The 31st summer Olympics carnival being organised from August 5 to 21 in Rio de Janeiro is almost knocking at the door now and the anticipation regarding India’s standing is only rising. India is sending its largest ever contingent to Rio this time with 120 athletes for 66 events, a straight jump of 37 from the previous tally of 83 at the London Olympics 2012.
The London Olympics was India’s most successful Olympics campaign with the Indians bringing home a total of 6 medals, exactly double of the number at Beijing Olympics, 2008. Hopes will be high this time around due to some good recent performances by India in various sports with of course, the big names shouldering major part of the responsibilities.
A record number of countries are participating in a record number of sports this year. More than 10,500 athletes from 206 National Olympic Committees (NOCs), including first time entrants Kosovo and South Sudan, are scheduled to take part. With 306 sets of medals, the Games will feature 28 Olympic sports — including rugby sevens and golf, which were added by the International Olympic Committee in 2009. These sporting events will take place at 33 venues in the host city and at five venues in the cities of São Paulo (Brazil’s largest city), Belo Horizonte, Salvador, Brasília (Brazil’s capital) and Manaus.
Despite being the second most populous country in the world and a part of the Olympics since even before independence, India has won only 26 medals so far largely due to the focal point of Indian sports being cricket. In the recent years, the Sports Authority of India has provided decent financial and professional assistance to the achievers and of course, much more of such efforts have to be put in for India to become a power in the world of all sports.
Abhinav Bindra was declared the flag-bearer of India at the Rio Olympics and he will truly have the responsibilities of the same. Since the time Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore won India a silver medal in shooting at 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, the sport of shooting has grabbed a lot of eyeballs. Post Rathore’s achievement, Bindra rose to fame when he won a gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and became the first Indian to grab an individual gold.
With his recent consistent performance in Munich, the least that will be expected from him is a place on the podium. Jitu Rai is another man who has achieved the place of an absolute favourite. With World Cups, Asian Games gold and high altitude training in his kitty, he is expected to bring home much honour. Even Gagang Narang is expected to take the Indian flag high at the mega event.
Apart from the men in shooting, Heena Sidhu has churned out good performances recently and she will be expected to show some of her point blank targets. Talking about the women performers, badminton is expected to be the stage for them. Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu are both expected to bring home medals.
“We are a good number of players going this time to Rio and so you can expect 2-3 medals in badminton,” said P V Sindhu to Millennium Post. When asked about her preparations, she said that her practice and the schedule are going well and she’s feeling strong. She dismissed concerns regarding Zika virus and other hazards in Rio saying: “We got a mail from the Rio officials regarding the precautions we need to take and we have got the injections and vaccines done. So there’s nothing to worry.” The Indian badminton unit is leaving for Rio on August 2.
Nehwal, especially, is touted as India’s best bet in badminton and after her recent win at the Australian Open Super Series, she is believed to be ready and confident to face and defeat her arch rivals and bring home the gold. Another female athlete who might garner the spotlight is Deepika Kumari (archery). Despite the fact that she and her team couldn’t handle the pressure the last time in London, hopes are high from her owing to her recent mature and stable performances.
The sport of boxing had been under much controversy since Indian Boxing Federation (IBF) was banned by International Boxing Association (AIBA) for inadequacies. Due to improper administration in the field of boxing, many boxers suffered and Mary Kom even failed to qualify for Rio. Shiva Thapa is the only name in boxing that comes up if a medal is to be expected in the sport.
Another controversy that rocked the Rio selection process was the battle between Sushil Kumar and the Wrestling Federation of India where he called for a trial against Narsingh Yadav, who had achieved a quota from the world wrestling championship in the 74kg category. With the whole dispute becoming so huge, the spotlight from the 65 kg Yogeshwar Dutt was lifted. With the amount of focus and dedication that Yogeshwar puts for his performance, he is a serious medal contender.
In the field of athletics, Renjith Maheshwary who leaped into Rio Games breaking the national record in triple jump with a massive jump of 17.30 metres, achieved the status of a contender as he recorded the third best jump in the world this year. Also Dharambir Singh qualified for Rio in 200 metres setting a national record of 20.45 seconds.
