Kom, Sindhu, Neeraj - India’ brightest prospects at the Games

India is fielding 219 participants in 15 disciplines at the 2018 Commonwealth Games but only a handful form a selection of its best medal prospects.

India's flagbearer P. V. Sindhu leads the delegation during the opening ceremony of the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games at the Carrara Stadium on the Gold Coast.   -  AFP


Now that the glittering opening ceremony is over, which set the tone and tenor for the XXI Commonwealth Games here, the focus shifts to the different venues across the host city and beyond as the actual competitions begin on Thursday.

Over the next 11 days, medallists in as many as 275 events are to be decided from among the participants of the Games, including India which has fielded a side of 219 in 15 disciplines. With a haul of 64, India was placed fifth in the overall medals tally in Glasgow four years ago, but the expectations this time around is of an improved display and a top three finish.

True, there are several from among the Indian ranks who are capable of winning here with their resoluteness, but only a handful form a selection of India’s brightest prospects at these Games, which conclude on April 15. This list does not include team events such as hockey where India is definite to end up with a medal each in both the categories or the squash pair of Joshna Chinappa and Deepika Pallikal, who will be out to defend the top podium finish they achieved in Glasgow 2014.

P. V. Sindhu (badminton)

First match - Singles Round-of-32, April 11, 4.01 a.m. IST

The 22-year-old World No. 3 is the top seed for women’s singles for a second consecutive time, having had the same honour in Glasgow 2014. Over there, Sindhu played tamely against eventual winner Michelle Li (Canada) in the semifinals and, thereby, had to settle for the bronze medal. But, the steady progress made by the 2016 Rio silver medallist over the last four years is what has helped Sindhu gain the pride of place for a second time. Though, a minor injury last week did force alarm bells ringing amongst her supporters, the Indian flag bearer is now fully recovered in her hunt for the gold medal.

M. C. Mary Kom (boxing)

First bout - vs Megan Gordon, April 8, 7.47 a.m. IST

Mary Kom, will compete in the light flyweight (48) class at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast.   -  AFP

 

The veteran boxer, a winner of a record five world amateur titles and an ambassador for the sport across the globe, Mary Kom will be making her debut in the Commonwealth Games at the age of 35 in her favourite weight category – 48kg. Nicknamed as “Magnificent Mary” by those who adore this Manipuri, Kom will kick start her campaign against Scotland’s Megan Gordon on April 8 in a bid to achieve the only accolade missing from her CV. With only eight entrants, a win against the Scot should put Mary straight away into the semifinals and thereafter to the final on April 14.


Sakshi Malik (wrestling)

In action - April 14, 6.00 a.m. IST

Sakshi Malik is among the favourites in the 62kg division.   -  PTI

 

The gritty star, who stole the hearts of sports enthusiasts across the country by capturing the bronze medal in the 2016 Rio Olympics, will be appearing in her second Commonwealth Games. In Glasgow 2014, she had finished with a silver medal but she will not be satisfied with anything other than a gold this time around. The first Indian female wrestler to win an Olympic medal, there are only four other wrestlers in the 62kg category and this should help the 25-year-old for a top of the podium finish.

Mirabai Chanu Saikhom (weightlifting)

48kg final - April 5, 9.30 IST

A silver medallist behind Sanjita Chanu in Glasgow, this 23-year-old from Imphal is the only world champion among all her Indian compatriots taking part in this Games. While winning the South Asian Games in Guwahati in 2016, Mira had said that her aim was to win the Olympic and world titles but hardly anyone lent an ear to that.

Indian weightlifter Mirabhai Chanu Saikhom will compete in the 48kg final.

 

The Manipuri proved her critics wrong when she took the world title of the 48kg category at Anaheim, United States last year with an astonishing total of 194kg having done 85kg in snatch and 109kg in clean and jerk. The pint-sized lifter goes into action on Thursday and should present India with its first gold medal of the Games.

Heena Sidhu (shooting)

10m air pistol qualifiers - April 8, 4.31 a.m.

25m pistol qualifiers - April 10,  4.31 a.m.

Entering the fray as the reigning Asian champion, she was the odds on favourite for the 10m air pistol in Glasgow. But as ill-luck would have it, Heena fumbled badly with her shots through the opening round and was the first to be eliminated. The reverse seems to have steeled the determination in her as the Mumbai-based shooter has gone from strength to strength to prove her credentials time and again.

