By: Eastern Eye Staff
The Olympic Games begin in Brazil on Friday (August 5), with India sending their largest team to Rio. Over 100 athletes will bid for glory over the next three-and-a-half weeks to try and surpass the record six medals they won at London 2012.
These are some of the medal hopefuls hoping to make their country proud in Brazil.
Badminton: Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu
Nehwal is a household name in India for her stand-out performances in the badminton world, which included a history-making bronze medal at the 2012 Olympics.
The Hyderabad hotshot, 26, first burst onto the scene in 2010, winning major titles in Indonesia, Singapore, Hong Kong and on home soil. Nehwal also won bronze at the Asian Badminton Championship that year.
Since then, she has been challenging the best in the business on a consistent basis, with the triumph in London the highlight. Nehwal finally topped the rankings in 2015 after winning the Syed Modi Grand Prix Gold and her first Indian Open Super Series title.
A former World Championship, All England and China Super Series Premier silver medallist, Nehwal is on the comeback trail after an injury-hit period, winning the Australian Open crown earlier this year.
Carolina Marin, Li Xuerui, Ratchanok Intanon and Wang Yihan will be her toughest challengers in her third Games in Rio.
PV Sindhu, 21, joins Nehwal in the women’s singles and has the potential to be a future Olympic medallist.
Shooting: Jitu Rai, Abhinav Bindra, Gagan Narang, Heena Sidhu
Rai is India’s biggest medal prospect in the shooting event off the back of some strong recent form which has seen him climb into the top three of the world rankings in his two disciplines.
The 29-year-old Nepal-born marksmen is second in the 50 metre air pistol rankings and third in the 10m event. He qualified for Rio after securing a silver medal at the World Shooting Championships (50m category) in Spain earlier this year.
Rai is a serial winner on the circuit, striking gold at the Commonwealth and Asian Games in 2014.
That same year he won World Cup silver in the 10m pistol in Munich, then became the first Indian shooter to win two medals at a single World Cup in Maribor, a gold in the 10m and a 50m silver.
His Commonwealth and Asian Games title successes saw him set individual points records. He has five World Championship medals and four Asian Games prizes in all. In August 2015, Rai was given the prestigious Arjuna award.
Rai is part of a potent three-pronged attack in Rio alongside shooting veterans Abhinav Bindra and Gagan Narang.
In Beijing in 2008, Bindra, 33, won India’s first ever individual gold medal in the 10m air rifle event. The Commonwealth champion will be his country’s flagbearer in Brazil.
Narang, also 33, won bronze in the 10m air rifle at London 2012. He will be take part in the 50m rifle prone and 50m three-position events, where he won silver and bronze at the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
Among the women, in 2013, Heena Sidhu became the first Indian women to win gold at the World Cup, firing a world record total score in the 10m air pistol rifle event.
The two-time 2010 Commonwealth champion and Asian Games silver medallist reached the top of the world rankings in 2014, the same year she claimed another World medal, this time silver. Sidhu is still on her game in 2016; back in January she clinched victory at the Asia Olympic qualifiers in New Delhi.
She could only finish 12th in London four years ago and will surely fare better this time around in South America.
Tennis: Sania Mirza, Rohan Bopanna, Mahesh Bhupathi, Leander Paes, Prarthana Thombare
Two of Indian tennis’ finest go for gold in Rio. Mirza is playing some of the best tennis of her career, winning three Grand Slam titles with Martina Hingis in the past year, results that have seen her rise to number one in the women’s doubles rankings.
The 29-year-old has also won three mixed doubles majors, two with compatriot Mahesh Bhupathi (2009 Australian Open, 2012 French Open) and one with Brazilian Bruno Soares (2014 US Open).
Rohan Bopanna, 36, is a multiple winner on the ATP Tour but is yet to make a Grand Slam title; his best finish was a final loss in the US Open with Pakistan’s Aisam-ul-Haq Queshi in 2010.
Bhupathi also has a chance in the men’s doubles with Indian tennis royalty Leander Paes, 43, who will be playing in his seventh Olympics. The 18-time major king won solo bronze in Atlanta in 1996.
