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The Indian Olympic dream

Cometh the Olympics and an Indian sports fan starts thinking – are these the breakthrough Games for our sportspersons? Should we have hope for a few medals (not many, 2-3 would suffice). After all, given our track record (we have fewer medals (20) than the number of Olympics (24) held), hope becomes a dangerous thing. So dire is our record that we even celebrate our near-misses (e.g PT Usha, Milkha Singh etc.)

Barcelona ’92 was the first Games I remember watching. Those were the days when our sole medal hopes resided with the Hockey team. Other sports were being represented only for participation sake. The Indian contingent returned bare handed. But over the course of the next 4 Games (Atlanta, Sydney, Athens and Beijing), the situation changed somewhat. Hockey was no longer considered to be our medal hope. And with the team failing to even qualify for Beijing, the once powerful Indian Hockey had reached its nadir. Though the team has qualified for the London Games, no one is expecting any miracles from them.

Leander Paes winning the Tennis bronze in Atlanta added a new sport to our ‘Olympics Hopeful’ list. But the hope hasn’t converted into a reality since then. Paes and Bhupathi losing the bronze medal playoff in 2004 was the closest that India came to a medal. This time there are 7 Indian tennis players in the fray. However, the selection fiasco and the players’ ego clashes have led to pretty low expectations from them.

Sydney 2000 was the first games where India actually had realistic medal hopes in more than one discipline. Karnam Malleswari winning the Bronze in women’s weightlifting  added Weightlifting to the Great Indian Olympic Medal Hope category. Over the years since, a series of doping scandals has rocket Indian weightlifting. And hence, there aren’t any realistic medal hopes from the 2 weightlifters in the present contingent. Sydney 2000 also announced the arrival of Indian Boxing. Gurcharan Singh lost in the quarter-finals after a very close bout (tied on points) but his exploits probably paved the way for the bigger ones to come in Beijing.

Jaspal Rana’s exploits in the Asian & Commonwealth Games had made Shooting a realistic medal hope. However it was Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore who gave us our 1st ever shooting medal with a silver in Athens. Since then a medal from the shooters have become a realistic expectation rather than any wishful thinking. Athens saw the heartbreak in Men’s Doubles Tennis, while Anju George’s leap was just a little short in the Long Jump.

Beijing 2008 saw an Indian contingent without Hockey. But these were the Games where the Indian dream started soaring. We had our  first ever individual gold through Abhinav Bindra. Bronze medals in Boxing (Vijender) and Wrestling (Sushil) took the tally to 3, the highest ever. It was probably beyond what the normal Indian fan could handle. There were medals but what was more heartening was there were even more performers who were getting close to the medal category. Saina Nehwal in badminton, Akhil and Jitender in Boxing, Gagan Narang in Shooting – the Indian fan was looking forward to more and more medals.

Now we are ready for London 2012. What do these Games hold for India? Can we dream of some unprecedented success? Can we have hope of more medals? The answer is yes. Economic analysts from Goldman Sachs have said that India are likely to come up with 5 medals including 2 Golds. If true, then this would be 25% of India’s total medal tally till date. Certainly quite an improvement.

So where do I think the Indian medals will come from? Well, here are my medal expectations (discipline wise):

Archery – 2 – Women’s Team and Deepika in indiviudal, men also have an outside chance.

Athletics – 0 – Krishna Poonia should reach the finals in Discus Throw.

Badminton – 1 – Saina Nehwal in singles has a good chance. For others, a medal is not that realistic

Boxing – 2 – Out of 7 in Men’s category – Vijender & Shiva Thapa, + 1 – Mary Kom in Women’s category. There could be others as well.

Hockey – 0 – I don’t expect the Indian team to go past the Group stage and can realistically hope for a 3rd place in Group stage at best.

Shooting – 2 – Gagan Narang and Ronjan Sodhi, though more can be expected from the likes of Bindra and Manavjit Sandhu.

Tennis – 0 – Should have been a great hope with Men’s and Mixed Doubles but given the selection controversies, I’m not having much hopes there.

Wrestling – 1 – The flag-bearer Sushil Kumar is the one, the others may also throw up a pleasant surprise or two.

Judo, Rowing, Swimming, Table Tennis, Weightlifting – 0 – No great hopes of anything special, though given the level of awareness Indians have about these disciplines, qualification for the Games itself should be considered a big achievement.

So in summary, a total of 9 medals (give or take a couple) is what I am realistically hoping for.

Well, as they say, we should hope for the best and if it comes to the worst, we can always quote Baron Pierre de Coubertin and say “Participation is more important than winning” while singing “Hum honge kamayab ek din“.

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