Unlike Dipa Karmakar, these Indian athletes have let themselves down

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Unlike Dipa Karmakar, these Indian athletes have let themselves down

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Amlan Majumdar


While athletes such as Dipa Karmakar, Dattu Bhokanal, and Lalita Babar overachieved at the games, a lot of established stars have criminally underperformed. Here is the list of the athletes who have failed to live up to the expectations that were placed on them at the start of the event.

After India have sent their largest Olympic contingent, of 123 athletes, to the Rio Olympics, it was almost given that the athletes will help the nation gather its biggest medal tally. 3 in the 2008 Olympics, 6 in London—India were hoping to touch double digits for the first time in their history. However, 11 days into the Olympics, the nation is yet to celebrate its first medal as a host of big names have faltered in Rio. Badminton and wrestling remain the only hope now, but the indications are that India might be on their way to experiencing their worst ever campaign in a long, long time.

Deepika Kumari

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4 years ago, Deepika Kumari faced an embarrassing first round exit at the London Olympics as she struggled to operate under the strong breeze blowing across the Lord's. Rio offered a chance for redemption for the 22-year-old, and Deepika was in scintillating form in the build-up to the event .

Back in April, Deepika matched the world record for the 72-arrow round in qualification of the first leg in the Hyundai Archery World Cup at the Yuanshen Stadium, with a score of 686. It matched Ki Bo Bae’s 686-point performance from 2015, and gave the Indian fans hopes of a medal in archery this time around. If not in the individual, then at least in the team event.

However, the Indian team, who are World No.3, finished a disappointing 7th in the ranking round, and they were knocked out by Russia in the quarterfinals. Deepika was far from her best, and she was arguably India's worst performer in the event. She finished 20th in the ranking round and was knocked out by Tan Ya-ting in the round of 16 of the Individual event. Once again, she blamed the wind for the poor showing in Rio, and this time, it did not sound convincing at all.

Saina Nehwal

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At 26, Saina Nehwal was expected to be at the peak of her powers. After struggling with injuries at the start of this year, the 2012 Olympic bronze medalist went into Rio on the back of her emphatic triumph in the Australian Super Series. She even defeated World No.2 Wang Yihan in straight sets on her way to the final, and it looked like the Haryana-born shuttler was back to her best.

She was the fifth seed in the women's singles draw, and her Olympic campaign got off to a fantastic start with an easy win over Lohaynny Vicente. However, the former World No.1 suffered a shock defeat in her next group match against World No.61 Marija Ulitina in straight sets and exited the tournament in the group stage itself. Her coach later said that a knee injury was responsible for her below par performance, and it might have ended her last chance of winning a gold in Olympics. She will be 30, when the Tokyo Games comes around, and she is unlikely be among the top players at that point of her career.

Jitu Rai

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Two years ago, very few would have known the name of Jitu Rai, but ever since his silver medal-winning performance at the 2014 ISSF World Cup in Munich, the 25-year-old has been a constant presence among medals for India. In the buildup to the Games, Jitu Rai won a silver medal at the ISSF World Cup in Baku in the 10m Air Pistol event, and a gold medal at the ISSF World Cup in Thailand in the 50m Pistol event.

Ranked No.2 in 50m pistol and No.3 in 10m pistol, Jitu Rai was labeled as India’s strongest bet in shooting for a medal at Rio. However, an anticlimactic ending followed the hype which surrounded him. In the 10m air pistol event, Jitu Rai made a remarkable comeback to sneak into the final, but failed to replicate his form as he finished last in the final. In his favorite 50m pistol event, Jitu Rai made a flying start, but that did not last long as he fell behind with some mediocre shooting. However, he slowly made his way up, and found himself at the fourth spot while entering the last round. But, once again inconsistent shooting saw him slide down to 12th by the end of the round which meant he was out of a place in the final. Once again, wind was marked out as a massive factor, although he post-fixed it with “I don't want to make any excuses”.

Gagan Narang

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The 33-year-old has been one of the most consistent shooters India have had, and the bronze medal at the London Olympics had only further heightened the expectations among the fans. He struggled to keep up with the league leaders from the start of the 10m air rifle event, and he eventually, finished at a disappointing 23rd with 621.7 missing out on the finals.

However, that was not the last time he disappointed. Gagan Narang's struggle continued in the 50m rifle prone event and the 50m rifle 3 positions event, and he failed to make it to the finals.

