From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.33 :: NO.46 :: Nov. 18, 2010
With Gagan Narang and Abhinav Bindra in the team, India has a good chance of winning the gold medal in the air rifle team event. However, with the Chinese as well as a number of other quality shooters from South Korea and Kazakhstan around, it will be a tough ride to the top for the Indians.
The expectations of India doing well in Guangzhou are high. Especially against the background of the euphoric showing at the recent Commonwealth Games in New Delhi that saw the Indian contingent climb to the second spot in the overall medals table for the first time with an unprecedented tally of 101 medals, of which 38 were gold.
However, as the record 843-member jumbo Indian team, including 609 competitors, gets into the thick of action, the reality could well be different as it is difficult to dream of a repeat show, even though the Sports Authority of India (SAI), rather surprisingly, has chosen to stick its neck out with an overall projection of 74 to 108 medals from 31 out of the 35 disciplines that India would be figuring at the 16th Asian Games.
Viewed with perspective, given the quality of competition that is certain to surface during the Guangzhou Games, the SAI assessment could, at best, be termed as bureaucratic. A deliberate attempt, more or less, to keep the spirits of the Indian contingent high in the run-up to the quadrennial extravaganza. But it has been done without taking into account at least two key factors: a) the presence of the all-conquering Chinese, the equally determined South Koreans and Japanese and b) the ability of our athletes to keep up the momentum they touched in New Delhi in alien conditions.
In Doha four years ago, it is true that India recorded its best ever showing on foreign soil as it returned with a haul of 53 medals including 10 gold, and just four shy of the record 57 that the country won in the 9th Asian Games in New Delhi in 1982. While it is only natural to expect a better showing in the light of the results achieved in the CWG in Delhi, what could still fall flat in Guangzhou is the lack of proper recovery time that our sportspersons have had between the CWG and the Asian Games.
So, it would only be prudent if we approach Guangzhou with modest hopes, without taking anything away from the athletes.
With India's chances in athletics and hockey being treated separately in this issue, the best way to size up the country's prospects would be to cast a quick glance at disciplines in which India did well at the CWG — shooting, tennis, badminton, wrestling, archery and boxing — and also a host of other events such as cue sports, chess and kabaddi in which Indians invariably excel at the Asian Games.
The shooters, as was only expected, were simply brilliant in the CWG, with a remarkable haul of 30 medals, including 14 gold. In Doha, the corresponding haul had been three gold, five silver and six bronze medals — a marked improvement over the two silver medals (both in team events) that India had at the 2002 Asian Games in Busan.
Pankaj Advani... hoping to match his performance in Doha four years ago.
With Jaspal Rana, the man who won two individual gold medals in Doha, having left the sport to take up a career in politics, the onus will now be on the likes of Gagan Narang, Abhinav Bindra, Ronjan Sodhi, Manavjit Singh Sandhu, Asher Noria, Vijay Kumar, Omkar Singh and Tejaswini Sawant, who are all capable of winning a gold medal at the Games.
With Narang and Bindra in the team, India has a good chance of winning the gold medal in the air rifle team event. However, with the Chinese as well as a number of other quality shooters from South Korea and Kazakhstan around, it will be a tough ride to the top for the Indians who, as observers have already pointed out, will find it difficult to hit peak form for a second time in less than four weeks.
Yet, being used to regular international competitions, the Indian shooters should be able to assert themselves against high quality opposition.
The fact that the Indian pistol shooters have trained without the support of a specialist coach over the last two years since the Beijing Olympics did have a definite impact on their performances at the CWG. It might only be more pronounced in Guangzhou.
Thus, only a combined effort from the pistol, rifle and shotgun shooters would help India improve upon its performance of 2006. The shotgun shooters had failed to deliver even a single gold medal in the CWG, though Sodhi had won the World Cup final recently in double trap and Manavjit had been a World champion in the past.
Eventually, it may require a World and Olympic champion like Bindra to put the rest of the field in their place. Interestingly, India's best known shooter would be returning to the same country where he won the nation's first individual Olympic gold at the Beijing Games in 2008.
Just like shooting, tennis too played a big role in India's noteworthy performance in Doha, contributing two gold and an equal number of silver medals. Leander Paes had a hand in India winning those two gold medals — he won the men's doubles in the company of Mahesh Bhupathi and the mixed doubles title in partnership with Sania Mirza.
Sania had also won the individual silver medal in Doha besides being part of the women's team that finished runner-up.
Somdev Devvarman... carrying India's hopes on his young shoulders.
Four years down the line, with Paes, Bhupathi and Rohan Boppana unlikely to participate owing to their engagements in the World doubles final round in London, India will have a depleted side in Guangzhou. Consequently, it will be hard to expect a good show from the Indian team that will primarily be riding on the young shoulders of Somdev Devvarman.
Of course, Sania would also be there but frankly a minor placing in the individual event can only be expected from her as the team on the whole lacks the quality it had in Doha.
India's chess wizards too had done the nation proud in Doha, winning two gold medals — the genius of Koneru Humpy figuring prominently in both the triumphs.
Humpy, the winner of the individual women's rapid gold and also a member of the mixed team event, will however be missing the Guangzhou Games on account of a communication gap with the All India Chess Federation that remains to be properly explained. But all the same, one hopes that the chess team, led by K. Sasikiran, fares well.
With Sushil Kumar, the world champion, out of the competition due to a nagging shoulder injury, the wrestlers are again expected to return only with minor medals, while Vijender Singh will be hoping to make amends for his semifinal loss in the CWG. The other boxers including CWG gold medallists Suranjoy Singh, Manoj Kumar and Paramjeet Samotta could also figure amongst the medals if they successfully overcome their opponents from China, South Korea, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.
India's focus will once again be on Saina Nehwal, the exceptionally talented World No. 3 who, with her recent triumphs including the CWG, has given Indian badminton the impetus. It would be interesting to watch how Saina tackles her Chinese opponents from the semifinal stage.
There is not much hope in the men's section as most of the Indian players have tough draws right from the initial round. It would be a major surprise if the Indian kabaddi teams fail to measure up to their billing.
The winner of the gold medal right from the time kabaddi entered the Asian Games fold in 1990, the Indian men's team is expected to have an easy run as it targets a possible sixth straight title. Even in the case of the women's team, the expectations are high as the competition in this section is being held for the first time at the Games. The SAI has projected four to six medals including gold in rowing, and this is based primarily on the performance of the Indian teams in the recent Asian Championships. It is to be seen how far the rowers will live up to their promise.
The cue sports team including the likes of Pankaj Advani and Geet Sethi should emulate their showing in Doha four years ago. It would also not be unreasonable to expect a few medals from events like sailing, judo and squash.
No doubt, India's prestige is at stake in Guangzhou. However, given a variety of factors including the tough competition that is in store, any haul in excess of the 53 medals that the nation won in Doha would be seen as a major achievement.
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