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National Games begins with a different flavour in colourful Gujarat


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The host state has made rapid progress at the national level and are targeting a top-five finish.





There was an unmistakable buzz at the picturesque Sabarmati Riverfront Complex as two-time Olympic medallist PV Sindhu entered the arena. Young volunteers excitedly ran up to her to click pictures and take selfies even as Sindhu soaked in the serene ambience on a warm Thursday afternoon.

One of India’s top tennis stars and home girl Ankita Raina had just won her singles match in the gorgeous backdrop of a shining yet quaint Sabarmati river, quite unlike a usual tennis venue. The stunning venue will also hold rowing and skateboarding competitions.

In Vadodara, Tokyo Olympics gold medallist Neeraj Chopra, too, received a rapturous welcome at a garba venue and won hearts once he showed his dandia moves.

By the evening, the city was drowned in euphoria, tapping its feet to the snappy dandiya beats as the National Games was declared open by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a stadium named after him in a colourful opening ceremony. Banners of PM Modi and chief minister Bhupendrabhai Patel, with the theme of ‘Judega India, Jeetega India’ adorned the entrance of stadiums and in every nook and corner in the city.

“I will tell athletes who have assembled from across the country that along with sport, they should also enjoy the festivities of Navaratri. Gujarat will leave no stone unturned to welcome you all. I saw how Neeraj Chopra was enjoying garba. The happiness of the festival connects Indians and inspires us,” said PM Modi amid applause.

That’s how one expects this edition of the National Games to unfold– a grand combination of sports and festival. Gujarat, in all its resplendent glory, will be cheering for around 9000 athletes who will compete in 35 sports across six cities.

“This euphoric scene, this environment is beyond words,” he said. “This is the world's largest stadium, hosting the largest sports event of the nation with the youngest population. We can see the enthusiasm here. The National Games will be a launchpad for athletes. I wish them all the best”

Emphasising that sport shapes the character of youth and helps in nation-building, Modi said it has given the best facilities to sportspersons and raised the profile of sports.

“Earlier, our sportspersons used to participate in less than 100 international events, now they compete in more than 300 international events. Eight years before, they used to compete in 20-25 events, now they participate in more than 40 games. Our athletes are making us proud. India’s medal count is increasing and India had the most successful Olympics in Tokyo. The Target Olympic Podium scheme has brought a big change,” said Modi who also inaugurated the state-of-the-art Swarnim Gujarat Sports University in Vadodara during the ceremony.

India’s top sporting icons Neeraj, Mirabai Chanu, PV Sindhu, Ravi Dahiya, Anju Bobby George, Gagan Narang, Dilip Tirkey were also present.

While Modi lauded Gujarat's ability to organise such a big event in less than three months, chief minister Bhupendra Bhai Patel gave a reminder of the state's aspirations to host the Olympics.

“After seven years, the National Games are being held. It was a dream of the Hon PM and the Gujarat govt did it in three months. The government has given great support to sport and I hope that we host the Olympics here in 2036,” said Patel

The home athletes had no doubts that Gujarat was equipped to host a big multi-sport event like the National Games, since it has invested in infrastructure and nurtured sports at the grassroots levels through Khel Mahakumbh competition since 2010.

“The state has encouraged and supported sportspersons for a long time and it was time that an event of this magnitude was held,” said Ankita Raina, who took the Fairplay oath at the opening ceremony. “I was nervous and excited.”

The Khel Mahakumbh, which became the foundation upon which Khelo India was built, has competitions at every level in a range of sports – from school to district and state level cutting across different age groups. It goes on for three months and athletes also get cash awards.

“Sports was already developing and now with such a big event of national level, youth will get encouraged to take part,” said triathlete Pragnya Mohan who competed at the Commonwealth Games.

Gujarat has made rapid progress at the national level and this time they are targeting a top-five finish with medals in table tennis, swimming, triathlon and shooting. They finished 9th in the previous Games in Kerala.

One of the home stars in action will be Tokyo Olympian Maana Patel. The 22-year-old was in terrific form at the senior national championships recently winning four gold, two bronze and the best women’s swimmer award.

“I was hoping to take a break and enjoy Navratari festival with my family after a long time but now I will have a big responsibility of winning medals for my home state. I am excited because it gives me an opportunity to swim in front of my family and friends,” says the 22-year-old backstroke champion.


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