Sunday, February 25, 2018

Guide to Women's Sports Teams


Ajit Chaudhuri – February 2018

Like most sports addict, I watch women’s sports on TV for the sports and not the women, and am therefore largely indifferent to whether the players resemble models on a catwalk or prison guards in drag. It is, however, difficult to escape the observation that women’s sports are becoming increasingly pleasing to the eye for non-sports reasons. Frumpiness is out, and decked up players in designer ware are in; today, watching even women’s shot put and discus throw (difficult to watch in earlier times without questioning the validity of gender testing) has one alternating between the ‘sports’ and ‘women’ sections of the brain.

This note is to remember those occasions when I went ‘wow!!!’ and thanked God for the gift of eyesight, when a medal podium resembled a Miss Universe line-up, and when even a sports fanatic like me was distracted. I am going to list out the best-looking women sports teams I have seen across a life misspent in front of the sports channels on TV. And I am going to restrict myself to teams (and not individual sportswomen) that have some serious sporting achievement and are therefore much more than cosmetic eye candy. Here goes, in reverse chronological order –

1.    The Russian Chess team that took gold at the 2012 Chess Olympiad in Istanbul (Turkey)

Left to right are Ms. N. Kosintseva, Ms. Pogonina, Trainer Rublevsky, Ms. Kosteniuk, Ms. Gunina and Ms. T. Kosintseva

Home Town
Tatiana Kosintseva
Valentina Gunina
Nadezhda Kosintseva
Alexandra Kosteniuk
Natalia Pogonina

Whoever said that ‘brains multiplied by beauty is equal to a constant’ would eat his words at the sight of this team; beauty, achievement, and something more – something that points to the vastness and diversity of their country, which is why I have included their respective hometowns. Anyone familiar with Russia would know that the places cut a swathe from its north-western to its south-eastern corners; from the Arctic Ocean and the Barents Sea via the Ural Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, from the Norwegian to the Korean borders, with a seven-hour time difference between the eastern and western most locations.

2.    The Turkish Volleyball team that took bronze at the 2011 European Championships in Italy and Serbia

This team consisted of a golden generation of volleyball players who were hugely popular in their home country (they were dubbed the ‘Sultanas of the Net’) and burst onto my sensitivities with a victory over the home team (Italy) in the quarter-finals of the 2011 Euros before losing to eventual champions Serbia in the semis and defeating Germany for the bronze medal. I am going to stop at naming only those that particularly caught my eye for a combination of sporting and non-sporting reasons. Among them, Ms. Toksoy won the prize for the best server of the competition, and Ms. Demir for the best scorer.

Image result for turkey volleyball women 2011

No. in Photo
Bahar Toksoy
Middle Blocker
1.90 m
5 (I think)
Neriman Ozsoy
Outside Spiker
1.88 m
Gizem Guresen
1.76 m
Neslihan Demir
Outside Spiker
1.87 m

There are history lessons here – Ms. Ozsoy (if there was a prize for the woman I would most like to enter a room on my arm with when my football team and assorted male peers are waiting inside, she would be among those seriously considered) is from Razgrad in Bulgaria, which would have been part of the Ottoman Empire a little more than a century ago and wherein still reside a large Turkish minority.

3.    The Dutch 4x100 Freestyle Relay swimming team that took bronze at the 2004 Athens Olympics

Chantal Groot
Inge Dekker
Merleen Veldhuis
Inge de Bruijn

This team is a little lopsided in ability, achievement and, to a lesser extent, in looks; Ms. De Bruijn first caught my eye for purely aesthetic reasons as a young also-ran in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, and then I saw her again in Sydney 2000 taking gold in both sprints and the 100 fly (and setting world records in all three). She became the oldest ever Olympic individual swimming champion when she took gold in the 50 free in Athens, a few days after the race that is featured on this list. The other three hold their own in the looks category, and this was one medal handover ceremony that was worth a watch even if one missed the race itself. The photo has, from left, Ms. Groot, Ms. de Bruijn, Ms. Dekker and Ms. Veldhuis.

Image result for de bruijn groot dekker veldhuis

4.    The Brazilian Volleyball team that took bronze at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics

Until the 1996 Olympics, for me, sports were sports and women were women and ‘ne’er the twain did meet’. It was the women’s volleyball that had me crossing lines – the quality of volleyball was fantastic, and the players were stunning. Brazil in particular took my breath away, and no non-Brazilian was sadder when they lost a close semi-final to Cuba. The bronze medal match against Russia, also stacked with beauties and a very animated coach called Karpov (I continue to think of him when I see someone going ballistic during time-outs) was a feast for the eyes.

Ida Alvares
1.78 m
Fernanda Venturini
Middle Blocker
1.80 m
Leila Barros
Opposite Spiker
1.79 m
Ana Moser
Outside Spiker
1.85 m

5.    The Indian 4x400 Relay team in the athletics at the 1984 LA Olympics

They came in 7th and more than 14 seconds behind the gold medallists, but an Indian women’s team in an Olympic relay final was one hell of an achievement – never before, never again (the current crop spend more time running away from dope testers than running on the track). They did not shame in the looks department either, with Ms. Rao and Ms. Abraham, who ended up marrying an Indian swimming champion (I wonder what their children are doing), having the ability to set any catwalk afire. Ms. Usha had also finished fourth (missing a bronze by 0.01 second) in the 400 Hurdles at the same games, and whenever I need a reminder on the value of time I think of her. I had the pleasure of traveling on the same flight as her once, in the 1990s, and I shamelessly went up and asked her for an autograph – something I would never consider doing for any film star, cricketer or assorted celebrity.

MD Valsamma
Vandana Rao
Shiny Abraham
PT Usha

The picture has, from left, Ms. Rao, Ms. Usha, Ms. Abraham and Ms. Valsamma.


Ajit Chaudhuri said...

Beauty and Brains ................... Loved it !!!

Your combination and permutation of words deeply win hearts.

Adityam Dutta

Ajit Chaudhuri said...

Thanks Ajit bhai!

I salute you for taking autograph of PT Usha.

Akhil Paul

Ajit Chaudhuri said...

Akhir dil hai Hindustani.

But yes I really was a fan of P T Usha’s legs.

Am surprised no gymnastics team figured!

Sachin Sachdeva

Ajit Chaudhuri said...

Couldn't agree more. The Russian chess team was a revelation for me though I remember the Indian relay team well...what a stunner!

Dr. A. Khan

Ajit Chaudhuri said...

Whoa! What a lovely list!

Since this is a subjective selection, may I throw in the England ladies football team of 2015?

Sourav Roy

Ajit Chaudhuri said...

Good stuff, Ajit…I might start watching women’s sports, starting with chess when the Russians play!

Pratap Gupta

Ajit Chaudhuri said...

I enjoyed reading the Indian component. It brought back memories.

Sudhir Rao