Here is a look at the top Indian athletes who are making their CWG debut in the Birmingham Games.
Avinash Sable (Steeplechase)
The army man from Maharashtra had admitted in an interview that it is not difficult to break national records. This resolve is the reason why Sable holds three national records in track events - the 3000m steeplechase, 5000m and the half marathon.
Competing in his first Diamond League earlier this year, Sable broke the national record in the 3000m steeplechase and came fifth. At the recently-concluded World Championships in Eugene, though Sable managed his best-ever finish at 11th place, he certainly would not have been impressed with his timing of 8:31.75. Sable’s outing in Birmingham will give him the chance to test himself in another tough competition against the likes of Conseslus Kipruto from Kenya.
Murali Sreeshankar (Long jump)
India’s No. 1 long jumper finds himself in a mouth-watering contest at this year’s Commonwealth Games. Sreeshankar’s main rivals for the title will be Jamaica’s Wayne Pinnock and Australia’s Henry Frayne whose personal bests have been close to Sreeshankar’s 8.36m.
The Indian is coming off a strong performance at the Eugene World Championships where he ended in seventh place. What would encourage him will be the fact that his two main rivals ended behind him at the World Championships. Like most of his Indian counterparts in Birmingham, Sreeshankar would certainly hope to improve his personal best of 8.36m.
Nikhat Zareen (Boxing)
Nikhat Zareen is the latest find from India’s boxing camp. She stole the limelight when she clinched the World Championship title in the 52kg category. On her way to the gold medal, Nikhat beat the reigning champion as well as the Olympic champion in the weight category. Even before her world title, Nikhat had made a mark when she won a bronze at the Asian Championships in 2019.
But, the 26-year-old’s success at the World Championship highlighted her dominance in the field. As a result, the Commonwealth Games should prove to be a relatively easy challenge. With Australia and England not fielding their full-strength line-ups, Nikhat will have an eye on the gold medal.
Jyothi Yarraji (Hurdles)
Jyothi Yarraji’s rise in the 100m hurdles event has been meteoric. The 22-year-old is the national record holder with a timing of 13.04 seconds. The sprinter from Andhra Pradesh has even bettered her own record at 13.03 seconds. Sadly, the record could not be ratified.
At the Birmingham Games, Yarraji has set herself a target of breaching the sub-13 second mark. Although, she wil be up against a tough field, which includes sprinters from Jamaica and Nigeria, Jyothi believes she has the potential and speed to clinch a podim finish.
Tejaswin Shankar (High jump)
Tejaswin Shankar’s journey to the Commonwealth Games 2022 has been nothing less than a roller coaster ride. After an omission by the Athletics Federation of India, a legal battle saw him earn his place in the Indian contingent, only to be rejected by the Commonwealth Games organising committee.
His acceptance into the event last week ultimately saw Shankar board the flight to England. For the high jumper, the opportunity to appear at the Birmingham Games will be all about making a statement. A statement that despite the noise outside the field, he remains the king inside it. While the national record holder would certainly be aiming for a podium finish, he will also want to better his personal best of 2.29m at the quadrennial event.
Jeremy Lalrinnunga (Weightlifting)
Jeremy made people take notice of him for the first time in 2018 when he grabbed the gold medal at the Youth Olympics in Argentina. The achievement, though, came with its bag of expectations. The weightlifter was expected to replicate his success in the senior category competitions as well.
While he grabbed the National Championships title in 2020, a couple of serious bouts with injuries saw Jeremy underperform at the Asian Championships last year. But what does not kill you makes you stronger. The Sikkim lad will be determined to make an impact in his first Commonwealth Games appearance and grab the gold medal for India.
Ravi Kumar Dahiya (Wrestling)
There has just been one thing on Ravi Kumar Dahiya’s mind ever since he won the silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics - an Olympic gold medal. Whenever the grappler steps to the mat, it is with the aim of improving himself in order to achieve that ultimate target. It is this drive that makes him see his three Asian Championships gold medals as mere stepping stones towards the ultimate glory.
Being in a sport that has been one of India’s strongholds at the Commonwealth Games over the years brings the weight of expectations and pressure. But Dahiya is not the one to be fazed by it. The competition offers him the chance to tick off another box and collect another accolade for his trophy room and move on to his next stepping stone - the World Championships.
Lakshya Sen (Badminton)
Lakshya Sen has become a popular name in badminton, all at the age of 21. Sen was a part of the Thomas Cup team that wrote a golden chapter in the sport’s history in India. Among his other notable feats are the runners up finish in the All England Open in 2022 and a bronze medal at the World Championships last year.
His meteoric rise and the comebacks of seniors Kidambi Srikanth and H.S. Prannoy have brought life back into India’s men’s badminton. Sen would yet again be expected to bring home a medal from the Commonwealth Games. And given the absence of powerhouses like China, Japan and Denmark, the task at Sen’s hands would be just a tad bit easier.