After a year’s delay due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the 19th edition of the Asian Games is all set to get underway in Hangzhou, China from September 23.
India will be sending a strong contingent and its athletes will compete in 31 sports across various categories.
But among India’s contingent, there will be particular interest on a few names who will be expected to deliver nothing but the gold medal.
The nation clinched seven medals at the Tokyo Olympics two years back - India’s best tally at the quadrennial event - and six of those medallists will be competing in Hangzhou.
As India sets off to better its haul of 70 medals from the 2018 editions, these names will lead the charge.
NEERAJ CHOPRA - JAVELIN THROW
The javelin thrower has become the poster boy of Indian sports since his gold medal at the Olympics in 2021.
Neeraj Chopra landed the 800 gram javelin at a distance of 87.54 metres to take the first place at the event, India’s first medal in track and field. He beat the favourite Johannes Vetter to wear the Olympic crown.
Chopra has folllowed up his Olympics success with consistent performances across the global stage. He won a silver at the World Championships in Eugene in July 2022, followed by the Diamond League crown in December.
This record makes him the absolute favourite to clinch the top prize at the Hangzhou Games as well. The 25-year-old will be eager to get going, having missed out at the Commonwealth Games due to an injury.
PV SINDHU - BADMINTON
Shuttler P.V. Sindhu is the only Indian to medal at the Olympics twice.
She first won a silver at the 2016 Rio Olympics after going down to Spain’s Carolina Marin in the summit clash. Five years later, Sindhu earned a bronze at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics after bettering China’s He Bingjiao.
The 2019 World Champion, however, does not enter the Asian Games in the best of form. Sindhu’s 2022 season was cut short after a stress fracture on her left foot.
The injury kept her out of the World Championships and the BWF Tour Finals. Upon her return, Sindhu has struggled for consistency and has made just one final on the tour so far.
LOVLINA BORGOHAIN - BOXING
Lovlina Borgohain packed a punch and rose to fame at the Tokyo Olympics when she got past two-time World Championships bronze-medallist Nadine Apetz.
She build on the momentum and went all the way to the semifinal where she was bettered by the eventual champion Busenaz Surmeneli.
The pugilist had a sub-par 2022 after she was knocked out of the pre-quarters in the World Championships, and then the quarterfinals of the Commonwealth Games.
But she got back on the track come 2023 with a gold at the Worlds held in New Delhi.
INDIA MEN’S HOCKEY TEAM
The India men’s hockey team ended its 40-year wait for an Olympic medal with a bronze in Tokyo. The fact that it came after a thrilling 5-4 win against giant Germany made the win sweeter.
But a tale has unfolded since that bronze. India settled for the silver at the Commonwealth Games, suffering a 0-7 humiliation at the hands of Australia.
The bigger upset came in January 2023 when India crashed out of the World Cup, held in Odisha, even before the quarterfinals. The side settled for a ninth-place finish at an event where it was expected to make the semifinals.
In the aftermath, Australia’s Graham Reid made way for Craig Fulton as the head coach of the team. The team won Asian Champions Trophy under the South African, and will look to book a spot for the Paris Olympics by clinching the gold.
MIRABAI CHANU - WEIGHTLIFTING
Mirabai Chanu became the second Indian weightlifter to medal at the Olympics after she bagged the silver in the women’s 49kg with a total lift of 202kg.
She added to this haul by getting a silver at the World Championships in Bogota and a gold at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
However, what she was unable to do was better her total weight of 202kg she lifted in Tokyo. At the Asian Games, while getting the gold will be a target for Chanu, she will want to get closer to her National Record lift of 205kg. Perhaps, even better the feat.
BAJRANG PUNIA - WRESTLING
To be fair, Bajrang Punia was a title contender at the Tokyo Olympics but he stumbled against Haji Aliyev in the semifinals.
He still bounced back well and claimed the bronze medal in the 65kg category. A year later, Punia won the gold at the Commonwealth Games before he claimed his third World Championship bronze in the sam weight category.
At the Asian Games, Punia, after a long time, will make the headlines for his moves on the mat. There was hullaballoo over his inclusion in the Asian Games contingent without a proper trial but Punia finds a seat on the flight to Hangzhou.
The 29-year-old opted to skip the 2023 World Championships, and at the Asiad, defending his 65kg title will hold Punia in good stead.
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