings) - built in the early part of the 20th century for water and power supplies to the city. Interlagos (translated 'between lakes') more known to world for its Formula One has been involved in the game since the 1970's. It is here in the vicinity we saw many household names emerge and one such driver happened to be 'Carlos Pace' - whose life was cut short with an air accident and lost his life at the age of 32.

Till date, there have been 30 drivers from Brazil who have competed in F1. There were five drivers who tried their hand unsuccessfully in the 1950's. It was not until the 70's the world saw the emergence of Brazilian drivers in Formula One. It started with Emerson Fittipaldi - who by winning the 1972 and 1974 driver's world championship helped to popularise the sport across Brazil. A contemporary of Fittipaldi, Carlos Pace too had to relocate to Europe to secure a future in F1. After a series of decent performances, Pace made debut in F1 with Team Williams in a March chassis Cosworth powered engine in 1972 - the same year when Brazil hosted the first F1 Grand Prix. It is safe to say, along with the Fittipaldi brothers, Pace was one of the early pioneers from Brazil to have made a mark in Formula One.

Sao Paulo has been the theatre of many spectacles as far as F1 goes in Brazil. It is no surprise, out of the 30 drivers sixteen of them were born in this part of Brazil. If you exclude Nelson Piquet (born in Rio and only non-Sao Paulo Brazilian winner of the home event), there are no other names to talk about in detail. The Fittipaldi brothers, Ayrton Senna, Barrichello, Massa and Pace - all had their humble beginnings in Sao Paulo.

In the late 1970's, the F1 action shifted from Sao Paulo to Rio de Janeiro. Jacarepaguá Circuit now known as the Autódromo Internacional Nelson Piquet hosted the Brazilian GP in the 80's coinciding with the rise of Nelson Piquet's stature as a triple world champion. Towards the end of the 80's, the attention again shifted towards Sao Paulo and it was not a coincidence that Brazil in Ayrton Senna was the next big star and he hailed from that part of the town. By this time, the circuit had been modified to meet the safety regulations and the name was also changed to ' Autodromo José Carlos Pace' in honour of Carlos Pace.

Let us rewind back to the mid-70's, when Carlos Pace left Surtees team after having an altercation with John Surtees to race with Brabham midway through the 1974 season, a move which saw him perform more consistently. In the next year, he won his maiden Grand Prix in front of his home crowd much to the delight of thousands of fans who were gathered inside. It was Graham Hill's last appearance in Formula One and it was overshadowed by the 1-2 finish achieved by the local boys Pace and Emerson Fittipaldi. Pace would win two more podiums and finished sixth in the overall driver's standings to round-off his best season in F1. 1976 was a season to forget as far as Pace was concerned and all he could manage was 14th in the driver's standings.

The season 1977 started on a bright note with a second place in the inaugural race of the season at Argentina. A retirement in front of his home crowd and a 13th place in South African GP which is notoriously remembered for the deaths of Tom Pryce and the track side marshal Frederik Jansen van Vuuren.

The next race was at Long Beach and before that there was Race of Champions at Brands Hatch - a event which Pace didn't take part. He was back in Brazil on some business. On March 18th 1977, the private flight he was on along with his two friends collided with a hill near Sao Paulo during a storm and claimed their lives. Carlos Pace was 32 and another F1 driver casualty as a result of 'accident' - though this was outside racing.

Personally having followed (through books, documentaries, interviews) F1 personalities during the dangerous era, one can safely assume about drivers being shaken when they see their colleagues die and more so if it was on track. Racing was the only time when drivers were able to focus without too many doubts hanging on them. Formula One was indeed a lot different back in the 1970's and beyond; it was popular, had money, gave the thrills and all that could be lost in a matter of seconds, through no fault of drivers at times! It still retains the essence of old days - but is a lot safer!

The passing away of Carlos Pace was due to an accident though not on track. Nevertheless, it was an accident which cut short his life and thereby abruptly ending yet another talented driver in Formula One.

