Avinash Sable (Athletics): A soldier in the Indian Army’s Mahar Regiment, Sable got a late start to athletics, beginning formal training when he was 21 years old. However just three years after he started, he broke the Indian national record in the 3000m steeplechase when he erased the 37-year-old mark of Gopal Saini in 2018. He would subsequently break the national record on seven other occasions. A former silver medallist at the 2019 Asian Championships, the 27-year-old is also the first Indian track athlete to reach the final of two world championships.
Murali Sreeshankar (Athletics): 23-year-old Murali Sreeshankar made history on July 17, 2022, when he became the first Indian to qualify for the final of the men’s long jump at the World Championship. While Sreeshankar would eventually finish seventh in the final, he still holds claim to the second-best outdoor jump in the world this season – a distance of 8.36m. That mark, recorded at the Federation Cup was the second time he had broken the national record. Sreeshankar first broke the national mark when he cleared a distance of 8.26m in March last year to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.
Jeremy Lalrinnunga (Weightlifting - 67kg): Guided by his boxer father, Jeremy developed a liking for lifting from a very young age. One of the weightlifting prodigies, Jeremy, 19, a product of Army’s Boys Sports Company, stamped his class when he claimed the Youth Olympics gold medal in 62kg at Buenos Aires in 2018. Jeremy, who bagged medals in top international age group events, finally made his mark at the elite level when he won the National championships in Kolkata in 2020. He battled injuries before getting his first gold medal at a senior international event, in the Commonwealth championships in Tashkent in 2021.
Vinesh Phogat (Wrestling – 53kg): Having already won gold medals at the Glasgow and Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, Vinesh Phogat will be looking to become the first Indian woman across any sport to win gold medals at three successive Commonwealth Games when she competes in Birmingham. The 28-year-old is a former World No. 1, and is one of India’s greatest women wrestlers of all time with a bronze at the World Championships, a gold at the Asian Games and eight medals at the Asian Championships.
Sathiyan Gnanasekaran (Table Tennis): As of July 12, Sathiyan, 35th, was India’s highest-ranked men’s singles paddler. In May 2019, Sathiyan attained his career-best World ranking of 24 to become the first Indian TT player to break into the World’s Top-25 in ITTF rankings. At his debut Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast in April 2018, he won medals of all three colours in three different events.
Neha Goyal (Hockey): Neha was called up to India’s squad for the 2011 Junior Asia Cup at the age of 14. She was selected for the Under-21 Four-Nations Lal Bahadur Shastri tournament in 2011 and ended up winning Player of the Tournament. Neha, now 25, made senior team through open selection trials in 2014 and debuted at 2014 Champions Challenge. The midfielder was part of the Indian team at 2017 Asia Cup, 2018 World Cup, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and 2021 Olympics. She is armed with incredible speed and the ability to weave past opponents with excellent ball control.
P. V. Sindhu (Badminton): In a positive development, two-time Olympic medallist Sindhu regained her mojo with the Singapore Open Super 500 women’s singles title just ahead of the Commonwealth Games. Since winning the Swiss Open Super 300 in March, she had not made it to a single final. Sindhu, in fact, failed to progress beyond the quarterfinals in recent World Tour events in Malaysia and Indonesia. Now, as she is back in form, and with her ability to lift her game in prestigious tournaments, she will be the favourite to win the CWG gold. The World No. 7 finished runner-up to Saina Nehwal in the 2018 CWG.
Bajrang Punia (Wrestling – 65kg): 27-year-old Bajrang Punia is one of India’s most successful wrestlers in history, with three World championships medals including a silver in 2018 and bronze in the men’s 65kg division at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. He’s also a nine-time medallist at the Asian Championships and a two-time medallist at the Commonwealth Games, having won a silver in the men’s 61kg in Glasgow and a gold medal at the 2018 Games at Gold Coast.
