India's unexpected success in Sepak Takraw at the 2018 Asian Games
Unexpected victories often create unforgettable moments. One such story unfolded during the 2018 Asian Games, as India's Sepak Takraw team won an unprecedented bronze medal.
The Asian Games have always been a platform to celebrate sporting excellence, and each edition brings forth a host of surprises and remarkable achievements. Among the plethora of sports that captivate audiences during the Asian Games, there is one that stands out as both unique and something that India has had some recent success in – Sepak Takraw.
In India, Sepak Takraw was first introduced as a demonstration sport in the 1982 Asian Games held in New Delhi. Indira Gandhi, then Prime Minister of India and the guest of honour, took special interest in this game and she was introduced to players and officials by Sepak Takraw Federation of India.
India made its debut in Sepak Takraw at the Asian Games in 1990. While India has made four previous appearances in the sport at the Asian Games, it was the 2018 edition that the team truly left a mark on the nation's sporting history. The Indian men's Sepak Takraw team secured a Bronze medal, marking a significant achievement.
Sepak Takraw, often referred to as "kick volleyball," is a captivating sport that has its roots deeply embedded in the cultural fabric of Southeast Asia. While it shares some similarities with traditional volleyball, such as the objective of sending the ball over the net to the opponent's side, the method is entirely different. In Sepak Takraw, players rely on their feet, knees, head, and chest to manipulate the ball, showcasing remarkable acrobatics and agility in the process.
At the Asian Games, Sepak Takraw is played in various formats, including circle, double regu, regu, and team events, for both men and women. Thailand has traditionally dominated the Sepak Takraw scene in Asia, establishing itself as a powerhouse in the sport.
Road to victory
In the 2018 Asian Games, India's Sepak Takraw journey took a surprising turn when the men's team secured a Bronze medal. Six teams competed in the Asian games Sepak Takraw competition, with India placed in Group B alongside Iran and Indonesia. India's campaign started on a positive note with a thrilling victory over Iran, winning the match with a score of 21-16, 19-21, 21-17. This initial success set the tone for their campaign, filling the Indian squad with confidence.
However, India faced a formidable Indonesian team and suffered a 0-3 defeat. Despite this setback, their earlier victory over Iran ensured their advancement to the semi-finals, guaranteeing them at least a bronze medal.
The semi-final clash pitted India against the traditional Sepak Takraw powerhouse, Thailand. Though the Indian team displayed remarkable resilience, they were eventually defeated by Thailand with a score of 2-0.
India's remarkable Bronze medal in Sepak Takraw at the 2018 Asian Games highlights the importance of diversity in sports and the opportunities for athletes to excel in lesser-known disciplines.
Sepak Takraw's Manipur connection
Like at the 2018 Asian Games, India's Sepak Takraw squads for the Hangzhou Asian Games has two-thirds of the team hailing from Manipur. Eight of the 12 members of the bronze medal-wining squad from 2018 were from Manipur, while the rest were from Delhi.
Many in the team, like captain Niken Singh and Alaksh Yumnam, had been former footballers before starting to play this new sport. The common technical requirements in football and sepak takraw mean that many players traverse the two sports.
The sport is also popular in Manipur because of its proximity to Myanmar, according to an official with the Indian team.
“Proximity to Myanmar is how the sport became so popular in Manipur. It has always been easy to source equipments 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,” Indian team official Muhindro Singh Thokchom had told PTI after the 2018 medal.
The 2018 Indian men's sepak takraw team: Niken Khangembam, Jiteshor Gurumayum, Malemnganba Sorokhaibam, Seitaram Thokchom, Henary Wahengbam, Sanjeck Waikhom, Akash Yumnam, Harish Kumar, Lalit Kumar, Jotin Ngathem, Dheeraj, Sandeep Kumar