The 10th South Asian Games dished out mediocre fare, with top names in the region largely keeping out to prepare for tougher competitions ahead, but the multi-disciplinary event did succeed in providing the right launching pad for youngsters and those seeking to stage a comeback.
India expectedly romped home with the highest number of medals to reassert their regional supremacy, but their showing in Colombo would count only if they manage to translate even a half of it at the Asian Games in Doha later this year.
With 118 gold, 69 silver and 47 bronze, India exceeded their tally of 103 gold medals won in the previous edition of the Games in Islamabad in 2004.
Be it the swimming pool or the track and field events, Indians made their presence felt in almost every discipline, which meant Pakistan and Sri Lanka were left fighting for the runners-up slot on the medals tally.
Pakistan finished with 43 gold, 44 silver and 71 bronze, while Sri Lanka's performance was noteworthy as well with 37 gold, 63 silver and 78 bronze medals.
Adding spark to the otherwise lacklustre Games was the presence of India's top athlete Anju Bobby George and Sri Lankan sprint star Susanthika Jayasinghe, both making a comeback after injury-induced layoffs.
The two may not have reproduced their best, but the gold medals they won would serve as a morale booster in their quest to regain their vintage form.
Anju leapt 6.42m, a far cry from her personal best of 6.83, achieved at the Athens Olympic Games, but at least the Chennai-based athlete could gauge her current form.
Susanthika did not disappoint her home crowd after all, bagging gold in the 100m, 200m and the women's shorter relay to make a golden return to the international stage after a two-year sabbatical.
For all those who had written off the controversial athlete, her performance was indeed surprising despite the fact that she struggled to keep pace with her previous best timings. But as Susanthika said, she has at least made a start to reach the take-off point again.
For both Anju and Susanthika, the competitions were more about the battle with themselves rather than the rest of the field, given the quality, or rather lack of it, of the opposition.
"I have to run with myself," was Susanthika's reply, when asked about who she feared among her rivals, an apt reflection of the reality.
Susanthika's exploits notwithstanding, India left a mark in the showpiece track and field events, bagging 15 gold, 14 silver and 16 bronze medals. Sri Lanka finished with just one gold less than India, serving a timely warning to their neighbours ahead of the Asian Games.
The most impressive Indian athlete was Pinky Pramanik, who ran away with the gold in her pet 400m and 800m events before adding a third in the 4x400m relay. With successive wins in the
Asian Grand Prix meets in Bangalore and Pune, Pinky would be the athlete to watch out for in Doha.
India's long distance runner Chatoli Hamza was one of the few who improved upon his own record, in the 1500m, to hold promise of better performances to come.
Sri Lanka's unheralded RDUS Surendra, who won the blue riband 100m sprint and Rohan Pradeep Kumar, gold medallist in 200m, 400m and 4x400m men's relay, were among those who left a lasting impact on the Games.
The two sports which India clearly dominated were swimming and shooting.
The Indians fished out a record 32 gold, 18 silver and 3 bronze medals from the pool, which also saw Sri Lankan teenager Mayumi Raheem splashing herself to as many as 10 medals, a feat unmatched by any other athlete.
However, India missed their best sportspersons in men's squash and a few shooting events.
The absence of the likes of Jaspal Rana, Abhinav Bindra and Avneet Kaur meant India ended up conceding medals to Pakistan in a few categories, but overall they won 19 gold, 11 silver and 5 bronze to emerge runaway winners.
In squash, world number 50 Joshna Chinappa ensured India pocketed both the individual and team honours in the women's section. But in the men's section, the absence of Saurav Ghosal and Ritwik Bhattacharya meant Pakistan romped home with the gold in both individual and team events.
The Indians reigned supreme in table tennis, lapping up all the seven gold medals on offer besides winning four silver and one bronze. Veteran Mouma Das and champion paddler Achanta
Sharath Kamal stood out with their unmatched performances in both the individual and team competitions.
It was a similar tale of dominance for the Indians in men's and women's badminton individual and team contests.
Former national champion Chetan Anand and the much-doubted Trupti Murgunde walked off with the singles gold, besides helping their teams to glory in team championships.
India though cut a sorry figure in both football and hockey.
The Under-20 Indian hockey team flattered to deceive, going down to arch-rivals Pakistan 3-2 in the summit clash despite having beaten them earlier without much ado in the league stage 2-0.
The result left coach Clarence Lobo a disappointed man, especially since he had a lot of faith in the talent of youngsters.
India's performance in football must have put to shame foreign coach Islam Akheymdov. After drawn encounters with Afghanistan and Nepal, India somehow managed to make it to the semi-final, only to go down to Sri lanka 5-6 on penalties despite leading them throughout the game.
But the worse was yet to come as India went on to lose the bronze medal play-off as well, to none but the lowly Nepal.
In the boxing ring, Pakistan outdid India amid muffed talks about controversial and biased refereeing. Pakistan bagged 7 gold and 3 silver as against India's four gold, four silver and one bronze.
New entrants in the SAG fold, Afghanistan made a mark in combat sports, picking three gold in taekwondo and the same number in karate. The Indians, who fielded a team at the last moment after the court gave them the clearance to participate, got one gold through Sharmili Ratan Gharu, a black belt and a mother of one.
In judo, India garnered all but one of the 11 gold medals on offer, while in rowing, they made a clean sweep, plucking all the seven gold medals.
The archers also made a clean sweep, taking home all the four yellow metals to add to India's tally while the men and women's kabaddi teams also finished on top of the podium.
The combat sport of wushu saw India win all the four gold medals despite the lack of a trained expert and proper facilities back home.
Wrestling and weightlifting were the only two disciplines in which India did not take part. http://www.rediff.com/sports/2006/aug/28sag.htm