In 1985, in honour of Carlos Pace, the track Autodromo Interlagos was renamed to its current name Autodromo José Carlos Pace and since 1990, it has been a place which has decided world championships. Who can forget Kimi Raikkonen's amazing drive to beat Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso in 2007? the very next year, do you recall the scenes of the heartbroken local boy Felipe Massa to lose the title in the dying seconds of the race to Lewis Hamilton?
Bust of Carlos Pace at the Autodromo José Carlos Pace - home of the Brazilian Grand Prix
The legacy of Carlos Pace is that he along with Emerson Fittipaldi inspired a racer in Senna - who enthralled everyone with this ruthlessness on track and humility off it. It is not a surprise to hear this from Senna when asked about Brazilian racing in 1989 - " In Brazil we have had Emerson (Fittipaldi), (José) Carlos Pace, and now it's me. After me there will be another one. This is unrefusable." And since Senna, we have had Barrichello and Felipe Massa, who happens to be the last Brazilian driver win at home.

On a parting note this is something to remember. Most of the F1 fans were thrilled to have seen 'Rush' which chronicles the life of James Hunt and focuses on his championship winning season and the duel he had with Nikki Lauda. Carlos Pace was racing in 1976 though he did not play a part or had any influence in the outcome of the season. While the actual season was in progress, Carlos Pace did play the stunt double for Al Pacino for driving scenes, who in his role of Bobby Deerfield happened to be a F1 driver. This was a fictional account of an American racer who falls in love with a Swiss woman. Carlos Pace was credited for his contribution for driving his Brabham BT45 for the movie and by the time the movie was released, Pace was no more.

Carlos Pace as the stunt double for Al Pacino 
The movie was dedicated to Carlos Pace. He might not have been a champion remembered by people globally - he surely remains one of the favourite sons of Sao Paulo to have raced in Formula One. And a testimony to that is - the name of the track still remains in his honour in spite of Senna and his heroics. 

Monday 3 November 2014


The age-old jinx in Formula One has finally been broken and it took some time coming. A F1 car with the number '13' has scored points in a race for the first time.

At yesterday's US Grand Prix, when Pastor Maldonado made a brave move to pass successfully Jenson Button before being overtaken by Vettel - the mercurial Venezuelan driver was threading a thin line in the 10th place, knowing it might all change if there was a slight error from his part. With less than 2 laps to go, Maldonado pulled off another overtaking manoeuvre on Jean-Eric Vergne. He finished the race in the ninth position and yet it was not certain if he would hold on to his place.

With a five-second penalty owing to exceeding speed limits in the pit lane - a further five seconds was taken off which placed Maldonado in tenth position. After the investigations on Vergne's sudden plunge at the first corner which forced Romain Grosjean out of the racing line, Maldonado was reinstated to ninth place placing Vergne in tenth position (he too received a five seconds penalty).
Amidst all the confusion, for the first time in the season Pastor Maldonado has scored points and personally I believe this was the second talking point of the race after watching Lewis Hamilton become the most successful British F1 driver with 32 victories.

In my other article early this year (Read: Return of number 13 in F1) - I stressed upon the reluctance of F1 drivers and FIA to a great extent in using number 13 in the livery. Pastor Maldonado chose to be brave and ignored all the previous superstitions associated with '13' - when drivers were given the option to choose numbers starting from 2014, instead of FIA allocating numbers depending on constructor's championships. The last time number '13' car appeared dates back to 1970's. What a myth F1 was creating for itself!

With team Lotus, in 2014 Maldonado had a disastrous season which saw him retire four times, finish outside of points scoring position on 11 occasions and in Monaco, he did not even start. Such numbers are not worth talking about and sooner or later, Triskaidekaphobia (fear of number 13) might have hovered all around him and the team. His teammate Romain Grosjean equally had a terrible season and has 8 points courtesy of two top ten finishes. It was not driver's fault - blame goes to Lotus and their incompetent cars.

I am happy for once this jinx has been settled once in for all. For a sport which deals with billions of dollars, such superstitions only makes one message to be heard loud and clear - "Irrespective of how big the organisations grow, how much ever the profits are - as long as you have humans involved, there can never be all-logic". This probably explains why till date only four drivers ever muster the courage to have '13' on their livery.

On an interesting note - I now wonder what would have happened if Maldonado would have finished the season with no points. Would he have considered a change in the number?  

