Asian Games 2023 is set to be held in Hangzhou, China, from September 23 to October 8.
Indian contingent will hope to better its performance of 16 gold, 23 silver and 31 bronze medals from five years ago in Indonesia.
Here are 10 athletes who are the biggest medal hopes of the nation this time in Hangzhou:
Neeraj Chopra (men’s javelin throw)
Neeraj Chopra will look to defend his Asian Games gold medal from Jakarta 2018. The Indian had taken the top spot on the podium in Indonesia with a massive throw of 88.06m. Since then, Neeraj has become the World, Olympic and Diamond League champion.
He has a massive personal best of 89.94m, while this year, his best throw has been 88.67m achieved in Doha.
Nikhat Zareen (Boxing - Women’s 50kg)
Boxer Nikhat Zareen is the reigning world and Commonwealth champion in women’s 50kg category. While she has never competed in the Asian Games before, the 27-year-old from Nizamabad is expected to be the favourite for the gold medal.
Win at the Asian Games will also take Nikhat closer to her ultimate dream of an Olympic medal as the Asiad is also a qualifier for Paris Olympics 2024.
Indian men’s hockey team
The Indian men’s hockey team will look to put behind the disappointment of a bronze medal from Jakarta 2018 and win gold this time as the Asian Games winner is given direct entry into the Olympics.
Since the last Asian Games, the Indian team had a series of ups and downs. It ended the 41-year wait for an Olympic medal by winning bronze in Tokyo in 2021 before clinching silver at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham last year. After a poor performance at the World Cup held at home earlier this year and with the change in coach - Graham Reid replaced by Craig Fulton - it has taken the team some time to adjust but it has found form at the right time.
The Indian team recently won its fourth Asian Champions Trophy title, beating Malaysia in the final in Chennai and a similar style of play will be expected at the continental event next month as well.
Rohan Bopanna (Tennis - men’s doubles)
Even at the age of 43, Rohan Bopanna is having one of the best seasons of his life. Along with his Australian partner Matthew Ebden, he won ATP Tour titles in Doha and Indian Wells earlier this year. The duo also reached the semifinals at Wimbledon before finishing runner-up at US Open where Bopanna became the oldest Grand Slam finalist in the Open Era.
World No. 7 Bopanna is the only Asian player in Top 20 of the ATP Rankings. He had won gold with Divij Sharan in Jakarta 2018. While Divij is not in the squad this time and it remains to be seen who will be Bopanna’s doubles partner.
Indian men’s and women’s cricket teams
Both Indian men’s and women’s cricket teams will make their Asian Games debut in Hangzhou and will start the event as heavy favourites for the gold medal.
The 15-member men’s team will be led by Ruturaj Gaikwad.
The women’s team will be captained by Smriti Mandhana. Harmanpreet Kaur was initially supposed to lead the team. However, she will miss two matches after being suspended by the International Cricket Council for her outburst in an ODI against Bangladesh. Harmanpreet cannot come back into the team unless it reaches the final.
Both Indian men’s and women’s teams will begin their campaign directly from the quarterfinal stage.
Jyothi Surekha Vennam (Compound Archery)
Jyothi Surekha Vennam is one of the most decorated Indian archers with multiple medals at Asian Archery Championships, World Cups and World Championships.
This year, Jyothi, along with Parneet Kaur and Aditi Swami, won India’s first-ever gold medal at the World Championships in the women’s team event in Berlin.
Jyothi has previously competed at the Asian Games in 2014 and 2018, winning a silver and a bronze medal in the team events. The 27-year-old compound archer from Vijayawada could clinch multiple medals across categories in Hangzhou.
Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty (Badminton - Men’s Doubles)
Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty are World No. 3 in men’s doubles rankings. The duo has been in spectacular form since last year. They won the 2022 India Open before being part of the Indian squad that clinched its maiden Thomas Cup title. They also clinched gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham before grabbing a historic bronze medal at the World Championships. They added one more title to their collection before the end of 2022 - their first-ever BWF World Super 750 title at the French Open.
This year, the pair has won Swiss Open, Indonesia Open, Korea Open and also the Asian Championships.
At the 2018 Asian Games, Satwik and Chirag had lost to South Korea’s Choi Sol-gyu and Kang Min-hyuk in the round of 16 but this time, the Indian pair will be expected to go all the way and win the gold medal. India’s best performance in men’s doubles at the Asian Games came at the 1982 edition in New Delhi where Leroy D’Sa and Pradeep Gandhe won bronze.
Rudrankksh Patil (Shooting - Men’s 10m Air Rifle)
Rudrankksh Patil, the 19-year-old shooter from Thane, will make his Asian Games debut this year. Patil will be one of the favourites to clinch gold in the men’s 10m air rifle event, a feat which no other Indian male shooter has achieved previously.
He has shown it in the past that he has the capability to perform when it matters. In October last year, he came from behind to snatch the gold medal from Italian Danillo Sollazo at the ISSF World Championships. The gold was the first for India in 10m air rifle at the Worlds since Abhinav Bindra won his in 2006. He also pocketed an Olympic quota for the country for Paris 2024.
This year, he grabbed a gold and a bronze medal at the ISSF World Cups in Cairo and Bhopal, respectively in the same event.
Tejaswin Shankar (Decathlon)
Tejaswin Shankar is a big medal prospect for India in decathlon at the Asian Games despite his recent switch from high jump in which he holds the National Record.
The 24-year-old from New Delhi fell just 10 points short of Bharatinder Singh’s national record of 7658 points in his very first decathlon event in Tucson, Arizona, this April.
He then managed to meet the Asian Games qualification mark of 7500 points set by the Athletics Federation of India with a performance of 7576 points at the National Inter-State Athletics Championships in Bhubaneswar in June.
In July, he won his first major medal in decathlon - a bronze at the Asian Athletics Championships in Bangkok with 7527 points.
Mirabai Chanu (Weightlifting - women’s 49kg)
Mirabai Chanu made her Asian Games debut in 2014 in Incheon and finished ninth in the women’s 48kg category. Since then, she has shown amazing growth. She has won two gold and one silver medals at the Commonwealth Games, a World Championship title in 2017 with her biggest achievement being the silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics.
While it will be tough for Mirabai to secure gold in her category which also features reigning Olympic champion Hou Zhihui and World champion Jiang Huihua, she is still expected to at least finish on the podium.
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