To Incheon with hope

How many gold medals will India win in the Asian Games? It will be nice to put a number but then that would be risky business, writes Stan Rayan.

While almost every country was focused on how to win medals and working out strategies, with about two weeks to go for the 17th Asian Games, India still had not made up its mind about the number of athletes or the teams to be sent to Incheon.

Should the Sports Ministry clear the football team? Should the fencers go? What about the table tennis boys who will face some of the world’s best in Korea?

These were the questions going around, even after the federations had sent in their entries to the Asian Games organisers. That virtually sums up the country’s plans and preparations for the Asian Games.

Since India was hosting the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, finance was not much of a problem. Many teams and athletes were sent abroad for training which saw the country cross the 100-medal mark in New Delhi. Later that year India won 65 medals, including 14 golds, in the Asian Games in Guangzhou.

That is not the case this time. Federations have been complaining about lack of funds, teams about lack of exposure and it showed at the recent Commonwealth Games in Glasgow where India ended up with 64 medals, including 15 golds.

Athletics was the big winner at the last Asian Games, bringing in five golds. But a year later, with women’s 400m hurdler Ashwini Akkunji and a bunch of women’s 4x400m relay girls failing dope tests and handed out two-year suspensions, their performances were looked at with suspicion.

If their performances this year are any indication, Commonwealth Games discus throw champion Vikas Gowda and triple jumper Arpinder Singh in the men’s section and discus thrower Seema Antil Punia and 800m runner Tintu Luka along with the women’s 4x400m relay team have a good chance of doing well in athletics.

Wrestling (5 golds), shooting (4) and weightlifting (3) provided 12 of the 15 golds that India won at the Glazgow Commonwealth Games but the country brought home just one gold in these three events combined at the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games, through shooter Ronjan Sodhi in the men’s double trap. That should offer an idea about the tough opposition our athletes could face in these events.

The withdrawal of wrestler Sushil Kumar, the London Olympics silver medallist, from the Continental event to focus on the 2016 Rio Olympics, has further dampened the chances of Indian wrestling in Incheon.

Tennis brought two gold medals in Guangzhou but with the country’s big star Somdev Devvarman, who won the singles and doubles (with Sanam Singh) titles at the last Asian Games, opting out of the Incheon team, India’s chances in the event have taken a big hit.

India was the best Asian team in the hockey World Cup and it won a silver at the Commonwealth Games and hockey pundits feel that the team’s chance of winning gold is strong in Incheon where the sport will be played in a new four-quarter format of 15 minutes each.

Two gold medals seem to be certain in men’s and women’s kabaddi, a sport which the country has been dominating at the Asian Games.

Despite our boxers doing well in the Asian Games — India won two golds in the last edition — and Commonwealth Games, the problems in the national federation has clearly affected our chances. London Olympics bronze medallist Mary Kom’s return, after missing the Commonwealth Games, has raised hopes especially after Guangzhou Asian Games gold medallist Vijender Singh’s withdrawal with a hand injury.

So, how many golds will India win in Incheon? It will be nice to put a number but then that would be risky business.

But be ready for plenty of surprises.