Wednesday 8 October 2014


Growing up I saw many of my cousins rooting for their famous tennis star. Here, I am talking strictly about ladies tennis. One cousin remarked at the play of Gabriela Sabatini, the other for Steffi Graf, Monica Seles and some even for Martina Navratilova. What do I remember from those days? I spent a lot of time with my cousin who disliked Steffi Graf - because she used to win a lot!
The frustrating season happened to be the season of 1993. I supported my cousin and started to root for any player but Graf. Back then, I did not have any favourites and among the players that were on the circuit - Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Mary Joe Fernandez, Conchita Martinez, Jennifer Capriati, Jana Novotna, Mary Pierce, Anke Huber, Amanda Coetzer and Helena Sukova. And none became my favourite.

I remember the 1993 season opener which saw Monica Seles defeating Steffi Graf to take the Australian Open. There was a division between our cousins, a healthy one and I did not know what was happening.

The much anticipated rivalry in women's tennis - Graf vs. Seles  

If there was any reason one of cousins started to hate Steffi Graf, it was the incident of Monica Seles getting stabbed with a 9-inch long knife. It was Hamburg on April 30 during a quarter-final match between Magdalena Maleeva; Seles ranked #1 was leading 6-4, 4-3 and looked good for a victory. Günter Parche, an obsessed Graf fan ran to Seles in between the serve breaks and stabbed between her shoulder blades. She was rushed to the hospital and Seles was out of tennis circuit for a good two years. Was it politically motivated (after the Yugoslavian split), was it intentional by Steffi Graf fans? Not sure. All it was later reported - that Günter was mentally unstable and was not jailed because he was found to be 'psychologically abnormal' and he was sent for psychological treatment. Just when I had found interest in supporting a tennis player, she was out of the circuit. She made a comeback two years later - but it was never the same again.

Monica Seles stabbed by Günter Parche (right)

The story of Monica Seles influenced me not to support Steffi Graf, moving forward. It seems silly - it was a strong feeling back then with my cousin and I looked up to him for more tennis insights. Steffi Graf won the French Open against Mary Joe Fernandez after having lost the first set. The German ace won the Wimbledon against Jana Novotna in spite of losing the second set 1-6 and a hard fought tie-breaker in the first set. With little opposition on the circuit, Steffi Graf finished the year winning the US Open against Helena Sukova in straight sets.

Jana Novotna being consoled after losing to Graf at Wimbledon 1993 

It was disheartening for Monica Seles fans to watch Steffi Graf win these titles back-to-back against easy opponents. While my cousin expressed his disappointments once in a while, I was still in search of my favourite lady tennis player. Luckily, my other favourite was Pete Sampras and he started to perform consistently and stayed away from major injuries!  

After winning three years in a row, the champion Monica Seles was not to take part at the 1994 Australian Open. Any guesses, who won the title? It was Graf again - she had it easy over Sanchez Vicario winning in straight sets. Then came the joy period for my cousin and I. Steffi Graf losing to Mary Pierce at the French Open semi-finals and biggest smile arrived on our face when Lori McNeil managed to knock out Graf in the first round of the Wimbledon. At the 1994 US Open, it was the time for Sanchez Vicario to pull one victory over Graf. For anyone other than Graf fans, 1994 was a pretty good year!

Steffi Graf did not take part in the 1995 Australian Open and we were happy to hear - that she would not be winning the title! The title was won by Mary Pierce. A 14-year old happened to make her Grand Slam debut and she wins her first round match against Jolene Watanabe - thereby becoming the youngest player to win a Grand slam match. She could not make it beyond the second round. Honestly, I did not notice this player then!

Teen prodigy Martina Hingis 

Steffi Graf was back in action and won the French Open against Sanchez Vicario two sets to one. It was a re-match between these two champs in Wimbledon and Steffi Graf proved a bit too strong for Sanchez Vicario.

1995 US Open and the tournament saw the emergence of rivalry which had ended two years ago prematurely. Monica Seles now appeared like a shadow of her previous self reached the finals and had a point to prove against Steffi Graf. Seles was now a US citizen and the crowd favourite. Graf won the first set and Seles fought back winning the second set 6-0. In anticipation of a miraculous comeback, it was clear who the crowd wanted to win that night. Alas! Graf proved to be a spoilsport, ends up winning the third set and the match, the title and what not!

