Rio 2016 | Biggest-ever medal haul beckons India's biggest-ever Olympic contingent?

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© Twitter - Youth and Sports Affairs Ministry

Rio 2016 | Biggest-ever medal haul beckons India's biggest-ever Olympic contingent?

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Swagato Ghosh


3 in 2008, 6 in 2012, so 10 in 2016? Looking at how the infrastructure and support system has improved for Olympic in India, and listening to the news bytes about the success of Indian athletes at various global events, this is a reasonable assumption.

Gone are the days when the mere participation of an Indian in the Olympics was a matter of pride for us, now we want to see our players win medals and our flag being hoisted behind the podium during the medal ceremony. Come August 6, the cricket crazy Indians will have a different connotation altogether for “what’s the score?”. We, the Indian Olympic sport crusaders, have been patiently supportive of our athletes for a long time without expecting much of them and now, starting from London 2012, our time of basking in the glory has come.

3 in 2008, 6 in 2012, so 10 in 2016? Looking at how the infrastructure and support system has improved for Olympic in India, and listening to the news bytes about the success of Indian athletes at various global events, this is a reasonable assumption. The SAI is also hopeful for a double digit medal count looking at the “recent performances” of the Indian contingent. But before we get too ahead of ourselves, we must also keep in mind what India’s only Individual gold medal winner Abhinav Bindra had to say when asked about Indian’s probable medal count in Rio - “Winning a medal in Olympics is not easy to predict and is a factor of many things”. In that case, we must not predict, but we must look into those factors into play for some of the medal hopefuls.

According to me, there are 4 major factors (non-exclusive in some cases) which decide an athlete’s chance of winning a medal: 1) world ranking 2) current form 3) preparation in the lead up to the game and 4) non-participation of major competitors. We look into all these factors for some of the athletes who are billed to win a medal for sure.

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First things first, let’s begin with Golf which is making its “first” appearance in Olympics since 1904. India’s Anirban Lahiri has been in superb form in the last season or two and has done things which no Indian has been able to do before in the PGA tour. But noteworthy is that his world rank is only 19 as per the International Golf Federation ranking for Olympics. In 14 PGA tour 2016 events, he has been in the top-25 only once and failed to make it to top-10 even once. In comparison, World No 1 Jason Day has been in top 10 in 6 out of the 10 events played this season. But there is a glimmer of hope. Various top ranked players like Adam Scot, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel, Rory McIlroy and Vijay Singh have withdrawn from the Olympics with a mix between the schedule and the Zika virus being the reasons. This gives Anirban Lahiri a window of opportunity, who will be well prepared for the games as it falls bang in the middle of busy summer schedule of the PGA season.

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Then we come to the two poster-girls of non-cricket sports in India, Sania Mirza, and Saina Nehwal. We may fell that the prospects are really good for the duo. But, there are some roadblocks. Saina’s BWF world ranking is 5, but she was world N0. 2 until 2016 March 3. A nagging ankle injury at the end of last season has taken away much of her form and ranking points. But the good news is that after making a comeback in March this year, she made it to the semi-finals of all the events till the Indonesian Open and won the Australian Open in June.

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Sania Mirza, on the other hand, is the World No 1 women doubles player and along with her Swiss partner Martina Hingis, she has been winning almost everything in the last one year. But unfortunately, Martina Hingis is not an Indian and hence for the Olympics, mixed doubles is Sania’s best bet for a medal. Along with Rohan Bopanna, the duo will have a good chance to bring home a medal with some high-profile tennis stars opting to skip the Olympics.

In shooting and wrestling, where India had won medals in both Beijing and London, Jitu Rai and Yogeshwar Dutt respectively are favourites to win medals. Jitu Rai is currently world rank 3 in 50m pistol event and to go with his world rank, he is also in sizzling hot form having won gold in ISSF World Cup in Bangkok in March.

Yogeshwar Dutt, the wrestling superstar, is currently ranked 16 in the 65kg freestyle category according to United World Wresting. Although this is some way off his career best ranking of 8 achieved in Oct 2014, he is in good form having won the gold in Rio Olympics qualifying event in March.

Given the recent excitement surrounding India’s athletics contingent, we also thought it would be worth taking a closer look at some of them. Indian race walkers in recent times have improved a lot and we will have the largest-ever participation in terms of numbers. But can they walk to medal glory? Current ranking and form do not suggest so. Although IAAF does not have a world ranking systems and only give the best timings for a particular season for any event,, a private database of athletics has a comprehensive ranking system. According to that India’s Sandeep Kumar, India’s strongest representative in race-walking ranks at a lowly 44 in the world.

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The other athletics event to which people are really looking forward to is the 3000m steeplechase, where the news about Lalita Babar being World No 1 was widely circulated in the media a few months back. But technically she was World No 1 because she had the best timing for the 2016 season at that point of time. But her timing of 9.27 has slipped in the rankings and her compatriot Sudha Singh is also way down on the list.

Apart from all the individual medal prospects, one team event that India has high chances of a medal is the women’s archery recurve event. The Indian team is currently ranked 3rd in recurve according to the world archery federation and they shocked top seed Germany 5-3 to in the semi-finals and won silver at the first stage of Archery World Cup in Shanghai in April (but China and Korea were not part of this event as they took part in 2nd stage World cup which was held in Medellin Colombia a week later.).

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Given the above facts about the various events, we can be very hopeful about a certain number of medals, but nothing can be taken for granted given the level of competition at play. On the other hand, there are other medal hopefuls like Abhinav Bindra, Vikas Gowda, Gagan Narang etc given their pedigree and experience. In conclusion, just to keep the spirits high, want to mention that Leander Paes was never ranked in top 80 in singles, yet he won the bronze medal in tennis singles for the country. We hope, stories like this inspire each of our athletes in Rio as they strive to make the nation proud in their respective events.

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