India's brightest medal hopes
The oldest sporting event in the world, Olympics, has begun with the Brazilian carnival to its flavour. India has sent its largest ever contingent of 119 athletes to Rio this time, and will also be looking forward to welcoming more medalists. While hopes of a medal are attached to many, some of them harbour the fiercest hopes; the ones who the country believes will surely return with medals hanging around their necks.
Saina is touted to be India’s best bet in badminton and rightly so. Saina won a bronze medal in the women’s singles category in the London Olympics 2012 and she’s expected to bring a similar honour home and hopefully even better. Saina has though battled with many injuries this year, she looks to be in a good shape at the moment. Just recently in June, Saina went on to win her second Australia Super Series crown and she said that after so much trouble in the first half of the year, “that victory boosted my morale”. She said that the rehabilitation phase made her a much stronger player.
Saina, in her bid to win in Rio Olympics, has many competitors to handle. The biggest out of all is Spaniard Carolina Marin, who beat her in All England and world championships last year. But statistically, Saina enjoys a 4-3 head to head record against her and that makes the clash all the more interesting. Other battles that Saina will have to win are against Chinese Taipei’s Tai Tzu-ying, Thai Ratchanok Intanon and most specifically Chinese Li Xuerui who she has an unflattering 2-12 record against.
Like Saina has said, “It’s not simple; it is extremely tough.” But for a player who has endured many struggles in the past year, the idea of an Olympic war may not be very scary.
Sania Mirza-rohan bopanna
The tennis contingent of India is going with three teams — Rohan Bopanna-Leander Paes in men’s doubles, Sania Mirza-Prarthana Thombare in women’s doubles and Sania Mirza-Rohan Bopanna in mixed doubles. Despite the fact that both Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna have put up promising performances recently, as a team they are a doubt. Bopanna didn’t want to partner with Paes but the Tennis Federation selected Paes and with that, Leander is set to appear in record seventh Olympic Games. Though recently in Davis Cup, Paes and Bopanna combined well together and put up a good show, Olympics is a different ballgame altogether and they are both going to have a tough time finding their combination over there.
On the other hand, Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna are a promising team. The most important fact about this team is that they have won practically every time they have stepped together to play on the court. Their gameplay has great compatibility to balance each other’s abilities and their on-court chemistry is absolutely in sync.
In a time, where we are witnessing one of the finest tennis talents of the country, an Olympic medal would be very fitting to honour the generation.
More than the flagbearer – Abhinav Bindra – Jitu Rai at present looks to be India’s safest bet in shooting. With a silver medal at 51st shooting World Championships, which led to his Olympic qualification, Rai is a serious medal contender. He is participating in two events – 50m pistol and 10m air pistol. Ranked World No 2 in 50m pistol events, he stands a huge chance to make it on the podium in the category. He is also ranked third in the world in 10m air pistol which makes him a deadly competitor from India’s contingent. His gold medals in 2014 Commonwealth Games and 2014 Incheon Asian Games shows his abilities to step up at big stages, which makes his chances even better.
The army marksman has had a quieter 2015 compared to the year before that but according to his records, he has the ability to inch up his game. Rai has said, “I have a desire, a burning desire within me to do well at the Olympics but it ends there only. I don’t think at all about other things, pressure, expectations and all.”
Indian hockey team
The P R Sreejesh-led Indian hockey team is a genuine medal prospect for India at the Rio Games. The team recently won a silver medal in their first ever Champions Trophy appearance and even the final against Australia was a closely-fought encounter. Even in the aforementioned tournament, it was Sreejesh who led the team instead of Sardar Singh who was rested for the competition.
India, historically, holds the most number of Olympic gold medals in hockey but the record is as much old as illustrious. In the recent times, India didn’t qualify for the 2008 Beijing Games and finished at the 12th spot in the London Games four years ago. But the current team shows good prospect due to the evident unity and team spirit in the squad, as they seem to be untouched by internal politics and controversies. The team’s gold medal in 2014 Incheon Asian Games and silver medals in 2014 Commonwealth Games, 2016 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup and 2016 Champions Trophy speak for themselves.
The team is also backed by the legends of Indian Hockey like Balbir Sr and M K Kaushik who are both Olympic gold medallists and they say that this team is capable of an Olympic medal if they keep their areas intact.
The sport of golf made a comeback to the Olympics after a gap of 112 years but a mass pullout by top international golfers stating Zika virus as the reason has already put a question upon the sport’s successful return to the Olympic Games.
But the fact that the toppers of the sport will be missing in Rio betters India’s prospects at the mega event. Anirban Lahiri leads India’s golf challenge and his experience in the sport makes India’s position strong. Lahiri is the top-ranked golfer in Asia and if he is able to maintain his form throughout the tournament, he has the skill to put up a medal-winning show in Rio. Anirban is often considered as one of India’s best golfers and his 18 professional titles, including two European Tour tournaments, makes him a safe bet.
If Lahiri succeeds in a podium finish, it’s sure the boost the sport of golf in the country but regardless of a medal, he is sure to make India proud.
The last time Deepika Kumari was at Olympics in London, she fell just short and the heartbreak was tough. But Kumari seems to be on a path of revival and looks strong to be on the podium. The former World No 1 is definitely India’s bet in the sport of archery. An interesting predecessor to her Rio Olympics appearance is the fact that she shot a world-record equalling 686/720 at the Shanghai World Cup earlier in the year much like her World No 1 spot before the London Games. She’ll be competing in women’s individual event and will lead the women’s team comprising of herself, Laxmi Rani Majhi and Bombayla Devi in the team event. What makes their chances high is the fact that they qualified for the Rio Games with a silver medal at 2015 World Championships. Also, Deepika has a gold at the 2013 Archery World Cup in Colombia, an individual gold at the 2012 World Cup individual stage in Turkey and two gold medals at the Delhi Commonwealth Games in 2010 (individual and team). For Deepika and Bombayla Devi, it is about burying the painful past and rising from its ashes.