After watching three seasons of tennis, I was still in search of my favourite player in the ladies circuit - one who would complement Pete Sampras. Having just entered double-digits in age, having favourite players was a top priority.

Steffi Graf did not take part at the 1996 Australian Open. After a gap of three years, Monica Seles took the title - her ninth and also turned out to be her final grand slam singles victory. Graf stamps her authority in the next three Grand Slams - winning all the three. The finals of the US Open 1996 was also the last time the world saw this short-lived rivalry of Seles and Graf. Seles was a better player than most other players on the circuit - but her best days were behind her.

Only if Seles was not stabbed - how well this rivalry would have shaped up? 

The year 1995 saw the emergence of Martina Hingis - the teenage sensation from Switzerland. She took the tennis world by surprise; with victories against experienced opponents, she progressed till the fourth end at the US Open. Not bad for a 14-year old.

Martina Hingis - taking strides forwards
Next year was only a step forward for this child prodigy. I was eleven years old and she was fourteen and it did not take too long for me to be a big fan... wait, biggest fan of hers. Coming from India in the 1990's with no internet and with cable television just warming up - it was a big deal to follow a player religiously - especially for a non-cricket sport.

Her performances in 1996 appeared frequently on the pages of  'Sport star' - a weekly magazine which I was a subscriber. She had reached the quarter-finals in Australia; third round at Roland Garros; fourth round at Wimbledon and semi-finals at the Flushing Meadows, New York. It was interesting to note - that both in Wimbledon and US Open, she was beaten by Steffi Graf. 

She had won her first WTA title at Filderstadt, Germany. The icing on the cake was her victory at Wimbledon's doubles partnering Helena Sukova - a feat which made her the youngest doubles winner in the history of women's tennis and the youngest Grand Slam winner in the Open era.

Wimbledon doubles title 1996 with Helena Sukova 

If 1995 was about winning the Rookie of the year, 1996 was about winning titles and progressing further. She finished second at the season conclusion WTA finals losing again to Steffi Graf in a thrilling five-setter.

Losing to Graf at the 1996 WTA finals 

For the first time in my life, my days to have a favourite player among men and ladies had finally arrived. I could boast now to my sports-geek friends whenever they asked my favourite tennis players. With a smile, I used to say - Pete Sampras and Martina Hingis! 

Wednesday 24 September 2014


A little over fifteen years after playing what many say is one of the best innings played on Indian soil, I still get goose bumps whenever I watch the innings of 136 made at Chennai.

Yes, it was played by a batsman named 'Sachin Tendulkar' - and the name itself makes one come up with opinions. After all he happens to be one of the greats this sport has ever witnessed. However, when you look at that innings in isolation, the real treat begins. After many years of watching the highlights of that particular innings, I must say 'looking in isolation' made me marvel at those strokes and the manner in which he built his innings.

It was on a Sunday - my day began with watching the highlights from the 3rd day of the Test match, the preview with the ESPN commentary panel and the live match itself. I was a fourteen year-old and subscribed to the fact and belonged to the club of people who believed - as long as Sachin is at the crease, India wins!

India started the fourth day at 40 for the loss of both the openers. They had to make 231 runs in the allotted 180 overs or less. That's a little over one run an over. Easy? Not quite. One thing was sure, if India were to bat for 180 overs, then victory was assured. The challenge was on - can Indian batsmen battle it out on a pitch that would deteriorate with time?

If ever I have seen Sachin struggle to score runs, this innings would be one of them. For a large duration of the first session, it seemed that way. After scoring a duck in the first innings, he showed a lot more intent, played for time and the merits of the Pakistani bowling attack led by their skipper Wasim Akram and Saqlain Mushtaq. First it was Dravid, then Azharuddin and out went Ganguly - all of them in the first session (never mind the last two being slightly dubious decisions).

The ball was turning and Saqlain looked threatening and on the other end Akram was menacing with his variations and angles. Sachin patiently built his innings as India went through a period where no boundary was scored for 111 balls. His fifty off 136 balls contained six boundaries and the innings of his half-century had already consumed a little over 200 minutes. Clearly, time was not the issue - but it was also not easy to score runs.

