Rio Olympics 2016: Comparing the Indian badminton contingents of London 2012 and Rio 2016
Carrying the hopes of more than 1.2 billion people, India is sending its biggest contingent ever to the Olympics, with the number having swelled past 100 for the first time. For the badminton event, of the 172 athletes that are expected to take the courts, seven will be from India. Saina Nehwal, India’s medal winner in the previous Olympics, will be supported by six more, in the form of PV Sindhu, Jwala Gutta, Ashwini Ponappa, Srikanth Kidambi, Manu Attri and Sumeeth Reddy.
In comparison to the five contenders in the previous edition, India is sending seven members for Badminton in the quest for glory this time. Here’s a look at what has changed from 2012:
In London 2012, Saina created history by becoming the first Indian to win a medal in badminton at the Olympics, clinching bronze after China’s Wang Xin retired owing to an injury during the game. The Saina juggernaut rolled on from there on, as she reached the finals of the All England championships as well as the World championships and also rose to the number one ranking in the world, becoming the only the second shuttler from the country, after Prakash Padukone, to achieve this feat.
India’s biggest hope is retained in the form of Saina and will be joined by PV Sindhu, who will be making her maiden trip to the marquee event. The 21-year old ,who is the first Indian women singles player to win a medal at the World Championships, has had a roller-coaster last twelve months, having been laid low by an ankle injury last year as well.
Although it will be unfair to mention her name in the same breath as Saina, she has come a long way since being a 16-year old watching Nehwal win the bronze four years ago. In the women’s top-10 along with her more established compatriot, Sindhu has shown she can deliver on the big stage as well.
Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponappa’s quest for a medal at London started with a small piece of history being attached to the former. Gutta became the first Indian to qualify for both doubles and mixed doubles in the history of the game. They lost their opening game but came back to beat Cheng Wen-Hsing and Chien Yu-Chin to notch up their first win.
Their campaign ended in bad taste after their formal complaint against the organisers was rejected, following their allegation that the match involving Japan and Chinese Taipei was fixed. Post the Olympics, Gutta took a break from the game temporarily.
The duo remains the same, but with more experience and an added set of skills, Gutta and Ashwini will travel to Rio with a more realistic chance of grabbing a medal this time. Although they couldn’t advance past the group stages last time, the two have grown in stature as they embark on another journey for the coveted prize. They have their task cut out, with top-seeded Ayaka Takahashi and Misaki Matsutomo in their group and in what would perhaps be their final appearance as a pair at an Olympic Games, look to win the coveted medal.
Parupalli Kashyap created flutters by bullying through the group stages undefeated, including a win against Ngyung Tien Meh to reach the pre-quarters. He couldn’t go past Lee Chong Wei in the quarters, but became part of history by becoming the only Indian to reach the Quarterfinal stages in Men’s singles at the Olympics.
India’s medal chances got a major bolt when Kashyap was ruled out for Rio with a knee injury. The mantle has now fallen on Srikanth Kidambi, the 23-year old from Guntur, who created major ripples in the Badminton circles by vanquishing Lin Dan, the two-time Olympic champion from China.
Although Srikanth is coping with a tight schedule and an indifferent form in the lead up to Rio, he has proven before that he can make it count on the big stage. He has been seeded ninth in the men’s draw and has been placed in Group H.
There were no participants from India for the Men’s doubles event four years ago. This time, the contingent has grown with the surprise inclusion of Manu Attri and Sumeeth Reddy in the men’s doubles category, although expecting a medal from the inexperienced duo will be a step too far. Their path won’t be easy, with second-seeded Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan in pitted in their group.