Gaurika Singh, the Nepal’s swimming sensation, was for the second time the headline of almost all the national newspaper front pages on Tuesday as the country wrapped up the 13th South Asian Games with unprecedented success.
The 16-year-old, who lives in Britain, set a new record for the country by winning four gold, two silver and three bronze medals as Nepal finished second in the medals tally behind India with 51 gold, 50 silver and 95 bronze medals. India, despite not sending their best contingent, finished well ahead of the others, scooping 312 medals, 174 of which were gold.
Gaurika had earlier fetched the landlocked country their first gold medal in SA Games history on Day 2 of the swimming competition as Nepal complemented their past successes by widening their medal-haul across disciplines.
The Himalayan nation may still be dependent heavily on martial art events for a majority of medals, but the splash in swimming, boxing and athletics undeniably gave their long-term planning and training a grand success.
That is in stark contrast to Bangladesh, who had brought a 462-member team to Kathmandu and Pokhara with only five months’ training, and despite finishing with their best-ever haul of 142 medals -- 19 gold, 33 silver and 90 bronze -- the country continued to fall behind in major disciplines of the Games.
Following Mahfuza Khatun Shila’s surprising twin gold medals in India three years ago, Bangladeshi officials had started to dream about swimming, which brought Bangladesh a plethora of gold medals in the early years of this regional meet. However, swimmers failed to win a single gold medal for the country.
Bangladesh’s most recognisable male swimmer, Mahfuzur Rahman Sagar, who had won seven bronze medals, finished with a single bronze, a result which prompted him to quit international swimming the night swimming events concluded. Bangladesh won only three silver and eight bronze medals from swimming competitions.
Athletics, the most attractive discipline of any multi-sport extravaganza, continued its decline with only one silver and one bronze medal being won from those events.
Also frustrating was the fact that Bangladesh managed only two bronze medals in four other major Olympic events -- football, basketball, handball and volleyball -- while athletes of five disciplines are leaving Nepal empty-handed.
Shooting, the most successful discipline for Bangladesh in SA Games’ history, yielded no gold medals for only the second time, while kabaddi, Bangladesh’s national sport, yielded just a single bronze.
It was only due to disciplines like archery and karate, the less popular yet better managed ones, that Bangladesh managed to end the regional event with plenty of medals.
Archers created history by sweeping all ten gold medals while martial art events such as karate, judo, taekwondo and wushu contributed 53 medals, including four golds.
Weightlifting, like karate, was one of Bangladesh’s face-saving disciplines while the cricket teams met expectations by winning gold in both men’s and women’s events.
Bangladesh Olympic Association secretary general Syed Shahed Reza was present at most of the venues in Kathmandu and Pokhara. Although he was pleased with the overall performance, Reza admitted that some disciplines were disappointing while hoping that long-term planning in selective disciplines with promise would help fetch the country more medals.
“I am really very happy. We achieved almost close to what we had hoped for. We missed a few gold medals by small margins. If we can select a few sports and train athletes long-term, we can have a much better haul in future,” Reza said.