Heena Sidhu won gold in the 10m air pistol event in 2017 Commonwealth shooting championship.   -  Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

 

Having won the 2017 Commonwealth shooting championship gold in 10m air pistol, Heena is very much familiar with the venue as last year’s event was also held in Brisbane. This should stand her in good stead as she prepares to get her shots on target in the 25m pistol besides her pet event.

Kidambi Srikanth (badminton)

First match - Mixed Team event single match vs Niluka Karunaratne, April 5, 4.31 a.m. IST

Like compatriot, P. V. Sindhu, Srikanth also goes into the competition with the tag of the top seed in the men’s singles. Nothing of surprise here as this 25-year-old, who shot to prominence with a brilliant win over Chinese Lin Dan in 2014, is currently ranked second in the world.

Kidambi Srikanth would look to carry last year's momentum to 2018 Commonwealth Games.   -  AFP

 

The year 2017 was simply a superb year for this Pullela Gopichand-disciple as he gobbled up as many as four BWF super series titles. There could be the unseen hurdle in any tournament, to the seeded players in particular, but if there is nothing untoward of that sort happening, Srikanth should keep his date with destiny here on April 15 and emulate the deeds of Prakash Padukone, Syed Modi and Parupalli Kashyap.

Jitu Rai (shooting)

10m air pistol qualifiers - April 9, 4.31 a.m.

50m pistol qualifiers - April 11,  4.31 a.m.

This shooter of Nepali origin from the ranks of the army has come a long way since he cornered the spotlight by becoming the first Indian to win two medals in a single ISSF world cup. He did shine brightly in Glasgow four years ago as he won the 50m free pistol gold with a new Games record to boot. Thus, much was expected from him at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

Indian shooter Jitu Rai.   -  Getty Images

 

However, he failed to live up to the expectations, failing to qualify for the final of the 50m event and finishing eighth and last in the 10m air pistol. Now, on a comeback trial, Jitu should keep the tricolour aloft here as he defends his 50m gold medal and attempts another in the 10m air pistol, in the company of Om Prakash Mitharwal.

Sushil Kumar (wrestling)

First match 74kg quarterfinal - April 12, 6.00 a.m. IST

Notwithstanding his love-hate relationship with the Wrestling Federation of India, this 34-year-old is in the hunt for a hat-trick of Commonwealth Games gold medals, having won the 66kg category in New Delhi, 2010, and 74kg class in Glasgow, 2014.

Indian wrestler Sushil Kumar will be wrestling in the 74kg category.   -  AFP

 

His selection to this event might have created some unnecessary headlines but that should not stop this outstanding wrestler – the only Indian to win medals in successive Olympic Games – from going for the gold having prepared himself by training in Georgia and that too by spending money out of his own pocket. He should simply waltz through.

Neeraj Chopra (athletics)

Qualifying round - April 13, 6.00 a.m. IST

It is not often that Indian athletics is blessed with a genuine talent. In the 1980s, we had P. T. Usha and in the initial years of the present millennium, Anju Bobby George. The good thing that has happened during the last three years has been the emergence of this wunderkind; after winning the SAF title in Guwahati, he went on to take the world junior championship gold medal and a new record of 86.48m against his name in Poland in 2016.

Neeraj Chopra starts as the favourite in the men's javelin throw event.   -  Getty Images

 

Having achieved the best ever throw in India with a distance of 85.94m at the Federation Cup in Patiala last month, Neeraj starts as the favourite here in men’s javelin throw. He should be on the top of the podium close to noon on April 14.

Vikas Krishan (boxing)

First match - TBD, April 8, 9.32 a.m. IST

It is hard to believe, that this 26-year old pugilist from Haryana, much like Mary Kom is making his first bow at the Commonwealth Games this year. He was the Asian Games gold medallist in Guangzhou, China in 2010 and a quarterfinal entrant in the 2012 London Olympic Games.

Vikas Krishan is making his Commonwealth Games debut in Gold Coast.   -  PTI

 

In fact, it was his break for about 18 months after his heart-breaking London loss that paved his way for missing Glasgow, 2014. But, since returning back to the ring and winning a bronze medal in the Incheon Asian Games, he was once again got to top form and earned another quarterfinal entry in the 2016 Rio Olympics. With Vijender Singh having turned professional, Vikas is currently the senior most in the Indian team and will compete here in the 75kg category where he stands a good chance to earn the gold medal itself.