To Doha with hope

Indian shooter Mansher Singh-PHOTO: P.V. SIVAKUMAR

With world champions in its ranks, India's best bet at the Asian Games will be shooting. Kamesh Srinivasan reports.

It is now time to start eyeing the medals in the Asian Games in Doha. Can India improve upon its performance of the last Asian Games in Busan, where it won 11 gold, 12 silver and 13 bronze medals?

Maybe, India will improve its silver and bronze medals count, but pushing up the gold tally will be a tough challenge, no matter how nicely the officials paint a promising picture before the team's departure.

Perhaps, the chances of the Indian squad coming clean from the dope tests have increased by 50 per cent in the absence of the weightlifting team, which is serving a suspension. That should be a huge relief as the weightlifters brought shame to the country in the last few outings, including the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Anwer Sultan-PHOTO: S. SUBRAMANIUM

On the flip side, it is equally a shame that a country that is willing to pay $100,000 to each of the 72 nations, including Australia and England, ostensibly to prepare for the 2010 Commonwealth Games, is not able to cough up $50,000 towards the fine imposed by the International Weightlifting Federation and get its team back into the international arena.

In Indian sport, such examples of misplaced priorities abound. Yet, the onus is on the sportspersons to return with a rich haul, so that the men running the sport could authoritatively ask for crores of rupees to host the Commonwealth Games, the Asian Games and even the Olympics. In the last six editions of the Olympics, India has not been able to win a single gold medal, but we are very keen to host the Asian Games in 2014.

Manavjit Singh Sandhu-PHOTO: R.V. MOORTHY

Given the scenario, it is nothing less than a miracle that we have world champions in Manavjit Singh Sandhu and Abhinav Bindra in an intensely competitive discipline like shooting. Then, shooting has been one sport that has been showing clean progress despite the constant failings of the system.

All eyes will be on Mansher Singh, Anwer Sultan and Manavjit Sandhu, the reigning World and Asian champion, as they are capable of returning with two medals from the trap range in Doha. Olympic silver medallist Lt. Col. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore has risen in stature in the double-trap event and he is as much a favourite for the gold as the Olympic and World champion Ahmed al Maktoum of the UAE.

In the absence of Abhinav Bindra, out with a back strain, the onus will be on Gagan Narang who tamed the Chinese in their backyard in winning the World Cup gold and the Olympic quota place in air rifle, immediately after a fine outing in the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.

The Indian women air rifle shooters, Tejaswini Sawant, Suma Shirur and Avneet Kaur Sidhu have it in them to win a couple of medals. It may be recalled that it was just two team medals, both silver, from the trap and women's air rifle that India managed to win at the Busan Asian Games.

Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore is fancied to win the gold in double trap.-PHOTO: R.V. MOORTHY

It has to be seen whether Anjali Bhagwat, who could not gain selection in her favourite air rifle, can recapture the old magic in the 3-position event.

The Indian shooters have made a tremendous progress in recent times. As a result, it should not be a surprise if the team bags a medal in the tough rapid-fire pistol event as Pemba Tamang proved that he was of international class in the World Championship in Zagreb, Croatia. The Indian team was second best in Asia.

Jaspal Rana, who won the only individual gold medal for India at the 1994 Asian Games in Hiroshima, is also among the favourites. From gold to silver to bronze, Jaspal's grip over the centre-fire pistol has slackened over the years, but he is still good enough to win the gold medal.

Another ace shooter Samaresh Jung was the best athlete at the Melbourne Commonwealth Games, but it will be tough for him at the Asian Games as China will be gunning for a sweep. In tennis, world beaters Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi and Sania Mirza offer a lot of hope for two gold medals, though it may not be easy going.

It will be a challenge for the likes of Rohan Bopanna and Shikha Uberoi to make a mark. Rohan has been doing well in doubles and looks capable of winning a medal in Doha.

In cue sports, players such as Pankaj Advani, Geet Sethi and Ashok Shandilya should be able to add substantially to the medals tally.

India's domination in kabaddi, which fetched the only gold medal for the country in the 1990 Asian Games in Beijing, is likely to continue.

The Indian archers are also capable of causing a ripple. Jayanta Talukdar, who won a gold medal at the World Championship, has ignited fresh hopes, while Dola Banerjee promises to come good in Doha.

Badminton ace Saina Nehwal, who finished runner-up in the recent World Junior Championship, and squash player Joshna Chinappa would do well to add to their growing stature with a quality performance in Doha though winning a medal may be just a dream.