In the women’s section, a lot is expected of Dutee Chand who qualified after much hard work despite being snubbed previously for having an abnormal amount of testosterone in her body. Though an expectation of a medal may be too much to ask for but it’s worth a mention that Dipa Karmakar has already brought India much glory after becoming the first Indian female to book an Olympic place in gymnastics.
The Indian tennis wasn’t shy of controversy as well this time around when Rohan Bopanna, having already qualified for Rio, named Saketh Myneni as his preferred partner over Leander Paes stating that their styles of play do not match. Though making use of their final power, the All India Tennis Association finally paired up Paes and Bopanna stating that Paes’ recent performances deserved much appreciation. Owing to the obvious incompatibility, much cannot be expected from their team but Sania Mirza and Bopanna as a mixed doubles pair may churn out the desired result.
The Indian men’s hockey team recently won a silver medal at the six-nation Champions Trophy and played a brilliant final against Australia who won with a controversial goal. The triumph, which was India’s best performance in 38-year history of the tournament, came under the leadership of Sreejesh Ravindran.
Rewarding him for his keeping and leadership, he has been named the captain of the squad for Rio and Sardar Singh, the poster boy of Indian hockey, had to lose his captaincy. Singh recently hasn’t been very promising on the field and off the field and has been accused of rape charges by his long-time British girlfriend.
These may be reasons that even the vice-captaincy has been given to playmaker SV Sunil. Despite the drama around Sardar Singh, the expectations from the Indian hockey has sky rocketed after Champions Trophy and most people will be waiting to welcome the Indian hockey team with a medal finish.
With increase in sports infrastructure and its development in general, the biggest Indian contingent is expected to improve its previous tally of six medals and shine at the world stage for Indian sports scenario needs existing glory to aspire to shine more.
Aid the athletes
In a cricket frenzy country like India, the development of other sports has always been a matter of question. With athletes complaining of inadequate facilities, infrastructure and financial assistance, the journey of a ‘different’ sportsman has always been tough. Amidst all hullabaloo around Indian sports, P V Sindhu, in conversation with Millennium Post said, “The government has been very helpful and they’ve provided us with everything that we require. It’s not like we want or need something and we’re being denied that.”
So, here’s a look at the initiatives taken to help the talented train and succeed:
Army’s ‘Mission Olympics’: Launched in 2001, to groom youngsters into potential Olympic medal winners. It is an extensive process of creating international facilities, scientific back-up, consistent monitoring of the athletes and availability of the best coaches including foreign nationals. The 2004 Olympics silver medallist in shooting, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore was a product of this programme.
The Indian Army had identified 10 disciplines under which the athletes are trained namely, athletics, diving, archery, weightlifting, boxing, rowing, sailing, wrestling, equestrian and shooting. The prominent names to have qualified for Rio under this mission are Jitu Rai and Dattu Bhokanal.
Sports Ministry of India’s TOP scheme: The Target Olympic Podium (TOP) scheme has been initiated by the Sports Ministry under the National Sports Development Fund (NSDF) to identify potential medal winners in Olympics and provide them with support for the preparation of the mega event.
Many athletes were chosen under the scheme from sporting disciplines athletics, badminton, boxing, shooting, wrestling and sailing and financial assistance in crores was sanctioned for them. Some of them to receive the support under TOP scheme are Abhinav Bindra, Heena Sidhu, Vikas Gowda (athletics), Manavjit Singh Sandhu (shooting), Aishwarya and Varsha (sailing).
Olympic Gold Quest (OGQ): The programme was launched by the Not for Profit Company, Foundation for Promotion of Sports and Games in order to train and bring the Indian athletes at par with the international talent. It was founded by Indian sporting legends Geet Sethi and Prakash Padukone. In 2010, the programme was joined by Leander Paes and Vishwanathan Anand as board of directors.
OGQ’s first test was in London Olympics 2012 and four out of the six medal winners were supported by them. The programme scouts for potential talent and helps identify areas of support and works with all the stakeholders to aid deserving talent. The various athletes who are supported by OGQ are Deepika Kumari, Laxmirani Majhi, Vikas Gowda, Saina Nehwal, Parupalli Kashyap, P V Sindhu, Jwala Gutta, Ashwini Ponnappa, Mary Kom, Shiva Thapa, Gagang Narang, Heena Sidhu, Yogeshwar Dutt and Sushil Kumar along with many other senior and junior athletes.