Hail the golden girls
With ambition of eclipsing their previous medal-hunt record, hosts Bangladesh had virtually pinned all their hopes on the male athletes when the 11th South Asian Games got underway 12 days ago. However, it all came as a surprise as the female athletes grabbed gold to eventually take Bangladesh close to their target.
Except for athletics, swimming and shooting, female athletes got very little opportunity to compete in the regional sporting extravaganza in previous meetings. But this time the hosts have created good opportunity for the female athletes in badminton, table tennis, archery, kabaddi, karate, taekwondo and wushu, all these disciplines are less popular in Bangladesh compared to cricket, football and hockey.
Prior to these Games, Bangladesh's golden girls -- Kazi Shahana Parvin and Sabrina Sultana -- had only been confined to shooting, but the scenario has changed drastically this time around with girls bringing gold in diverse disciplines such as karate, taekwondo and wushu, apart from the goldmine of shooting.
Bangladesh's female athletes, most of whom come from low-income families, did an excellent job to win medals in the Games and made the nation proud even though they are less than half (101) in numbers compared to the male contingent (231).
The hosts had pinned high expectations on shooter Sharmin Akhter Ratna, karatekas Jaw U Pru, swimmer Dolly Akhter, hurdler Sumita Rani along with male athletes -- shooter Asif Hossain Khan, swimmer Rubel Rana, weightlifter Hamidul Islam, golfer Jamal Hossain Mollah, high jumper Sajib Hossain, judokas Habibur Rahman, Sushil Chandra Mohanta, boxers Nadim Hossain, Abdur Rahim and wrestler Billal Hossain.
The gold spree started with shooter Ratna and ended with katareka Moreom Khatun Bipasha.
Ratna and karateka Jaw U Pru kept their pledges but some female athletes, who were out of the focus even at the official press briefing before the start of the Games, pulled off unexpected results to hog the limelight from the word go and put their male counterparts behind.
Of the 18 gold medals Bangladesh so far have grabbed, eight came through the female athletes, who grabbed the opportunity with both hands to prove that they are very much capable of doing good on the international stage.
Besides the golden girls, some other female athletes went close to winning gold for the nation, but luck was not on their side and they had to be content with silver medals.
Hurdler Sumita Rani lost to an Indian by hundredth of a second in photo finish while swimmer Mahfuza Khatun also saw gold slip through her grasp only for 0.14 microseconds. Both of them could have been Bangladesh's first female sprinter and swimmer to win gold in international circuit.
"What I believe is that female athletes were serious during their long-term practice and were also determined to do well in the Games. Besides their eagerness to do something for the nation has inspired them a lot which I think was the main reason behind their success," said Hamida Begum, former National Sports Council assistant director and former athlete.
Another former athlete and national awards winner Qumrun Nahar Dana said the female athletes grabbed the opportunity with both hands through their individual skills.
"Except two or three disciplines, there was very little room to perform for the female athletes earlier but this time around they were given enough space to prove themselves and they did not fail to show their potential," Dana said. "The results of the female athletes could have been even better had the organisers provided them with more practice matches as well as finished the venues much before the start of the Games."
Nevertheless, it is now evident that long-term training can bring good results. The gold medalists and the female organisers urged the authorities concerned to continue with the training as well as ensure their future.
"It will be a momentary success if the government does not continue with the training after the completion of the Games. Besides, the authorities concerned have to resume the school, college and university competitions chasing in on the SA Games success as well as creating more jobs in the government sectors," urged Dana, who, however, did not feel comfortable to get her two children involved in sports thinking about their future.
"Nowadays, female athletes are coming from low-income groups and we should change this trend. Only the government can change it through creating more jobs opportunities for the athletes," opined Dana.
The golden girls are Sharmin Akhter Ratna, Syeda Sadia Sultana, Tripti Datta (shooting team event), Sharmin Akhter Ratna (individual event), Eti Islam (U-52 kg Wushu), Jaw U Pru (karate individual kata event), Moreom Khatun Bipasha (karate 45kg), Jaw U Pru, Munni Khanom and U Chinu Marma (karate team kata) Sharmin Farjana Rumi (Teakwondo) Shammi Akhter (Taekwondo).
Silver girls are Sumita Rani (100m hurdles), Mahfuza Khatun (50m and 100m breaststroke),Sayeda Sadia Sultana (10m air rifles), Sumita, Jasmin Akther, Shamsun Nahar Chumki and Ishrat Jahan Chumki (4X100m relay), Sabrina Sultna, Trippti Datta and Sharmin Silpa (50m Rifles 3 position team event).