Sania Mirza

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Her exit in the women's doubles, partnering someone as inexperienced as Prarthana Thombare, was expected, but she was expected to deliver a medal in the mixed doubles event. The duo made their way to the semi-final, but Sania looked out of sorts throughout the event. The World No.1 in women's doubles was inexplicably poor in the semis, where she and Rohan Bopanna lost to the American pair of Venus Williams and Rajeev Ram, and later the duo even failed to win the bronze-medal match against Radek Stepanek and Lucie Hradecka.

Questions should be asked as to why Sania Mirza chose not to pair up with Rohan Bopanna in the buildup to Rio. Sania teamed up with Croatian Ivan Dodig at the All England Club, where they crashed out in the second round, while Bopanna and his Russian-born Australian partner Anastasia Rodionova and made it to the third round. Their early exits rang the alarm bells about the preparation for the Olympics in mixed doubles, which was India’s best bet for a medal in tennis.

The last time Bopanna and Mirza played together was during the International Premier Tennis League in December last year. But, at the international level, they last teamed up way back in 2011 in the Wimbledon, where they reached the quarter-finals. The lack of playing time together meant they were never able to develop the understanding required to win this tournament. The success of the 2012 Olympics Gold medal winners is enough to elucidate the importance of playing together. Victoria Azarenka and Max Mirnyi of Belarus partnered each other at the 2012 Wimbledon to prepare for the Olympics, before winning the Gold at the quadrennial event—but, Mirza and Bopanna failed to grasp the lesson. Mirza has also hinted at this being her last Olympics, which means India might have to wait for a long time before they can hope to win anything substantial in tennis at the Games.

Leander Paes

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It was supposed to be the perfect swansong for India's greatest Olympic athlete. A man, who ended India’s four-decade long barren run of medals at the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996, deserved to make his last hurrah in the Olympics at Rio. A record seventh appearance made it even sweeter. But, it all came crashing down as the exit of Paes and Bopanna in their first round left every Indian with a bitter taste in his mouth. A story which started with politics and controversies ended with even more surrounding it.

Bopanna and Paes were never on the same page. In fact, the former wanted to partner 125th ranked Saketh Myneni at the Olympics, but the AITA stepped in and chose Paes. Like Mirza and Bopanna, Paes and Bopanna did not opt to play together before the Games, and they looked disjointed on the court.

Paes, on the other hand, behaved like a prepubescent teenager and arrived just less than 24 hours before the Opening ceremony. The World Team Tennis tournament in the USA kept Leander Paes busy as Bopanna went around the courts in Rio to find a training partner. In fact, the Indian tennis team did not even have a clue about when Paes will arrive. His partner Bopanna and captain Zeeshan Ali had smiled helplessly when they were asked when Paes would arrive.

When he finally arrived at Rio, the controversy about a room took over the news. Whether Leander Paes refused to stay with Rohan Bopanna or not is immaterial, but arriving just two days before the first game did no favour to enhance the reputation of the former bronze medallist. The veteran then blamed the media for “baseless reporting”, and he even took a potshot at Bopanna and Mirza for arriving early.

The saga between the two did not end there. With an early game in the offering on Saturday, Rohan Bopanna opted to skip the opening ceremony, along with Sania Mirza, Prarthana Thombare, and the Indian men’s hockey team. While his partner gave the ceremony a miss, Paes chose to be a part of it even after knowing about the early match.

The selfies and videos from the veteran tennis star during the ceremony were intriguing to watch, but when he and Bopanna took the court next day, what everyone feared unfolded. Paes said he might be back for the next Olympics, but for the sake of his legacy, one hopes he decides against it.

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India’s Anirban Lahiri has been in superb form in the last season or two, and he has done things which no Indian has been able to do before on the PGA tour. There were no expectations of him securing a medal in this event, but with a host of top-ranked players like Adam Scott, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel, Rory McIlroy, and Vijay Singh withdrawing from the Olympics, it gave Anirban Lahiri a window of opportunity to grab a strong finish at Rio. However, the 29-year old finished 45th with a score of one over par. Much more was expected from him.

The 22-year-old was in contention for a medal at the Rio Olympics, much like she did at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. However, she disappointed. Chanu failed to lift 84 kg on her last attempt at the snatch and settled for 82 kg. It was way below her personal best of 90 kg. That left her with a lot to do in the clean & jerk. Chanu went for 104 in the first attempt, but failed to lift it. And then incredibly, she went for 106. She huffed and puffed at it, took her time, put it up but just could not hold it long enough. The gamble did not pay off and Saikhom returned empty-handed.

Heena Sidhu

The 26-year-old was India's best hopes in women's shooting events, and she failed to make it to the final of both the 10m air pistol and the 25m pistol events, finishing 14th and 20th in the qualification rounds respectively.

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