India's 5 biggest hopes at the Rio Olympics 2016

Shiva Thapa 2016
Thapa is the only Indian boxer to qualify for the Olympics so far

The Olympic Games are only a few months away, and the best athletes from each country will head to Rio de Janiero, Brazil to compete in the 2016 Olympic Games. With the world’s best sporting talent on display in August, we look at India’s 5 biggest hopes at the event.

Shiva Thapa

The young boxer was the only Indian to qualify for the Olympics at the AIBA Asian and Oceanic Olympic qualification event last month in China, and is ranked third in the world in his category. The No. 3 Bantamweight has made an Olympic appearance before, at London 2012, and had then become the youngest Indian boxer to qualify for the Olympics.

Unfortunately for Thapa, he lost out in the first round of the London Olympics to Oscar Valdez Fierro, but only 18-years-old at the time, proved his talent on the world stage.

Since then, the Indian youngster has gone on to win a series of titles. After clinching gold in 2013 at the Asian Boxing Confederation Championships, he participated in that year’s World Boxing Championships, managing to progress to the quarter-finals of the event.

One of the first Indian boxers signed to the World Series of Boxing, Thapa participated in the WSB in 2014.

He has been strong this year, and with the experience of one Olympic Games and the maturity that comes with age, Thapa could win India a medal in Rio this August.

Sania Mirza

Sania Mirza Australian open 2016
Mirza, pictured here with her Australian Open trophy, has been in top form this year

She has been in scintillating form since 2015, and doubles World No. 1 Sania Mirza spent most of 2015 winning Grand Slams and titles. With a new partner in former singles No.1 and tennis legend Martina Hingis, Mirza won titles at Wimbledon and the US Open and together with Hingis beat the most recent women’s doubles winning streak.

After ending 2015 in the top-ranked spot, Mirza and Hingis blazed through the 2016 Australian Open. That Grand Slam title came on the back of title wins at Sydney’s Apia International and at the Brisbane International.

Following that, Mirza and Hingis went on to set a 41 match-winning streak, also winning the first-ever St. Petersburg Ladies’ trophy this year.

Although she has been having a bit of a dry spell with her titles, Mirza has been in top form since 2015, and been honing her quick, powerful groundstrokes. Should she be partnered by 17-time Grand Slam winner Leander Paes, who has an Olympic bronze medal to his credit, a renewed Sania Mirza could help bring laurels to India in tennis.

Given, however, that Martina Hingis will partner GOAT Roger Federer in the doubles, the pair’s skills will be seriously tested should they face off against the Swiss legends.

MC Mary Kom

Mary Kom 2016 Olympics
London 2012 bronze winner MC Mary Kom is one of India’s brightest boxing talents

One of the most talented boxers in Indian history, MC Mary Kom is also one of its most decorated. The 33-year-old began her boxing training in earnest at the age of 16, and began winning titles early on in her career.

The first of those came in 2002 at the Women’s World Amateur Boxing Championships in Antalya, Turkey, where Mary won gold – a medal that would be the first of many. She won gold at the Championships on four separate occasions – two each in the pinweight and flyweight categories, and silver in 2008 – bringing her tally up to a staggering five medals at the event.

Perhaps the biggest achievement of Mary’s career, however, came at the London Olympics in 2012. The Games were the first time women’s boxing had been included as an Olympic sport, and following a series of events leading up to the Olympics, became the only Indian woman to qualify.

Participating in the flyweight category, Mary would go on to win the bronze medal.

She also won gold at the Asian Games in 2014, her first at the event, and has been in training for the Olympics since.

Although the 33-year-old missed out on a direct qualifying spot after her loss at the Asian and Oceanic Boxing qualifiers, she will have another opportunity to qualify at an AIBA event in Kazakhstan – and with Olympic medal experience is one of India’s best prospects for Rio 2016.

Jitu Rai

Jitu Rai Asian Games Olympics
Rai, top-ranked in the 10m air pistol and 50m pistol, is India’s strongest shooting hope

Indian shooter Jitu Rai was part of a regiment in the Indian Army before making his professional shooting debut, and initially found it difficult to meet selection criteria for the Army’s shooting squad.

2014 was a breakthrough year for Rai, who won a slew of medals that year across tournaments. At that year’s ISSF World Cup in Munich, Germany, Rai took silver in the men’s 10m air pistol event – and quickly followed that up with two medals at the ISSF World Cup in Maribor, Slovenia later that year – silver in the 50m pistol, and gold in his specialty – the 10m air pistol.

He first secured the World No. 1 ranking in the 10m air pistol discipline that year, and then went one better, winning gold at the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea and at the Commonwealth Games – where he set the record for the Games with 562 points – both times in the 50m pistol, proving his prowess at each discipline.

Currently top-ranked in both, Rai won gold at the ISSF World Cup in Bangkok this year in the 50m pistol event, and despite recovering from a palm injury managed to trump former Olympic champion Pang Wei.

With his form this year and a stellar track record, Rai is a favourite for this year’s Olympic games.

Saina Nehwal

Saina Nehwal Malaysia Open 2016
Currently World No. 8, Nehwal is training for her third Olympic appearance

India's top-ranked shuttler, Nehwal has excelled from the start of her badminton career. Formerly World No. 1, Nehwal won gold at the World Junior Championships in 2008, and has since added a slew of medals to her kitty.

The 26-year-old, who was this year awarded the Padma Bhushan, will aim to participate in her third Olympic Games this year. She was a significant part of India’s contingent at the 2012 London Olympics, eventually going on to win bronze after a semi-final loss to nemesis Wang Yihan.

She previously appeared at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China, progressing as far as the quarter-finals before exiting the tournament.

Nehwal has nine Super Series titles to her credit, with another eight BWF Grand Prix and Grand Prix Gold wins under her belt. Although she has been having somewhat of a slower year and a slight dip in form, Nehwal is still the 8th best badminton player in the world and given her track record can definitely excel at the games.

Her participation at the Olympics is contingent on the BWF rankings at the end of May.

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Edited by Staff Editor
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