Abu Dhabi: Expectations were exceeded as the Indian skating team bagged 49 medals on the fast wooden courts at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC) despite facing 14 gold-medal disqualifications.
"Each and every athlete made a 10-second faster round than the average round," said coach Prabhat Sharma, who was himself surprised after the results were announced.
India got the maximum number of gold medals in roller skating with 13 gold, 20 silver, and 16 bronze medals. Goa's Harshad Goankar (300m and 500m race) and Priya Kumari (300m and 1000m) won two gold medals each in their respective divisions.
However, they could have bagged more medals in the event but the officials were not impressed by the efforts. At the Special Olympics, the referees can disqualify athletes if they find them surpassing the degree of a specific category. In India's case, a handful of skaters covered races with exceptional timings, leading to a disqualification.
"The timings that we gave before the event were different. The officials told us to make the changes if we see improvements. We changed them but while there were drastic changes in their performance on the court that was beyond our expectations," the coach added.
Back in India, the skaters trained on a completely different surface than what they played on in Abu Dhabi. The tracks were surprisingly faster and the players couldn't figure out how they outperformed most of their opponents. Looking at the major difference in the timings, 14 Indian skaters saw disqualification.
"There is a rule which says if an athlete found cheating will be disqualified. But we did not cheat. It was a faster track. We went and spoke to the head referee, even he agreed. There was a huge difference, that's all," said the Sharma.
Sharma further explained that Kota stone courts, a fine-grained variety of limestone, quarried at Kota district in Rajasthan, are used in India. "There are wooden tracks here. Our athletes found it faster. These wheels are specifically meant for tracks like these hence they were faster. We use courts made of Kota stone and race on a smaller track," he said.
Just like the other teams, the skaters come from different parts of the country. There are 26 athletes and five coaches. The skaters underwent four national camps in order to prepare for the World Games. They were held in Gurgaon, Rajasthan, Hyderabad and Delhi last year where these athletes train on a relatively smaller court.
"Here the size of the court is 100 meters, while in India we only have 60 meter-long courts and the Kota stone tracks are hard tracks. A tile-like marble is used for making interiors. In India, we have to take three turns to finish the race, while here we had to take two turns. That was also the difference," he concluded.
The writer is in Abu Dhabi on an invitation from the UAE Government.