The final preparations have been done, the good luck messages have been sent, now it’s time to plunge into the quadrennial sporting extravaganza – the Asian Games. A 679-strong Indian contingent is heading to Incheon and hopes are high that India can better the 65 medals won in Guangzhou in 2010. Here’s a look at ten medal hopefuls who can make the country proud.
1. PV Sindhu (Badminton) – Her talent belies her age. This was proven once again at the World Championships where PV Sindhu secured her second bronze medal. The 19-year-old who won a bronze medal at Commonwealth Games has been giving some tough fights to the top Chinese shuttlers. Even though Sindhu is sometimes inconsistent, she looks likely to grab a medal, due to her terrific performances over the last 2 years against top ranked Chinese opponents.
2.Dipika Pallikal (Squash) – The poster girl of Indian squash has been riding high after the historic women’s doubles gold medal at the Commonwealth games with Joshna Chinappa. The World No. 12 who had earlier expressed her anguish at the draw is slated to face training partner and team mate , Joshna in the quarter-finals in the women’s singles. A win would assure her of at least a bronze.
3.Deepika Kumari (Archery) – Lacklustre performances have seen Deepika Kumari slip from the World No. 1 ranking and she went through a testing period for much of the year when she wasn’t even selected for World Cup Stage I and III. But the gifted archer seems to have found her rhythm just in time. She won a gold in the women’s recurve team event and also clinched the bronze in individual and mixed categories in Stage IV World Cup at Wroclaw. Like a true champion, the disappointment of missing an individual bronze at Guangzhou will egg Deepika on against formidable competitors.
4.Mary Kom (boxing)
She has been nicknamed ‘Magnificent Mary’ for a reason. Her iron will and never-say-die attitude have helped her overcome adversities time and again. Mary, will be participating in the Asian Games with inadequate match practice thanks to the ban on India’s boxing federation which resulted in lack of exposure for the boxers. The new scoring system is another area where Mary will have to calibrate her approach. It’s a challenge but Mary is a fighter and her immense experience and will power should pull her through.
5. Kabaddi – A sport which originated in India has been rightfully mastered by none other than India ever since its inception at the Asiad in 1990. India took it another notch higher at the last edition in Guangzhou by capturing the women’s gold as well. With the Pro-Kabbadi League creating quite a stir in the country, the popularity of the sport is increasing rapidly and a gold would be the perfect icing on the cake.
6.Jitu Rai (shooting) – If there’s one shooter right now who’s consistently delivering then it is Jitu Rai. He has shown a steady mind and a penchant for calmly performing under pressure. Currently the World No. 1 in 10m air pistol, Jitu’s five medals this year gives a testament to his hunger and perseverance. His latest achievement has been earning a quota place for the Olympics along with the silver medal in the 50m air pistol at the ISSF World Championship. No doubt he would like to continue in the same vein.
7.Yogeshwar Dutt (wrestling)
In the absence of double Olympic medallist, Sushil Kumar, the onus is on the other marquee Indian wrestler, Yogeshwar Dutt. Yogeshwar missed the 2010 edition in Guangzhou and now is his chance to make amends by gunning for the gold in 65kg. Dutt who was in devastating form at the Commonwealth Games can definitely look forward to set the mat on fire and end India’s 28-year wait for a wrestling gold.
8.Vikas Gowda (discus throw) – The Arizona-trained discus thrower has been India’s sole hope in men’s discus throwing for some time. The 6’9’’ gentle giant was upended by the Iran duo of Ehsan Hadaddi and Mohammad Hamimi at Guangzhou. This time though he is coming into Incheon on the back of a glittering gold-winning performance at Glasgow and he also got a huge morale booster by finishing fourth overall in the prestigious IAAF Diamond League Series. Ehsan Haddadi though is still around and will look to get his team mates and Gowda to settle for a lesser medal.
9.Gagan Narang (shooting) – After coming back from a career-threatening injury, India’s legendary rifle marksman Gagan Narang showed his mettle once again at the Commonwealth Games by clinching a silver and a bronze. He still hasn’t reached his peak as evidenced by his World Championship Shooting performance where he finished sixth in the 50m rifle prone and missed an Olympic quota by a whisker. The Olympic bronze medallist will be looking to do much better at the Asiad where he has 2 silver and 3 bronze.
10.Men’s hockey team – An Asian Games gold is worth the weight even more because it guarantees a direct qualification into the Olympics. India’s tryst with the Asiad gold though hasn’t been very often as they clinched the yellow metal only on two occasions – 1966 and 1998. But this time though the expectations are higher. The eight-time Olympic champions is ranked No . 1 and the team has been in good form with a silver medal finish at the recent Commonwealth Games. The quest for hockey gold and Asian dominance looks more realistic now.
Here’s wishing the above 10 all the luck and hoping for some surprises from the rather large Indian Contingent in Korea! Rest assured we will keep you updated about each and every medal.