Forging a steady partnership with Nayan Mongia, Sachin started to score more freely and was in a more familiar territory. Nadeem Khan, the left-arm spinner did turn the ball square without any luck while Shahid Afridi did not pose any threat. Practically, the questions were asked by Saqlain with his variations on a turning pitch.

During those days, Saqlain Mushtaq was a bowler Pakistan heavily relied on - especially on the sub-continent wickets. He was experimental and had plenty of tricks by changing his flight, loop and angle regularly which resulted him in picking a lot of wickets. Once Sachin started to pick Saqlain with ease and score boundaries of his bowling, the chase was on and Indian victory was well on its way.

One by one Sachin tackled all the challenges, ticking one box at a time and even had luck come his way when he survived a caught-behind while on 90. And then the next two deliveries - off it went for boundaries and Tendulkar now was just two short of a wonderful hundred. He had scored 16 runs in that over and the last shot - a slog sweep which gave him a boundary also had him nurture his back.

He was in his tenth year of international cricket and a few months away from turning 26 - it was a sight one had never witnessed. It was overlooked by the commentators, spectators, viewers and possibly him too? until the time it got severe and was visibly hurting his fluency.

It didn't take much time to score a single and reach his 18th test hundred - his third in Chennai and first against Pakistan. The whole crowd erupted, gave him an thunderous applause. They knew what he had achieved until that point. He had scored a hundred fighting like an injured gladiator. India needed exactly 100 more to win the match. Victory was still a far cry.

He took just over 100 minutes to score his second fifty and 99 deliveries which had seven scoring shots to the boundary. Clearly, he was in the top gear and this was the time when I went out to play cricket as my friends had already taken to field. India would surely win and that was my belief when I stepped out.

The next 36 runs I remember is courtesy of the highlights - which appeared that night on ESPN and now available widely on YouTube. Sachin Tendulkar unleashed his array of strokes down the ground after his hundred. His innings now had a certain momentum with strokes through the covers, punch off the back foot, straight drive and hitting straight down the track. India now require 21 runs and surely Tendulkar would win it for India from here. His previous two hundreds before this - in Bangalore (vs. Australia) and in Wellington (vs. New Zealand) resulted in team losses and with 21 runs, no one even thought about India losing.

The thing about watching the highlights is that - one already knows how or what particular score did a certain event took place. I knew India had lost, I knew Sachin would get out soon! With every stroke and boundary, he tried to nurse his back and I focussed on that - as I had never seen him struggle this much while playing. His challenges were not the bowling attack - but a battle within. He was scoring freely and five hits to the boundaries, India would win the match.   He pulls a short delivery off Saqlain to the square leg boundary - 17 more runs with four wickets in hand.

He walks away from the wicket after scoring the boundary, absorbs all the pain from his troubled back, gathers all those thoughts in his mind masked to an extent by the pain. He was scoring freely and there was no need to change the strategy. Mind you, with batsmen giving him company at the other end, it was on his shoulders to carry the team and win the match. He takes the strike and Saqlain delivers a flighted delivery on the leg-side, slower in the air and Tendulkar with a big back lift tries to loft it over mid-on, mid-wicket area, instead the ball has gone up in the air and Wasim Akram takes the catch at mid-off. The commander of the Indian cricket army is out!

There was no silence as the crowd continued its applause for this champion batsman. They had seen him score these runs and also had seen him struggle with his back. A mammoth effort and the crowd gave him an standing ovation as he left the field in disappointment thinking - probably one shot too many? 

The match was over in the next 21 deliveries with India scoring just 4 more runs and Pakistan picking up the remaining three wickets. I was shell-shocked to hear this result while we were playing. Our neighbours came out to resume their normal lives had faces filled with disappointment. The talking point was - why did he play that shot? and can't our bowlers score these few runs? Believe me, that argument is still on whenever this innings is mentioned.

The last time before Chennai 1999, Pakistan visited India to play a test match was in the 1980's. It was also close to a decade since the last India - Pakistan test match (incidentally Tendulkar made his debut in that series in 1989/90). There is a rivalry of gigantic proportions when it comes to India and Pakistan and the lack of sporting contests only magnified it in 1999.

