PARTAB RAMCHAND | 19 AUGUST, 2018
Abysmal though as India’s record in the Olympics is the competitors have always performed reasonably well when it comes to the next rung on the international ladder – the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games. One of the five founding members of the Asian Games Federation (since renamed the Olympic Council of Asia) at New Delhi in 1949 India has taken part in every Asiad since the inaugural edition in 1951.
It is among only seven nations that have participated in all the Asian Games. India has played hosts twice – in 1951 and 1982 both at New Delhi. India has won at least one gold medal at every Asian Games and has always been ranked within the top ten in the medals table except in the 1990 meet at Beijing when it finished eleventh. India peaked at the Asian Games at Guangzhou (China) in 2010 when it won a total of 65 medals.
Hopes then are justifiably high on the eve of the 18th Asian Games which start at Jakarta on Saturday that India will better their tally of 57 medals won at Incheon. India are sending a large contingent of 572 for the Games but the focus will be on the events in which India have traditionally performed well or are expected to do well. These include boxing, badminton, wrestling, weightlifting, shooting, tennis, table tennis, kabaddi, track and field and hockey
World no 33 Sharath Kamal and world no 39 G Sathiyan will spearhead the Indian challenge in table tennis. But they will face formidable opposition from the traditional heavyweights in this event in China, Japan and South Korea. Manika Batra will be the main hope in the women’s event following her superb showing in the Commonwealth Games at Gold Coast where she won the individual gold and helped India clinch the team gold too.
Indian tennis hopes have suffered a setback with the leading player Yuki Bhambri, currently 99 in the ATP rankings opting to skip the Asian Games and opting to focus on the US Open, Under the circumstances carrying the country’s hopes will be Ramkumar Ramanathan (ranked No 117) and Prajnesh Gunneswaran (ranked no 171). Both have registered notable triumphs around the ATP tour and stand a good chance of winning a medal.
India have excelled in boxing at the Asian Games but this time they are handicapped by the absence of the peerless MC Mary Kom. She won the lone gold medal four years ago at Incheon but this time has decided to skip the event to avoid the hassle of shuttling between 48kg and 51 kg for the continental event and the world championship.
Besides Mary’s gold, India had won four bronze medals including one each in the heavier weight categories for men and women at Incheon. With the heavier weights having been dropped for Jakarta anything above three medals will be considered a good performance. A blend of youth and experience is expected to hold India in good stead in the boxing arena and the men who have consistently been among the medal winners through the years are expected to continue this tradition at Jakarta. .
The Jakarta Games will be an acid test for Indian shooters who have been performing admirably at various meets of late. Manu Bhaker and Anish Bhanwala are two of the brightest medal prospects. Both are proteges of Jaspal Rana who has won four of the country’ seven gold medals from the Asian Games. Both Manu and Anish won gold medals at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast. In addition the presence of other experienced competitors raises hopes of the shooters bringing back a few medals.
Weightlifting is another discipline in which India have fared admirably but this time they will be fielding a depleted squad thanks to the dope failure of Sanjita Chanu and the withdrawal due to injury of world champion Mirabai Chanu. The latter was one of the country’s brightest medal prospects but the Commonwealth Games gold medalist suffered a lower back pain injury and no option but to withdraw.
In track and field the scenario looks very bright for the Indian squad which hopes to come back chock-full of medals. The leading hope is of course javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra. The country’s first under-20 world champion and the first Commonwealth Games javelin gold medalist Neeraj will start as favourite at Jakarta. Though the Indians have traditionally been strong in shot put and discus no man or woman has ever won a javelin gold at the Asiad so here is another opportunity for Neeraj to create history. India should also perform strongly in all three jump events while a lot is expected of teenaged quartermiler Hima Das who has emerged as the new star on the horizon following her stunning victory in the Under-20 world championships in Finland. Indeed track and field is among India’s strongest events in the Asian Games and it is expected that the athletes will uphold this tradition.
The manner in which the shuttlers have been performing India should finish strongly in the badminton event. Kidambi Srikanth, Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu will again carry India’s hopes and even in Asia where the competition is formidable the Indians can be expected to hold their own.
Hockey is of course one sport that has always been the centre of attraction where India is concerned and it will be no different this time. Even though they are likely to face a strong challenge from teams like South Korea, Malaysia and Pakistan the squad has been performing well enough to raise hopes of a medal – even a gold.
They will be particularly encouraged by their recent silver medal in the Champions Trophy after a shoot out against world champions Australia. One must also not forget that India are the defending champions. There is a good chance too that the women’s team can bring back a medal.
If there is one sport in which India starts firm favourite it has to be kabaddi. There has been a dip in Pakistan’s form so that works out to India’s advantage. They could face some competition from Iran and South Korea but the Indian men is in line to win their eighth straight kabaddi title in the Games. The women too should not encounter much difficulty as they attempt to lift a third straight title.
Another discipline in which India are expected to bag a lot of medals is wrestling. And what has made the scenario even more encouraging is the sparkling show of the wrestlers who bagged 12 medals with each participant returning with a medal in the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast. The country had won five medals in the sport at Incheon and the mood is upbeat that the overall number may exceed this number in Jakarta. The return of double Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar augurs well for the squad while two time Commonwealth Games champion and Incheon Asian Games bronze medallist Vinesh Phogat will lead the challenge in the women’s section.
Besides these sports in which the Indians are bound to excel there are other disciplines in which the odd medal or two could be obtained to boost India’s tally.