CWG 2018: Chanu, shuttlers, boxers kickstart India's medal quest

All eyes would be on weightlifter Mirabai Chanu as India begins its Commonwealth Games campaign on Thursday.

Mirabai Chanu in action at the World Weightlifting Championships.   -  PTI

World champion weightlifter Mirabai Chanu will be in focus for her high medal-winning chances but India’s high-profile shuttlers and boxers will also be watched keenly when they open their campaigns at the Commonwealth Games here on Thursday.

Competing in the 48kg category, Chanu, who claimed a silver at the 2014 CWG, is being considered a sure shot medal prospect for India as her personal best of 194kg stands over 10kg more than her nearest rival in the competition.

Chanu had become only the second Indian weightlifter after Karnam Malleswari to emerge world champion in November 2017 when she created a new world record of 194kg - 85kg snatch and 109kg clean-and-jerk - to lift gold at the World Weightlifting Championships in Anaheim, USA.

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None of the lifters in her competition have touched even 180kg with her likely closest rival, Amanda Braddock of Canada, having a personal best of 173kg.

While Chanu’s medal prospects make her the top draw for the Indian contingent, also in action will be the shuttlers, boxers, the women’s hockey team and the table tennis players among others.

The hockey team had finished fifth the last time around and will be beginning its campaign against Wales on Thursday morning. The Indians had done well in the tour of South Korea coming into the Games, winning the series in a morale-boosting effort.

“We have practiced hard for these Games, I hope the results will reflect that,” coach Harendra Singh said.

The most star-studded Indian line-up in the Games, the badminton squad, has a busy schedule on the first competition day. The team will be in action in the mixed event and has clashes lined up against Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

While the Sri Lanka match is scheduled for morning, the face-off against the rivals from across the border is due in the second half of the day. The likes of P.V. Sindhu, Kidambi Srikanth are not expected to be stretched much in these matches.

After going all out to ensure that her father gets accommodation in the Games Village as an accredited official, including threatening a pullout, Saina Nehwal would be watched for how ferocious a performance she pulls off with the racquet.

Then there are the boxers. Only one of them -- the 2010 CWG gold-medallist Manoj Kumar (69kg) -- will be taking the ring on Thursday.

Read: P.R. Sreejesh: Geared up for the Games

The veteran would be up against Nigeria’s Osita Umeh in his opening clash and will be aiming to ensure that the focus firmly shifts from the needle controversy that marred the squad’s build-up.

The controversy ended after their doctor Amol Patil was let off with a reprimand for not disposing syringes, used to administer multi-vitamins to one of the boxers, as per the stipulated norms.

On the squash court, Dipika Pallikal, Joshna Chinnappa, Sourav Ghosal and Harinder Pal Sandhu will kick off their singles campaigns. Pallikal and Chinnappa had claimed the women’s doubles gold in the 2014 Games and it remains to be seen whether a singles medal becomes a reality this time around.

The build-up to the Games has been far from ideal for them owing to the resignation of their foreign coach Achraf El Karargui due to differences with the national federation.

“We’ve never won a medal in an individual event before. It would be something special if he could do it,” said national coach Cyrus Poncha, referring to current World No. 13 and third seed Ghosal.

Another controversy-hit squad from India in action on Thursday is table tennis. One of their senior players, Soumyajit Ghosh, was dropped from the team owing to rape allegations, and the paddlers would be eager to ensure that this CWG is best remembered for their exploits with the racquet.

While the women’s team will square off against Vanautu and Fiji, the men’s team comprising the likes of veteran A. Sharath Kamal and G. Sathiyan will be facing Trinidad and Tobago and Northen Ireland.

Away from the spotlight and having dealt with their fair share of selection controversies prior to the Games, the Indian men’s team of artistic gymnasts will be presenting their challenge on the opening day of competition.

The spotlight here will be on comeback-man Ashish Kumar, who had scripted history by becoming the first Indian gymnast to claim CWG medals. He had claimed a bronze in floor exercise and a silver in vault.

Plagued by injuries ever since, Ashish would be aiming to reclaim the lost time with a strong showing here.

Also there would be the cyclists even though medal expectations from them are not too high. Nonetheless, a certain Deborah Herold’s name continues to evoke some curiosity despite the former Asian medallist’s lack of any recent achievements.

The men’s and women’s basketball teams will also be playing their respective opening matches on Thursday, against Cameroon and Jamaica.

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