Smriti Mandhana (T20 Cricket): A stylish left-handed opening batter, Smriti Mandhana is in good form. Her ability to pile on quick runs facing the new ball and, that too, consistently, will be crucial in India’s quest to post a big total or chase a mighty score. In the Commonwealth Games in England, she will hope to succeed with the bat at Birmingham’s Edgbaston Stadium, considering the fact that her strike rate of 120 is one of the best in the format.
Dipika Pallikal (Squash): Earlier this year, Dipika made history in Glasgow by clinching two gold medals - mixed and women’s doubles - at the World Doubles Championship after a three-year hiatus from squash during which she also became a mother. The 30-year-old, who was the first Indian woman to break into the top-10 of the world rankings, would be looking to continue the golden streak next month. Dipika has a stellar record playing doubles, winning gold at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games and silver at the last edition in 2018. However, she hasn’t been slotted in for women’s singles, instead will be playing as a doubles specialist.
Bhavinaben Patel (Para Table Tennis): Bhavinaben Patel is the first Indian paddler to win a medal in the sport at either Olympics or Paralympics. The 35-year-old, who hails from Sundhiya village in Gujarat, achieved the feat by winning silver in women’s singles Class 4 category at 2020 Tokyo Paralympics. For her historic achievement, Bhavina was awarded with the Arjuna award. Bhavina was diagnosed with polio at the age of one. She will be one of India’s strongest medal prospects in Birmingham.
Kidambi Srikanth (Badminton): Kidambi Srikanth’s terrific form in India’s maiden Thomas Cup victory has raised hopes of a revival of his career. World No. 11, who won a silver in Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, has no big titles to his credit since winning four Superseries titles in 2017. But, his recent unbeaten run in Thomas Cup means he will be one of the strongest contenders for the men’s singles gold, together with compatriot Lakshya Sen and Loh Kean Yew. In the meantime, his ability to lead from the front may come handy in India’s quest to defend the mixed team gold.
Harmanpreet Singh (Hockey): Harmanpreet Singh, vice-captain of the men’s hockey team, is another of those players who made his senior team debut while being part of the junior set-up. The 26-year-old defender participated in 2016 Rio Olympics. He won gold at the 2016 Junior World Cup. Not just that, he won bronze at the 2021 Olympics and 2018 Asian Games. He is a member of the side which came fourth at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. A penalty corner expert and main scorer, Harmanpreet is a powerful drag-flicker as well.
Lovlina Borgohain (Boxing – 70kg): A Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist, Lovlina, 24, has enjoyed success ever since she switched from muay thai to boxing in 2012. Spotted and groomed by coach Podum Boro, Lovlina made her mark at the senior level when she bagged a bronze medal in the Asian championships in 2017. She returned empty-handed from the 2018 Commonwealth Games, but proved her class by taking bronze medals in the 2018 and 2019 World championships. In 2021, Lovlina became the second woman boxer from the country to claim a bronze medal in the Olympics.
Nikhat Zareen (Boxing – 50kg): Nikhat Zareen, 26, realised her true potential when she emerged as 52kg World champion in Istanbul. A World junior champion in 2011, Nikhat went through several ups and downs and overcame her conservative background and a serious shoulder injury (2017) to establish herself as one of the best in the world. Two gold medals at the Strandja event (2019 and 2022), an Asian championships bronze (2019) and the recent World title along with some stunning wins over World and Olympic medallists make Nikhat a medal prospect in the 2022 Commonwealth Games.
Lakshya Sen (Badminton): At 20, not many have successfully made the transition from childhood prodigy to World No. 10. Many believe Lakshya Sen could be the next big thing in Indian badminton. Since winning the World Championships bronze in December 2021, he became the first Indian male to play the All England Open final in 21 years. He then raised his level in the Thomas Cup final to win the team championship gold. With Lee Zii Jia pulling out of the Games, Sen will be one of India’s biggest hopes for individual and mixed team glory.
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