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Waiting for India's first gold medal

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Matthew Pinsent | 15:49 UK time, Monday, 4 October 2010

At the last three big events I've attended as a BBC reporter, I've been given the job of tracking the first gold medal for the host nation.

In Beijing, I was off to the shooting to see if world and defending 2004 Olympic champion Du Li could get the Chinese off to a flyer in the 10m rifle. She couldn't and later confessed to feeling that the crowd put pressure on her rather than urging her on.

At the Vancouver Winter Olympics, Canada's athletes put in a fantastic performance, finishing top of the medal table. But that was by the end of the Games - they had to wait until day three before the floodgates could be prised apart by Alexandre Bilodeau in the men's moguls.

There was an added sense of history given that in their two previous home Games - in Montreal in 1976 and Calgary 1988 - not one single Canadian had won gold. Bilodeau simply said: "I'm happy to get the party started."

In Sydney, for the Olympics in 2000, the Australians famously scheduled the women's triathlon on the morning of day one because their squad was so strong. There was even suggestion of a podium sweep - but that obviously failed to account for Brigitte McMahon of Switzerland, who edged out Michelle Jones of Australia by just two seconds.

The Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002 was a happier story for the Aussies as they opened the event by winning the 1m springboard diving with Irina Lashko.

In 2006, India won the first gold medal of the Melbourne Games, with Kunjarani Devi Nameirakpam winning a women's weightlifting with .

This time around, India have set the target of 100 medals in Delhi, aiming to finish second behind Australia in the table, so a good start on day one would have lifted a whole team and set a stiff challenge.

But knowing the historical precedents, it was more in hope than expectation that I went off to the weightlifting venue on Monday to see if Soniya Chanu could upset the trend.

Indian weightlifter Soniya Chanu

Soniya Chanu at the weightlifting medal ceremony. Picture: AP.

Weightlifting is a brilliant spectator sport - a mix of tactics and raw power that makes it intricate and exciting at the same time. The weight starts at a relatively achievable level and moves ever upwards.

Competitors decide when they want to come in and get a total of three attempts to get it above their heads, first in one movement - the snatch - then in two - the clean and jerk. Chanu was certainly going well in the snatch portion but, in the last two lifts, Nigeria's Augustina Nwaokolo established a 4kg advantage.

As the weaker competitors fell away, it became a shoot-out, with Nwaokolo breaking Commonwealth records to put Chanu right up against it.

The Indian favourite had to throw it all in with a last gasp attempt at 103kg - an amazing weight given she tipped the scales at less than 48kg. In the end, it was too much and her collapse to the platform meant the first gold went to Nigeria.

There is, of course, no shame in finishing second, especially when you achieve the performance target that you set for yourself when it matters most. Indeed, India won both the silver (with Chanu) and bronze with Sandiya Rani.

But Chanu burst into tears in the media area afterwards (under questioning from Indian reporters). When she had recovered, I asked her if she was proud of her achievement.

Her slow, silent shake of the head spoke volumes.


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