Mirza will team up with Prarthana Thombare, 22, in the women’s doubles; the duo won bronze at the 2014 Asian Games.
Wrestling: Yogeshwar Dutt
India’s premier wrestling prospect in the absence of Sushil Kumar, Dutt has admitted it is “gold or nothing” as he prepares for his fourth and final tilt at an Olympic title.
After surprisingly the grappling fraternity with a superb silver medal in London four years ago in the 60kg category, the 33-year-old is hoping to go one better at his new 65kg limit. He has already proved he can compete against heavier opposition, winning gold in the 2014 Commonwealth and Asian Games.
After injury stalled his progress last year, Dutt sealed his spot in Rio by claiming victory at the Asian Olympic Qualification in Kazakhstan this March. Dutt has been in and around elite level since 2006 when he won Asian Games bronze in Doha. He also tasted glory in Delhi at the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
Team mate Narsingh Pancham Yadav is another solid medal prospect in the 74kg class. The 26-year-old has won Commonwealth gold and a world championships bronze, but at the time of going to press his participation was unclear despite a failed drugs ban being overturned.
Gymnastics: Dipa Karmakar
Karmakar will make history in Rio when she becomes the first Indian woman gymnast to take part in the Olympics. The last time any athlete represented the country in the event of any Games was in Tokyo 52 years ago.
The 22-year-old star from Tripura, who competes in the artistic discipline, hit the headlines by winning a bronze medal at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games. Later that year she repeated the trick at the Asian Championships in Hiroshima.
Karmakar continued in excel in 2015. The daughter of a weightlifting coach collected five individual golds at the National Games in the all-round, table vault, balancing beam,
uneven parallel bars and floor events.
All of this success seems even more incredible considering the fact she had flat feet when she began on her sporting journey at six years old. Including the Junior National title, Karmakar has scooped a total of 77 medals, including 67 golds, at state, national and international level.
A fine display at the final qualifying and test event in Brazil too has definitely made her one to watch. Her signature move is the difficult and dangerous Produnova vault.
Archery: Deepika Kumari, Laxmirani Majhi, Bombayla Devi
Kumari will be out to right the wrongs of London 2012, when as world number one and gold medal favourite she blamed everything from the wind to a fever for her shock exit from the recurve event at Lord’s cricket ground.
She was only 18 back then though, and the 2010 Commonwealth Games individual and team title-holder seems to have learned from the experience, equalling the recurve all-time best points total in April at the Archery World Cup in Shanghai.
Kumari is a three-time World Cup silver medallist (2011-13) and a two-time team runner-up in the World Championship (2011 and 2015). The Jharkhand shooter will also fancy her chances in the team event.
Kumari and Laxmirani Majhi showed their class as a duo in that World Championship success this year while Bombayla Devi is one to watch out for.
Boxing: Vikas Krishan, Shiva Thapa
As a teenager, Krishan was one of India’s brightest hopes after winning World Amateur Boxing Championship gold and Youth Olympic bronze in 2010. He followed that up with another first place finish in the lightweight division at the Asian Games, and world domination looked a possibility.
Then it all changed. Fighting in his first Olympics in London, Krishan won his quarter-final bout against Errol Spence – now of the top names in the pro ranks – only to have the result controversially overturned for alleged foul play afterwards.Krishan walked away from the sport in disgust for almost 18 months to join Haryana Police. Now back in the ring and focused again, the 24-year-old is ranked sixth in the world after bagging 2014 Asian Games bronze. He is a live contender, bulking up for the 75kg middleweight division. Compatriot Shiva Thapa, 22, is also in the medal hunt in the bantamweight division. Currently ranked third, he, like Krishan, is a former World Amateur (bronze, 2015) and Youth Olympics (silver, 2010) medallist.
India are one of the form team’s going into the Olympics, having won Asian Games gold, World Series bronze and Champions Trophy silver in the last couple of years.
Under Dutch coach Roelant Oltmans, they have climbed from 11th in the world to fifth, and if they continue their surprising upturn in results, could restore the glory days that saw the country win six back-to-back golds between 1928 and 1956.