Chennai crowd gave a standing ovation to the victorious Pakistani team and they acknowledged it by doing a lap of honour. I was too young to understand the relevance of good sportsmanship - but deep down I knew what Chennai crowd that day was a gesture of goodwill. Looking back, I believe Chennai crowd saw the fight put up by the Indians and to an ardent sports fan - nothing else matters apart from that. A win would always be cherished but a defeat - it is not the end of the world!

I have seen a lot of hundreds coming from the bat of Sachin Tendulkar and also have missed a few - this one surely has to be the best one I regret not watching it completely. 

Monday 22 September 2014


Charlotte Cooper
If one looks at the involvement of women in sports, it is heartening to see the growth across the world -participating in formats which previously were considered for men. The Olympic movement has had its own evolution story when it comes to women's participation and that is only half the story. At the first modern Olympics in 1896, there were 241 athletes who took part and all were men. Compare this with the recently concluded Summer Olympics at London 2012; there were women participating from every National Olympic Committee that had sent its team. That to me happens to be the highlight of London 2012 - never mind the broadcast, internet and all the filtered figures which were reported to an all-time high.

Over the years, women's participation was in parallel to the Olympic movement itself. While the world boasted of well-known male athletes, there was little work done to provide opportunity for women to compete at the big stage. Women's growth at the Olympics was positive with each edition - but very gradual. It was zero in 1896 and in 2012, the women participation was 4,675!

Up until the 1970's, the male participation hovered around 4,000 plus athletes and in comparison the women numbers were less than thousand. This trend continued until Munich 1972 where the total number of women participants crossed 1000 for the first time and 6000 for men. From then on, it has been women participants, that are on the rise while the male participation is pretty much a constant.

These were some interesting stats I pondered over in the morning. These facts were hard to escape when I was remembering my 2005 sports quiz discovery. In 2005, while researching for the college's annual fest, I stumbled upon a lady by the name of Charlotte Cooper - who turns 144 today and has the distinction of being the first individual female Olympic champion.

Women participation at the Olympics was possible only because the games were held in Paris - so said the media and very well-known Olympic critics of that era. Interestingly it was the sport tennis which was very popular among women in the late 19th century though it being very elitist. Cooper, a British born was a Victorian woman first and then a tennis player; this was evident with the outfits that were worn by the tennis playing ladies at that time.

There were other problems that women faced. Charlotte grew up at a time when Women Suffrage movement had began and gathered momentum, demanding equal voting rights for women. She took a liking for tennis at an early age and earned her first victory at the age of 14 - something she considered as a very important moment of her illustrious life.

At the age of 23, she would win her first title at the senior's level which propelled her to the Wimbledon championships, where she would leave an ever-lasting impression on those famous green laws.

It was the year 1893 when Cooper first appeared on the famous grass courts of Wimbledon - a association which would remain till 1919. In those 26 years, a lot of events took place in her life. She had won five-singles titles, eleven finals appearances, two Olympic medals (singles and mixed-doubles), marriage to a solicitor, mother of two kids and the oldest lady singles player to win the coveted Wimbledon trophy - a Wimbledon record which stands to this date (37 years and 296 days). In addition, she was also the runner-up at the inaugural women's doubles event in 1913.

If it was Wimbledon on one side, there was also the Olympics which brought her fame and a legacy which is often recalled when one has to start a chapter on women's evolution in the Olympic movement.

1900 PARIS
The timing of the event could not have been perfect for Charlotte Cooper. One of the top ladies players going into the tournament, she had also been a three-time Wimbledon champion before representing Great Britain at the Olympics.

Six players from four nations (Great Britain, USA, France and Bohemia) participated in the debut programme of women's tennis. Three matches and three straight wins - all it took for Charlotte Cooper to become Olympic's first individual gold medallist defeating France's Hélènè Prévost 6-1, 6-4 . Cooper went on to add another gold medal to her tally and this time it was with Reginald Doherty as the British doubles team won the mixed doubles gold medal as well on the red clay courts of Il Puteaux.

The IOC until 1904 did not start the practice of awarding winning athletes with medals. The winners of the 1896 and 1900 edition were retrospectively awarded and added to the medals tally.  

