Shooters promise a strong continuity, while the archers have the class to excel

Indian athletes have descended into the land of Charles Dickens, with Great Expectations!

The expectations of a billion plus population may weigh them down but the Indian athletes have grown in competence and stature over the years to face the challenges of the world's best in the Olympics.

The shining examples of the Beijing gold medallist Abhinav Bindra and Athens silver medallist Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore not only promise a strong continuity in shooting, but their deeds have inspired the rest of the athletes to believe that they too can match the best.

India has won a gold, a silver and four bronze medals in all in the last four editions of the Games, and the current crop, spearheaded by Bindra has the ability to overtake the collection in a single edition.

Having achieved the gold standard, Indian sport cannot afford to settle for anything less. The numbers may not satisfy the keen sports followers, though it has to be agreed that an Olympic medal is worth its weight in gold.

Though tennis ace Leander Paes, in his sixth Olympics, and other Olympic medallists like boxer Vijender Singh and wrestler Sushil Kumar bolster the Indian campaign, there are a bunch of talented and tenacious athletes strengthening India's case.

Get a head start

Usually, it is the shooters who set the tempo for the Indian challenge, but this time India would look up to the archers, world No.1 Deepika Kumari and company, to get a head start in pursuit of the precious medals.

In the absence of any entry in women's air rifle, which traditionally offers the first medal of the Games, the male Indian archers would aspire to strike a medal in team competition.

The team of Tarundeep Rai, Rahul Banerjee and Jayanta Talukdar may have qualified late, but has the potential to make its presence felt. Rai had given a hint of his prowess with the individual silver medal in the last Asian Games.

The 18-year-old Deepika may not have an individual medal from the Asian Games to show, but has progressed phenomenally after the Commonwealth Games gold. The fact that the Indian women’s team had finished runner-up in the last world championship, when it beat the eternal champions Korea along the way, could provide the hint to what lies ahead.

Saina to make amends

Badminton star Saina Nehwal too has progressed quite far from the time she had made the quarterfinals of the Beijing Games. She has won many world class events and has had a tremendous run to the Games, winning back-to-back titles. She is hungry for an Olympic medal to set her record straight and that may not be good news for the Chinese.

It may be a bit too much to put similar expectations on Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa, who had won the world championship bronze at Wembley, or for that matter on the mixed doubles team of Jwala and V. Diju. P. Kashyap is capable of springing a surprise or two but a good run may be a surprise.

It is quite possible that Indian sports may be driven by ‘woman power’ here, with five-time world champion Mary Kom providing the punch in boxing. The Asian Games and the last world championship, in which her qualification depended on others, may have worked in Mary’s favour and intensified her focus.

In a small field, Mary may need to win a maximum of two bouts to ensure a medal. Weightlifter Karnam Malleswari has been the only Indian woman to win an Olympic medal (in Sydney).

The seven male boxers, with Asian Games gold and world championship bronze medallists Vijender Singh and Vikas Krishan, can take Indiansport to a different level.

The wrestlers — former world champion Sushil Kumar, Yogeshwar Dutt (who had made the quarterfinals in the last edition) and the lone woman Geeta Phogat — would further emphasise India’s fighting ability.

Indian tennis threatens to strike a medal, mainly through the mixed doubles pair of Leander Paes and Sania Mirza. It will be interesting to see how well the Doha Asian Games gold medallists combine on grass in a small field of 16 teams.

Hopes on hockey

Indian hockey returning to the Olympics after missing Beijing, was a cause for celebration, and the team will attempt to finish within the top six, which perhaps may not satisfy a nation that has won eight gold medals.

Track and field stars Vikas Gowda, Krishna Poonia and Seema Antil may have triggered high hopes but ultimately it will be the shooters who may prove dependable owing to their rich record on the world stage.

Ronjan Sodhi, Gagan Narang and Manavjit Singh Sandhu have the class and credentials to match what Bindra had achieved in the last edition. With Bindra himself as hungry as ever in his fourth Olympics, Indian sport may after all be able to live up to the great expectations.

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