An assessment by a few Indian athletes who are not part of the London Games

Every four years, we start counting India’s medal chances when Olympic Games are round the corner. With just 10 days to go for the opening ceremony in London, the countdown has reached a stage where an anticipated media build-up has projected a record tally of medals for India.

No one has been able to put a finger on the numbers, but the expectations are high and there is optimism that the Beijing tally of three could be doubled at least.

While the projections in shooting, archery, badminton, boxing, wrestling and tennis have matched those targeted since the last Asian Games, even if pegged a little high, there is an unjustifiable hype to put athletics among medal contenders.

Having sought the views of London-bound athletes and coaches, we thought it was time we heard the assessment of a few athletes who are not part of the Indian contingent but who have had the experience at the highest level.

“The selection process has taken a toll on the Indian shooters this season, and nobody has been an exception. There was a hint of it as the performances of our shooters in the World Cups have not been great, in the run-up to the Olympics,” said Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, double trap silver medal-winning shooter in the Athens Olympics.

There are expectations of medals from air rifle shooters Abhinav Bindra, who made the golden breakthrough for India in Beijing, and Gagan Narang, double trap shooter Ronjan Sodhi and trap shooter Manavjit Singh Sandhu.

But Rathore has a word of caution. “After being at one’s best to get the Olympic quota place, the shooters had to be in good form in a series of competitions to retain their place in the Olympic squad.

It led to a sense of relief for most. The question is whether our shooters are fresh and hungry to strike the medals in the Olympics.

For, it is the frame of mind which wins you (a medal),” he says.

The pressure will be there on world No. 1 archer Deepika Kumari to live up to her promise, though the Jharkhand girl makes light of it.

“She is calm, gutsy and focused. She has the technique and temperament to take on the best.

She may be 18-years old but has enough experience at the highest level,” says Dola Banerjee, a veteran archer of two Olympics who could not make the ‘cut’ this time.

“There is a huge difference in terms of pressure at the Olympics and other international events, though,” warns Dola.

Saina well prepared

No less weighed down could be Saina Nehwal, the country’s medal hope in badminton, who has had a great run this year. “She looks much better prepared and obviously her confidence is up. It remains to be seen how she prevents the pressure from getting to her,” says Aparna Popat, nine-time National champion and two-time Olympian.

“Since the Chinese consider Saina as their biggest threat, they will obviously make things difficult for her. Earlier, they used to up the pace to deny Saina the opportunity to attack. Saina is most devastating when allowed to attack,” says Aparna.

“If she can hang in there when her rivals are attacking, she will surely be a serious contender.”

Akhil Kumar, Melbourne Commonwealth Games gold-winning boxer who would be missing the Games, said that he expected more than one medal this time. “The prospects of a gold medal look difficult,’ he added.

He said along with the seasoned Vijender Singh, younsters Sumit Sangwan, Shiva Thapa, Vikas Krishan and Devendro Singh were all medal contenders.

Wrestling too can expect more than one medal this time. “Both Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt are taking part in their third Olympics and I expect medals from both of them,” said Kartar Singh, two-time Asian Games champion, who was at hand in Beijing when Sushil won the bronze.

Former Davis Cupper Enrico Piperno, who has also been a coach with Indian teams in the past, was pinning his hopes on mixed doubles.

“If we have a good draw, and play to our best, it is possible to pull off a medal in the mixed doubles because of a small field of 16 teams.

For anyone else to win a medal is going to be a tall order,” said Piperno.

No chance

Anju George, the former World championships bronze-medal-winning long jumper, who will be missing from the Olympics line-up this time, ruled out an Indian athletics medal.

“Vikas Gowda can come in the top eight. It will be tough for Krishna Poonia to make the top 12,” she said of the discus throwers’ chances.

She discounted the possibility of Mayookha Johny making the triple jump final, and said that 800m runner Tintu Luka could hope to make it to the second round. “Mayookha will need around 14.30 to enter final.”

She said male triple jumper Renjith Maheswary would also find it difficult to make the final. Anju said a top-10 finish for any of the walkers would be a creditable achievement.

(With inputs from Kamesh Srinivasan, S. Sabanayakan, Rakesh Rao and Y.B. Sarangi).

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