Charlotte Cooper's biggest contribution towards life is that she inspired a lot of women to take up sports in the early parts of the 20th century. Not restricted to tennis, she also spent a lot of the winter time training by running and playing hockey - a sport in which she represented Surrey. Her sense of hearing was hampered by the time she was 26 and yet this ailment did not deter her to participate in future tournaments and successfully win at Wimbledon and at the Olympics. Growing up, she had the likes of Lottie Dod (5-time Wimbledon winner) and Blanche Bingley (6-time Wimbledon winner) who won regularly; Cooper joined the duo and inspired the next generation of ladies tennis players.

After becoming the Olympic champion, she married a solicitor Alfred Sterry (six years younger) and raised two children Rex and Gwyneth. Marital life with children did not deter her from giving up tennis. She continued playing tennis with best of the players well into her 50's.

Not only she holds the record for being the oldest Wimbledon champ, she also won her final title after being a mother of two and since 1908 only two have managed to win a Wimbledon title - Dorthea Lambert Chambers and Evonne Goolagong Cawley. Charlotte held the record for most Wimbledon consecutive finals appearances (eight) before that record was broken in 1990 by Martina Navratilova when made her ninth consecutive finals appearance against Zina Garrison.

Upon retirement, she took a lot of interest to help the next generation of tennis players and was seen regularly at the championships right in to her 90's. Her son Rex served as a committee member of the All-England Lawn Tennis club for many years while his sister, Gwyneth represented Great Britain in Wightman Cup and also at the Wimbledon.

Charlotte Cooper - one of the first in women tennis to use overhead serves 
The story of Cooper is not just limited to tennis. She happens to be one of the first 22 women who took part in the 1900 Summer Olympics - a number which now is in thousands and increasing with each edition. (Till date 35,510 female athletes have taken part at the Summer Olympics when compared with 108,982 male athletes)

So how do we remember on her 144th birthday - when even the founders of the modern Olympic movement (IOC) have made no mention of her on website or on twitter.

Maybe she is just a name... or a past time story, or a piece of treasure for sports historians and tennis fans, or an example of a balanced lifestyle, longevity; an athlete in possession of a record or a very good trivia question or I am trying to fit in lines to make her life size legendary......... or in simple words, I would like to remember her to be the first talking point if one has to talk about Women at the Olympics! 

Thursday 18 September 2014


At the end of the day, it was probably worth the wait. After following F1 for a good nine years (since 1999), it was about time to catch the action of Formula One on the circuit. It was my dream to watch a race live and that race happened to be the inaugural Singapore Grand Prix.

Up until 2008, there were races all around the globe and F1 had touched all the continents barring Antarctica. Singapore offered a new variety - the concept of night race which in Formula One was unheard of. Like me, everyone else was looking forward to how it would pan out and whether visibility issues will be the major talking point. History was in the making and I for once did not want to let go of this opportunity.

Four Ferrari fans from Bangalore among countless others from the world decide to make a trip to Singapore. Believe it or not, I was so excited that - tickets were booked even before the cars were shipped to Australia for the first race of the season. A good seven months in advance!

Four Ferrari fans... thrilled before the race and disappointed by the end of it

This iconic night race was scheduled in September. Looking back at those months leading up to the race, I must admit I was such an innocent F1 fan. I had absolutely no interest in the politics that went behind the track. All that was important to me was what happened on the track barring for some snippets on cars and driver's development before the new season. What a stress-free F1 fan life it was! Now, I am unable to get over the Piranha Club, the PEST (Political, Environmental, Social and Technological) aspects of Formula One.

I am still a fan - but a great degree of innocence associated with it has been lost. I guess, this is a small price one pays for getting access to more information about the sport. And the eternal battle goes on continuously to retain just the fan element these days, whenever I watch the race. I am happy I was a different soul when it came to being a fan back in 2008.

All excited to witness the first ever night race 

One particular disadvantage visiting a city during a F1 weekend is that - it is over-crowded. Be it any place, there is absolutely no iota of space just for yourself on the streets. To top it, this was a street race circuit and with it gone were the famous roads of Singapore city.

