India is sending its largest contingent ever to the 2016 Olympic Games, with 118 sportspersons representing the country in Rio. Four years ago, at the London Olympics, India bagged six medals — two silver and four bronze, where a total of 83 athletes, 60 men and 23 women, competed in 13 sports in 2012. This year, India is aiming to double its medal tally, with over a hundred athletes participating in 15 sports. Before the Rio 2016 Olympics kick off, Firstpostpicks India’s best medal prospects:
1. Jitu Rai, Shooting Jitu Rai is participating in the 50m pistol and 10m air pistol events in Rio. Jitu is the reigning 50m air pistol champion at the ISSF World Cup. He is currently ranked third in the world in both his categories. The 29-year-old shooter has won two gold, three silver and one bronze medals in the World Cups, and gold in Commonwealth and Asian Games. He is one of India’s biggest hopes to clinch a gold in the next two weeks. The Army man has been focused ahead of the Olympic Games and added the silver in ISSF World Cup in Baku last month to his medal tally.
2. Saina Nehwal, Badminton
The Indian ace shuttler bagged a bronze medal four years ago in London and is aiming to repeat her heroics in the Brazilian city. Currently ranked fifth in the world, Saina recently won the Australia Open Super Series. If she can perform to her full potential and maintain her fitness and energy levels, she has a good chance of becoming India’s first female individual Olympic gold medallist. But, she will need to overcome her nemesis in Spain’s Carolina Marin, Tai Tzu-ying of Chinese Taipei, and China’s Li Xuerui to get there.
3. Deepika Kumari, Archery
In 2012, Deepika Kumari at the young age of 18 was ranked World Number one going into the London Olympics. But all the hype went for a toss when Deepika lost to Amy Oliver of Great Britain in the very first round. Cold weather, viral fever and Olympic pressure were blamed for the Indian archery team’s poor performance. This year, Deepika heads to Rio with some much-needed experience under her belt. She is participating in both the women’s individual and team events, along with Laxmirani Majhi and L Bombayla Devi. Deepika shot 686 in the 72-arrow ranking round to equal the feat of London Olympics gold-medallist Ki Bo Bae of Korea at the Archery World Cup in April this year. She will hope to repeat the performance in the next week as well.
4. Vikas Krishan, Boxing
Vikas Krishan, ranked sixth in the world, is a World Championship bronze-medallist. Participating in the 75kg middleweight category, Vikas is looking to win a medal in his Olympic swansong. At the 2012 Olympics, the Indian boxer had a heartbreaking upset in the pre-quarterfinals, when the jury overturned the verdict citing nine holding fouls. He is determined to put the demons of London behind and has been training at “unearthly hours” in the run-up to the Games. Not even the politics behind de-recognition of the Indian Boxing Federation by International Boxing Association (AIBA) has managed to stop him. Vikas had recently changed his weight class from lightweight to middleweight, and believes he will be swifter than other boxers in this category in Rio.
5. Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna, Tennis
With a combined ranking of 11, Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna clinched qualification for the mixed doubles tennis event back in June. Sania, the top-ranked player in women’s doubles and Rohan, currently ranked 15th in the men’s doubles, are the brightest medal prospect for India in tennis. They have perfect game styles to match each other’s abilities, they have great personal chemistry on the court and most importantly, they have won practically every time they have stepped on to a court to play. While they will face some of the best in the sport at Rio, both Sania and Rohan together have the potential to beat the big names and grab a medal.
6. Yogeshwar Dutt, Wrestling
Yogeshwar Dutt won a bronze medal in the London Olympic Games in the 60kg Freestyle Wrestling category. Four years later, he’s back at the Olympics, but will be competing in the 65kg category this time around. And that’s not all that has changed. Recently, multiple injuries have effectively kept him out of competition. But his will and desire to succeed at the highest level is still driving the Olympian at the age of 34. Looking fitter than ever, Yogeshwar has undergone a lot of training, changed his diet and taken steps to maintain his power and stamina ahead of the Rio Olympics. With a rejuvenated fitness regime, he goes into the Games with a lot of confidence and belief.
7. Dipa Karmakar, Gymnastics
Dipa Karmakar, the 22-year-old Tripura girl, made history when she became the first female gymnast from India to qualify for the quadrennial event. She qualified with a a total score of 52.698 points and fifth position in the Glasgow Gymnastics World Championships. With relentless single-minded focus for years, she has overcome hurdles like federation politics and poor equipment to pave her way to Rio. Dipa is confident of doing well and has an edge in the Produnova — a double frontal vault — with a difficulty rating of 7.0. She is one of the five women in the world who have successfully completed the toughest vault in artistic gymnastics.
8. Indian men’s hockey team
Despite being the most successful Olympic team in the history of the sport with eight gold medals, India’s last podium finish came way back in Moscow 1980. Led by PR Sreejesh, the Indian India hockey team aim to end this 36-year medal drought in Rio. Sreejesh, one of the best goalkeepers in the world, captains a skillful team that has strong defensive unit of Harmanpreet Singh, Rupinder Pal Singh, Kothajit Singh and Surender Kumar. If they can click in front of goal as well, India can easily reclaim the glory of those golden days. Buoyed by their recent performance in the Champions Trophy, they have a relatively comfortable group and should at least make the final four in Rio.
9. Vinesh Phogat, Wrestling
Having defeated the 2014 World Championships silver-medallist Iwona Matkowska en route to sealing an Olympic qualification with a gold medal, Vinesh Phogat is another Olympic medal prospect with a lot of promise. The 21-year-old will be representing India in the Women’s Freestyle 48 kg category, and has been one of the rising stars in the Indian wrestling circuit. She can make up for her lack of experience with her aggressive approach and her confident attitude on the mat. The grappler’s confidence has been boosted by winning medals in six of the seven international tournaments that she has participated in since July 2014.
10. Abhinav Bindra, Shooting
Abhinav Bindra is the only Indian who knows what it takes to win an individual Olympic gold medal. In his final Olympic Games before he retires, the shooter is aiming to add another medal to his long list of achievements. Back in the 10m air rifle in his fifth Olympic appearance, Abhinav has his eyes on creating history again — no shooter in this category has ever won the Olympic gold medal twice. An obsessive attention to detail and strenuous training regimes are his biggest strengths. In order to prepare for the Olympic Games, he had an exact replica of the Rio shooting range made in Chandigarh. His steely resolve and vast experience at the Olympics will definitely give him the edge in the coming week in Brazil.