Nepali Times
Bagging SAG 06

hen the 10th South Asian Games open in Colombo on Friday, hopes are high among the 216 athletes, and 30 coaches and officials that make up the Nepali team. The sub-continental sporting extravaganza from 18-28 August will bring over 1,500 athletes from SAARC countries to Sri Lanka.

The Nepali players, many of whom are former South Asian Federation Games (as it was formerly called) gold medallists and others hopeful for a silver or bronze, will compete in 18 of the 20 different sporting events, rowing and hockey being the other two.

Nepal's past performance has been commendable considering the lack of resources and proper training facilities for the athletes. We ranked second in the 8th SAFG held in Kathmandu in 1999, winning 65 medals, including 31 golds. Our performance in the 9th SAFG in Pakistan was slightly poorer with 33 medals and seven golds.

This time, the daily allowance of Rs 450 to each athlete during the training period and $20 during the games hasn't been raised, but there is plenty to look forward to with everyone from the athletes to the coaches being very positive about Nepal\'s chances. Some of the events we think Nepali athletes are likely to do well in are:

Football is the single most important and eagerly awaited event for Nepali sports fans. All eyes are on the national football team, ranked 164 in the FIFA World Ranking and placed in Group B along with Bangladesh and
Afghanistan. Nepal won its first football gold in the 6th SAFG held in 1993. This time with young, energetic players like Pradeep Maharjan, Santosh Saukhala, Anjan KC, Nirajan Khadka, Bisan Gauchan and Jumanu Rai, there is no doubt that Nepal will go a long way.

In the opening match on Monday with old rival Bangladesh, Santosh Saukhala from the Armed Police Force scored an equaliser in a penalty awarded to the team minutes before the whistle blew after injury time, ending the game at one goal each. On Wednesday Saukhala managed to save the day again, scoring a goal against India's one-up ending the game at one all.

Nepal's victory in the 10th SAG largely depends on how we perform in taekwondo. As the sport that has brought Nepali athletes like Deepak Bista and women's fly weight champ Sangina Baidya fame and applause, Nepal is aiming for at least 13 gold medals. Despite a recent minor surgery, Sangina hopes to perform well. Coach Kwan Hyuk Joong is confident the team of eight men and five women will do well and perhaps even set new records.

Nine male Nepali boxers, all from the Nepal Army or the Armed Police Force, will fight in the ring. We have fairly good boxers, but ultimately it's stamina and talent that takes the gold so we might just have to cross our fingers.

Martial arts has always been Nepal\'s speciality and karate is a favourite. Our main competition will come from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, who are likely to make the most of their home turf advantage. However, Nepal may still be able to repeat its past performances. Dipak Shrestha, with two golds to his credit, is the one to look out for among the team of 11 men and seven women.

Nepal's track and field record isn't all that bad. Although India and Sri Lanka have dominated the medal podium in recent times, Baikuntha Manandhar's 2 hours 15 minutes and 3 second marathon record during the 3rd SAFG in Calcutta in 1987 still holds. We definitely have something to look forward from the 14 runners representing Nepal.

In the past Nepal's performance had always been hindered by ageing equipment. But this time, the national team has just received a brand new arsenal of five rifles and six pistols manufactured by Walther (of James Bond fame). With the new weapons, the shooters are more confident. India, however, remains the big challenge with its world-class shooters. The men's and women's teams are both made up of six shooters-three each for pistols and rifles, competing for a total of eight gold medals.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)