After curtains fall on the Great Indian Tennis Show, the attention finally moves to where it should always have been. With India sending its largest contingent ever for the 2012 London Olympics, the medal hopes are at an all time high. With the games just three weeks away, we take a look at the Indian medal contenders.
Indian boxing has taken a few giant leaps in last few years and all the hard work in recent years will be put to its biggest test in London. Leading the expectations chart for the pugilists is the Beijing Olympics bronze medal winner Vijender Singh. His efforts in Beijing got boxing into the spotlight in India and once again he is expected to replicate – if not better – his success as he competes in the 75 kg category.
Also capable of springing a surprise are Vikas Krishnan and Manoj Kumar in the 60kg and 64 kg category respectively. While Krishnan has proved himself with medals in youth Olympics and Asian Games, Kumar grabbed the silver in the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
Women’s boxing makes its debut at the Olympics and India will have only one representative in MC Mary Kom. The five-time world champion failed at the quarterfinal stage of the World Championship this year but is still a serious medal contender on what could be her swansong tournament.
Like boxing, shooting too has seen a meteoric rise in the recent past in the country and the medal potential is quite high. The 2008 Olympic gold medalist Abhinav Bindra was an uncertainty early on but since securing a spot in the London bound squad he has been in very good touch and will look for an encore in the 10 meter Air Rifle event.
Accompanying Bindra in the 10 meter Air Rifle event will be another ace shooter Gagan Narang. Narang, who has also qualified for the Men’s 50 meter Rifle Prone and Men’s 50 meters Rifle three position, has had a superb run in the build up for the Olympics. He, in fact, had outperformed Bindra in the Air Rifle event in the Commonwealth Games in Delhi and is touted to return as the most successful Indian athlete from London.
Indian shooters have known to come out of nowhere and apart from the big duo, the likes of Manavjit Sandhu and Ronjan Sodhi in men’s trap and men’s double trap events have it in them to create an upset or two.
As many as 5 Indian grapplers have qualified for the Olympics this time and after the success in Beijing, there will be huge expectations from this group. The biggest attraction of the team is undoubtedly the bronze medal winner in the repechage round in the last edition of the quadrennial event, Sushil Kumar. Kumar, who is competing in the 66 kg men’s freestyle event, has been steady with his performance since the Beijing success and has been notching up medals in various events at a very consistent basis.
Geeta Phogat, the lone women wrestler from India, was brilliant in the qualifying events and many believe she has more than an outside chance of bringing home a medal in the 55kg category.
For only the second time, Indians have managed to qualify for the maximum six spots in Archery (2004 Athens Olympics was the only other occasion) and this time they would be keen to make it count. With current World No.1 Deepika Kumari in the fray, few will bet against the Indian women team grabbing medals in both individual and team events.
The current World No.5 Saina Nehwal, is the face of Indian badminton right now and expectations will be high from the Hyderabadi girl in the women’s singles event. Nehwal, who recently won her third Indonesian Open, however, has a tough path ahead of her and has to be at her very best to overcome her tough Chinese opponents.
Apart from her, Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa have had a steady rise and the world championship bronze pair are expected to give a good fight in the women’s doubles event. Gutta will also be partnering V Diju to compete in the mixed doubles and the duo have a slim chance of making it to the semis.
Things reached an all time low for Indian tennis as the players and officials got themselves engaged in an ugly tussle. The compromise that followed has further dented India’s medal chances, atleast in the men’s doubles event, but there is some hope from the mixed doubles pair of Leander Paes and Sania Mirza. The pair struck gold at the Doha Asian Games in 2006 but lack of practice together might become an hurdle for the duo.
The outside chance:
Apart from the big names, there are several other Indian athletes who have had some success and can add to the metal count. Krishna Poonia (discus throw) and Ngangbam Soniya Chanu (weightlifting – 48 kg category) tasted success in the Commonwealth Games but will have to raise the bar several notches higher to have some chance in London.
The Indian hockey team, which failed to qualify for the Olympics for the first time in 2008, have shown improvement in recent tournaments but are still far away from being a medal contender. While the Aussie coach Micheal Noobs seems satisfied with the boys’ preparation, plenty will depend on star drag flicker Sandeep Singh’s form as the team will look to replicate the success of its glorious past.
Should the Indian contingent perform to it full potential, the London Olympics will easily become the watershed moment in Indian sports. While there has been a conscious effort of late on the part of the establishment to encourage different sports in India, a rich haul of medals at the grandest stage will grab more eyeballs and hasten the process of development.
Let the games begin…