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A historic relay sans legends

By Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI, JUNE 10. The film stars provided the glamour; the sports personalities, though outnumbered, tried to put up a `shining' front. Many of them wondered where some of the legends were. The Olympic Torch relay on Thursday was witnessed by a sizeable crowd, lining up on either side of the streets of the Capital.

Mostly they came to see the cine stars. Neither the bystanders nor the television commentators nor the mediamen managed to recognise a majority of the runners. Yes, the Bollywood stars were recognised and so, too, the cricketers and a few other sportspersons. The rest comprised lesser known sportspersons, corporate bosses, students, chosen through special contests, physically challenged and partially blind youngsters and media personalities.

The Indian Olympic Association (IOA) President, Suresh Kalmadi, under pressure from the media in explaining the absence of some of the household names in Indian sports during a rare event, especially P.T. Usha and Prakash Padukone, said on Wednesday that the relay was allotted to Delhi and it was meant for sportspersons who were based in and around Delhi. It was not an awe-inspiring sight to see just a handful of Olympians out of a dozen runners who did the last stretch down the Rajpath, the most important segment in the whole relay. Just imagine a line-up that could have been, of Milkha Singh, P.T. Usha, Prakash Padukone, Ramanathan Krishnan, Leslie Claudius, Ajitpal Singh, Gurbachan Singh Randhawa, Sriram Singh, P.K. Banerjee, Geet Sethi, P. Gopi Chand, and Karnam Malleswari. (We have to presume Viswanathan Anand, Leander Paes and Michael Ferreira would have been unavailable.)

Ajitpal, captain of the 1975 World Cup winning hockey team, who was critical of the "trivialisation'' of the event, was one of the early runners. Sriram Singh, of the Montreal Olympics fame, was there, somewhere along the route; Randhawa opted out, conveniently citing medical grounds. He was obviously unhappy with the obscure Darya Ganj slot that was given to him.

Malleswari was tucked away near the Humayun's Tomb. As the only individual Olympic medallist in the field, she deserved a much better `slot'.

Milkha was given the honour of handing over the torch to the final runner, Anjali Vedpathak at the National Stadium. And yet, he made it clear on more than one occasion, in his interaction with mediamen that he was not at all happy with the way some of the outstanding sportspersons of the country were ignored for this relay.

The film stars, too, voiced their concern. "Only sportsmen should do this'' run, said Aamir Khan. "They should have been here,'' said Rahul Bose about those prominent sportspersons who were missed.

No one would have complained about the film stars or the corporate bosses running alongside the sportspersons had the IOA done a fair job. "I would have liked to run alongside the `Payyoli Express','' said Vivek Oberoi. The Mumbai film star perhaps summed up the feelings of those for whom the Olympic spirit and values mean much more than money and glamour.

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