The great medal rush

In early March, officials from the Sports Authority of India, the Sports Ministry, the Indian Olympic Association and various national federations sat down to review the preparations of athletes ahead of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. They arrived at a figure of ‘10 to 14’ medals, roughly double the number India got at London 2012 (six). Their optimism couldn’t be faulted. The traditional hopefuls — shooters, wrestlers and archers — were playing themselves into a rich vein of form. The women’s hockey team had >qualified for the first time in 36 years . Discus thrower >Vikas Gowda , 3000-m steeplechasers >Lalita Babar and Sudha Singh, golfers Anirban Lahiri and S.S.P. Chawrasia and a bunch of walkers had shown great improvement. In the months since March, Dipa Karmakar became the >first-ever Indian gymnast to qualify . The incredible surge in the displays of the track-and-field practitioners made the athletics contingent swell to a >record 36 . The likes of Dutee Chand, Srabani Nanda and Dharambir Singh had ensured qualification in the most unexpected of events, sprint. At the end of it all, India had assembled its largest-ever squad, comprising 120 members.

This bird’s-eye view indeed >paints a good picture . But the ringside view suggests that India hasn’t yet managed to increase its pool of medal-winning sports. The gains, as seen above, have surely been many. But a double-digit tally still seems an uphill task. India will once again turn to disciplines such as shooting, wrestling, archery and badminton. >Abhinav Bindra , who set the gold standard in 2008; Gagan Narang, >a bronze medallist in 2012 ; and Jitu Rai, who needs only the Olympic title to complete his rich collection, will lead the charge in shooting. >Deepika Kumari , the 22-year-old archer who wilted under pressure last time around, is much stronger. Her performance in both the individual and team recurve events will be keenly watched. Saina Nehwal is probably at the peak of her career, and will seek to upgrade the badminton bronze from London. Wrestling, which has yielded India three medals in the past two Olympics, will send its biggest-ever squad of eight, including Yogeshwar Dutt, a bronze-winner from London. But two controversies involving Narsingh Yadav have taken out much of the sheen. If a >feud with two-time Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar over the Rio berth wasn’t enough, a doping scandal, in which >he was ultimately exonerated , added to the trauma. The much-improved men’s hockey team, the mixed-doubles duo of Rohan Bopanna and Sania Mirza, and the boxing trio of Shiva Thapa, Manoj Kumar and Vikas Krishan offer the outside bets. There is certainly an increased buzz. How much of it translates to on-field performance will be seen over the next few weeks.

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Printable version | Jul 24, 2021 3:28:45 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/The-great-medal-rush/article14547847.ece

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