More than 10,500 athletes, 206 nations, 28 sports, 306 medals, 33 venues. The Olympics is here. Rio, where the last football World Cup was held in 2014, will be the host. The opening ceremony will be held this Saturday, and it promises to be a carnival at the Maracana stadium.
After sending a record total of 83 athletes to London in 2012, India will now extend that record to 119, a full 36 more than four years ago. They will compete in 15 sports – with 65 men and 54 women ready to take on the world’s best in Archery (4), Athletics (35), Badminton (7), Boxing (3), hockey (32), Golf (3), Gymnastics (1), Judo (1), Rowing (1), Shooting (12), Swimming (2), Table Tennis (4), Tennis (4), Weightlifting (2) and Wrestling (8).
India has only won a total of 26 medals over 23 Summer Olympic events since 1900. Nine of them have been gold medals – eight coming in the sport of field hockey alone (with six consecutive golds between 1928 and 1956). The solitary other gold medal was won by shooter Abhinav Bindra – the only Indian individual athlete to do so – at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Wrestler Sushil Kumar, who didn’t qualify this year, is the only Indian individual to have won two medals, a bronze in 2008 and a silver in 2012. India’s highest medal tally was in London four years ago – six medals – with two silvers and four bronze medals.
By all accounts, they should break their tally record this year, given the large contingent sent to Rio. But there will be no Mary Kom, Sushil Kumar and Vijender Singh.
Saina Nehwal remains India’s best bet to win an elusive gold medal. The Badminton World No. 2 won the bronze at London in 2012. Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa are expected to win a medal too, if they play on potential.
Sania Mirza, who will team up with Rohan Bopanna for mixed doubles in tennis, is expected to also bring home a high medal; on form, they look like potential finalists on the hard courts of Rio. After the pullout of the Bryan brothers, Leander Paes and Bopanna look like bringing home at least a bronze in men’s doubles.
Gagan Narang, Jitu Rai and Abhinav Bindra carry the shooting hopes – with at least one medal expected between the three. It will be disappointing if none of them manages to win a gold medal on form. 10m Pistol shooter Heena Sidhu, a world champion, will be disappointed if she doesn’t finish in the top three. She is also a world record holder in the Finals with a stunning score of 203.8.
In Wrestling, it will be London-bronze medalist Yogeshwar Dutt who will be expected to better his performance, while the country waits on Narsingh Yadav’s participation decision. Babita Kumari, too, is a favorite to reach at least the quarterfinals of her category.
Anirban Lahri and Shiv Chowrasia, India’s best golf players, are long shots to win a medal, but stand a good chance after the pullout of the world’s top players due to fears of the Zika virus.
It will be Shiva Thapa in the bantamweight category of men’s boxing, who is expected to carry hopes of a nation with no senior stars this time.
Though everyone’s eyes will be on Dutee Chand, the only Indian to qualify for the 100m sprinting event, she isn’t expected to finish in the top four.
In Archery, after disappointing in 2012, Deepika Kumari will be expected to win a medal in both the individual as well as team events.
Vikas Gowda, the Commonwealth Discus gold medalist, will want to outdo his sixth place in London this time and finish in the top three.
India’s Men’s Hockey team, who were once perpetual Olympic champions for decades, will be looking to build upon their Asian Championship win (where they qualified over Pakistan) and hope to finish behind Germany and Netherlands in the standings. They are, currently, one of the favorites to reach the final.
India’s only hope of winning a track and field medal was perhaps the teenager Neeraj Chopra, who didn’t qualify for the Javelin throw despite holding the junior world record only seven days later.
Prediction: Seven medals for India at Rio (2 in shooting, 1 in archery, 1 in tennis, 1 in Badminton, 1 in wrestling and 1 in hockey).