Rio 2016: Hope Still for India’s Medal Tally?
Despite the fact that India is sending its biggest ever Olympic contingent to the Rio Olympics, the truth is that India’s chances remain bleak
Sandeep Kumar Delhi
The summer of 2016’s tryst with global sports seems to be a never-ending one. It began with the UEFA Champions League finals in May, and kept football fans busy throughout the months of June and July with the rarest of conjoined instances — both the Copa America Centennial and Euro Cup 2016 being hosted at the same time. Adding more to this already full list, the Rio Summer Olympics is already in full will go on until August 21, which means that by the time the Olympics is done with football leagues across Europe will already be in full swing.
More than 10,500 athletes from 206 National Olympic Committees (NOCs), including debutants Kosovo and South Sudan, will be competing for 306 sets of medals in 28 Olympic sports across six cities in Brazil. While certain top players like Jason Day (Australia), Rory McIlroy (Ireland), Tejay van Garderen (United States of America), along with a few tennis stars, have already given Rio a miss due to the Zika virus threat, none of the Indian players ever thought of Zika as enough of a concern to withdraw from the main event.
The Indian Olympic Association is sending a 119-member contingent to Rio — a record number for Indian participation in Summer Olympic history. The previous record was of the 83 that took part in the 2012 London Olympics. The Olympics has always been a real mess for the Indian team. A country with one of the world’s highest populations has so far has managed to win only 26 medals (both individual and team events combined) in more than one hundred years of participation. From Norman Pritchard, the first Indian-born British athlete, who won a silver medal in the men’s 200m and 200m hurdles at the 1900 Summer Olympics to Abinav Bindra (India’s first and only individual gold medal winner), the Olympics for India has been a one-event show on most occasions.Out of the 119 there are 60 who will be participating in the gala event for the first time. So, in a way, India for the first time is trusting in the flow of young adrenaline to earn accolades on the international stage. With six individual medals, the 83 member contingent at the London Olympics did set a new best for the country, but a gold medal was still beyond reach.
The following are the categories in which India will be participating in at Rio, and also the stars that carry Indian hopes of a podium finish.
Gymnastics: With Dipa Karmakar, India probably has the best chance to grab a podium finish in the artistic gymnastics event. The 22 year-old Tripura girl rose to fame when she successfully landed the very difficult Produnova vault in competition, and scored an impressive 15.100. Previously she had won a bronze medal at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi and at the Asian Gymnastic Championship.
Athletics: 35 athletes from both male and female categories will be competing in the twenty athletic events. Forget about a podium finish; going by the names and performances of the athletes who have qualified, only Vikas Gowda (Discus throw), Tintu Luka (800m) and Dutee Chand (100m) are likely to make it to the final round.
Wrestling: Wrestling has been one of the liveliest categories for India in the previous two editions of the Olympics at Beijing and London. Sushil Kumar won bronze in Beijing and went on to win silver at the London Olympics. However, Sushil’s decision to upgrade his weight category from 66kg to 74kg landed him out of contention against Narshingh Yadav. Yogeshwar Dutt is yet another medal prospect in the men’s freestyle 65 kg category. Hardeep Singh (96kg Greco-Roman), Sandeep Tomar (57kg category) and Ravinder Khatri (85kg) will be hoping to add more medals to India’s tally. Babita Kumari (53kg),Vinesh Phogat(48kg), and Sakshi Malik(58kg) will lock horns in the women’s category.
Badminton: Saina Nehwal has been the badminton queen of India since 2009. As always, the 26 year-old Hyderabadi girl is a prime medal hope, but once again she will have to conquer the firepower of the Chinese. She was lucky to win bronze at the London Olympics as her Chinese opponent Wang Xin retired from the decisive match. Along with Nehwal, Pusarla Venkata Sindhu too is a world-class player and will be another prospect to watch out for. India can hope here for another bronze or silver.
Boxing: Shiva Thapa, Manoj Kumar and Vikas Krishnan Yadav have managed to qualify in three categories of boxing. Shiva Thapa is the man who will most be expected to reach the final four. Mary Kom, India’s bronze-medal winning boxer from 2012, failed to qualify for this Olympics and there will be no Indian woman boxer contesting in Rio. Tough rounds await Indian boxers. Very slim chances of winning a medal.
Hockey: Hockey is a tricky pitch for the Indian team. The men’s team is in high spirits and has possibly regained its mojo by winning a silver medal at the recently concluded Champions Trophy. However, a podium finish at Rio will certainly bring back the legacy of the golden era of Indian hockey, which had, at that time, led to eight Olympic gold medals. The women’s team is making a comeback into the main tournament after a gap of thirty six years; therefore it would be harsh to expect the girls to pull a rabbit out of the hat.
Golf: India’s top golfers Anirban Lahiri and SSP Chawrasia will be leading the chargs at the event as the sport makes its return to the Olympic arena after a gap of 112 years. Young Aditi Ashok will represent the country in the women’s event. No podium finish seems likely in this category.
Archery: Deepika Kumari, Bombayla Devi and Lakshmirani Majhi have qualified for the women’s event, while Atanu Das is the lone qualifier in the men’s category. Deepika was knocked out in the very first round of the London Olympics despite being the highest ranked archer. She is currently ranked 12th, and it won’t be easy for her to match the expertise of her competitors.
Judo: Avatar Singh, the 24 year old Gurdaspur judoka, will be the only representative for India in the 90kgs weight category. With a ranking of 79, Singh is not expected to go beyond the qualification rounds.
Rowing: Dattu Bhokanal qualified in the men’s single sculls event after grabbing a silver medal at the FISA Asia and Oceania Olympic qualifier. Bhokanal, who also has an Asian Championship silver to his name, is the solitary Indian in the category. He might get lucky and win a bronze medal.
Shooting: The 12-member shooting squad carries the responsibility to win the maximum number of medals for India. The final position of the country in the medal tally will heavily depend on the performance of the shooting unit. With the presence of ace shooters like Abinav Bindra (10m air rifle), Gagan Narang (10m air rifle) and Jitu Rai (50m air pistol), India’s best bet is its shooters. Other shooters in this category are Gurpreet Singh (26m rapid fire pistol), Prakash Nanjappa (50m pistol), Chain Singh (50m rifle positions), Mairaj Ahmed Khan (shotgun), Manvanjit Singh Sandhu and Kynan Chenai (Trap Shooting). Heena Sidhu (10m air pistol), Ayonika Paul and Apurvi Chandela (10m air rifle) will carry India’s hopes in the women’s section. India has a chance to win all three sets of shooting medals.
Tennis: Until the time when Leander Paes hangs up his boots the dilemma around choosing the best pair to represent India in any international mega-event will continue. Paes will be partnering Rohan Bopanna in the men’s doubles event, while Sania Mirza will team up with Bopanna for the mixed doubles event. Mirza has been in red-hot form in all the major tournaments she has played with Martina Hingis, but at Rio the pressure lies on her to guide and lead her women’s doubles partner Prarthana Thombare at critical moments during the tournament. India may win a bronze in this category.
Weightlifting: Sivalingam Sathish Kumar (men’s 77kg category), a 2014 Commonwealth Games gold medallist and Saikhom Mirabai Chanu (women’s 48kg category) are believed to be India’s best candidates at the Olympics. Sathish might end up with a podium finish.