India has sent its largest ever Olympic contingent to Rio 2016. For a large country as India, which has a population of 1.25 billion, 121 qualifiers is not a big number certainly. The United States, which has a population of 3.2 million, will have 555 athletes at the Games. However, when you recall that India had sent only 83 athletes to London four years ago, you would feel a lot better.
But, how many of the Indian athletes are genuine medal prospects? Sportstar takes a look.
(Badminton: women’s singles; Age: 26)
She created history in London by winning the women’s singles bronze medal. It was India’s first medal in badminton at the Olympics. There is no reason why the former World No. 1 should not win another Olympic medal in Rio.
Saina is gifted, hardworking, and is obsessed with the Olympics. The title at the Australian Super Series in June, after starting out as the seventh seed, could not have come at a better time for this genial girl from Hyderabad.
(Shooting: 50m pistol & 10m air pistol; Age: 28)
Once again, a star-studded contingent will represent India in shooting in the Olympics. Many reckon Jitu as the brightest prospect in a team that has the potential to bring home multiple medals.
The Army man of Nepali origin has been consistent and focussed. He is ranked No. 3 in the world now in both the 50m pistol and 10m air pistol. Rio might help him complete his already enviable medal collection.
(Wrestling: 65 kg freestyle; Age: 33)
In London 2012, a combination of talent, hard work and luck helped him to win a bronze. He had sprung a surprise in the 60 kg category then. Four years later, Yogeshwar is five kilograms heavier, but is determined to end his Olympic career on a high. The injury worries — there were quite a few — are behind him.
Yogeshwar knows, in Rio his competitors would be ready for him, for he is not an unknown entity. The strong man from Haryana showed that he was in top form by winning the gold at the Asian Olympic Qualification in Kazakhstan.
(Archery: recurve singles and team championship; Age: 22)
India has never won an Olympic medal in archery. It was expected to break the jinx in London but didn’t succeed, with the country’s finest prospect, Deepika Kumari, failing to deliver.
The girl from Ranchi was the World No. 1 then, but she was only 18. Four years later, she is more experienced and matured, and ought to do better in Rio. To those who had written her off, Deepika had sent a strong reminder three months ago with a World-record equalling performance in the World Cup in Shanghai.
ROHAN BOPANNA & SANIA MIRZA
(Tennis: mixed doubles; Age: Rohan 36; Sania 29)
Sania is ranked World No. 1 in the women’s doubles, while Rohan Bopanna is No. 15 in the men’s doubles. They team up in Rio and hope to provide India its first Olympic medal in tennis since Leander Paes — the ageless wonder will be there in Rio too — made history in 1996.
The experience of playing as a team for Indian Aces at the International Premier Tennis League should help the duo.
(Shooting: 10m air pistol & 25m pistol; Age: 26)
India has won four medals in shooting at the Olympics. But so far, no woman shooter has won a medal. Heena Sidhu would be hoping to set a record of sorts in Rio.
Heena, a dentist from Punjab, may not be ranked among the best now, but in 2014, she had become the first Indian woman to take the World No. 1 spot. A year earlier, she had struck gold in the 10m air pistol event in the World Cup.
INDIAN MEN’S HOCKEY TEAM
The Indian men’s hockey team is capable of causing a surprise or two in Rio. It is a talented, ambitious side led by that outstanding goalkeeper from Kerala, P. R. Sreejesh. Only a couple of months ago the team reached the final of the Champions Trophy in London — a first for India in the tournament that began in 1978.
The competition is going to be extremely tough in Rio, no doubt. India is no longer a team consisting of wizards like Dhyan Chand. But hope springs eternal.
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