Palembang, August 21 (PTI) It was a 'victory in defeat' for the Indian men's sepak takraw team which settled for its maiden Asian Games bronze medal after being beaten by a formidable Thailand in the semi-finals here today.
The Indian men's regu team lost to Thailand 0-2 but picked up a bronze as both the losing semifinalists are also awarded a medal.
Sepaktakraw, which directly translates to kick the ball, has been part of the Games program since 1990. India has participated since the 2006 edition and is slowly catching with the South East Asian countries, where the sport has a huge following.
Thailand has won a whopping 22 gold medals at the Games and Myanmar is a distant second in the list with five gold.
The Indian team was training in Thailand for the past two months and that made a huge difference, according to chief coach Hem Raj.
"The only way is up for these boys. The government has put us in the priority sport list and we will continue to repay their faith with good performances," an ecstatic Raj told PTI.
Eight of the 12 members of the squad are from Manipur and the rest from Delhi.
The sport is quite popular in Manipur, primarily because of its proximity to Myanmar.
"Yes, that is how the sport became so popular in Manipur. It is close to Myanmar and it has always been easy to source equipment from there. Now we use synthetic balls but back in the day, we used to get balls made of bamboo. That was the traditional way of playing the sport," said another team official Muhindro Singh Thokchom.
Football is also popular in the Northeast and that is another reason why most India players are coming from that region, including captain Niken Singh and Alaksh Yumnam, the acrobatic striker who earlier used to play the 'beautiful game'.
"Compared to people from the other parts of India, people from Manipur pick up the sport faster. They are naturally agile and very skillful with their feet. But slowly the game is getting popular in other parts of the country too," added Thokchom.
The men's team is not done yet and promises another medal in regu. The women's team failed to win a medal but they too are improving fast.
"We should have a women's medal in the next edition. As I said, we are only going to up from here," summed chief coach Raj, who has already set his sights on a World Championship medal next month