The buzz was to be seen all around. Many offers up for grabs, promotional events at each of the busy streets and inside the malls. I lost count of the number of malls we got to see. The weather was humid and all we did was to see as many places as possible during the day and head to the circuit in the evenings.

The sound of an F1 car sounds so different on TV and whilst you are in the circuit. We had our seats on the Marina Bay stand which sat between the Esplanade Theatre Bay and the Marina Promenade Park. It was an evening carnival - with people most of huge fans of F1 not shying away from showing where their loyalties lay.  

On the qualifying Saturday, it was not a surprise to see Felipe Massa claim the pole position for Ferrari. He had emerged as a championship contender and was trailing Lewis Hamilton by a point leading into this race. Kimi Raikkonen, the defending champion qualified 3rd making the evening truely Ferrari's.

In retrospect, the race turned out a bummer for all the Ferrari fans. To cut the long story short, Massa led Hamilton and Raikkonen for the first phase of the race. Alonso driving for Renault pits first on lap 12. His team mate Nelson Piquet Jr, crashes out on Turn 17 two laps later - right in front of our grand stand. Safety car comes in and all the cars queue behind the slowest car on track. The pit lane was closed till the time all cars were behind the safety car.

It was a chaos once the pits were open. Massa and the Ferrari team panicked as the car was released with part of the fuel hose attached to the car. A potential hazard with fuel spilling all over, Massa stopped at the end of the pit lane while Ferrari mechanics ran to attend him. In a circuit, which resembles Monaco for its disadvantage on overtaking, Massa's race was well and truely compromised. With FIA penalising Ferrari for unsafe release, Massa had to serve a stop-go penalty. He was now the last car on track and had to rely purely on fate! Raikkonen also lost time as he had queued behind Massa during the pits. It was now anybody's race.

Alonso was the only driver who seemed to have gained from the safety car period. All he did after the first round of pit stops was to drive his Renault to its optimum and look after the tyres. His persistence paid off as he took the lead midway to the race finish and never looked threatened from rest of the pack. Yes, he did top the time sheets on the final practice - but his victory was more attributed to the strategy and a little bit of luck - a fact which he iterated at the post-race press conference.

Little did I know... a few hours later, this car would end up winning 

We were disappointed as both the Ferraris did not finish the race. And it was such a race where things tend to happen in a flash! No comfort of watching the replays - though there were live screens in front of us big and clear. All did not matter or those that mattered were short-lived; the thrill of being part of the history took care of it all.

A small part of F1 history 

A year later, we all got to know the Renault team under the leadership of Flavio Briatore staged the crash of Nelson Piquet Jr. on purpose. Briatore was subsequently banned by FIA and Nelson Piquet Jr. will have to be contended with the fact - that his only claim to fame is him being the son of a former three- time world champion.

Early this year while holidaying in Singapore, I managed to walk on the race track which also serves as a public road. I recollected several of my memories from 2008 - my first race on track, meeting the original fan club of Kimi Raikkonen, getting to look at some of the vintage cars, hearing the sounds of the F1 cars as they accelerate and brake, walking on the circuit after the race and meeting some of the F1 enthusiasts who like us were witnessing their first race.

All smiles with the Finnish fans of Kimi Raikkonen 

Looking at the editions leading up to this year's Singapore GP, very little has changed. Safety cars appear each year (a record), drivers are pretty much the same from 2008 and with regards to popularity, it still retains that 'aura' and has inspired other circuits (Abu Dhabi and Bahrain) to use lights for the race.

My professional life and to a large extent my personal life changed after this race as within a month I got admitted to do my Sports Masters - something which I had not expected to come through whilst I was at the race in Singapore. A career shift, discussing various aspects among the sports enthusiasts, meeting a new friend who now is my partner; travelling, writing, cooking, understanding cultures, reading, visiting a lot of F1 circuits and other sporting events. All the sporting evolution in me has come at a cost - losing the innocence of being a sports fan. I must say, devil is in the detail or perhaps this is how one grows up!

Taken in January 2014 - the view of the grand stand and the infamous Nelson Piquet Jr's crash 

However, if I look at the interval of my life between then and now - I can confidently say it has been a wonderful, inspiring, humbling, learning, challenging and a journey worth every minute of it as I look forward this week's Singapore Grand Prix and beyond.