Friday, July 22, 2016

India @Rio - The Hopes

The Olympics are coming!!! It will be fortnight of cheers and thrills, jubilation and heart-break... and anecdotes. Everyone will have their own memory to associate the Games with.

After a high of London, India is going to Rio with their biggest contingent ever. 121 athletes will be competing with the very best of the world in 70 events across 15 sports. And with a big contingent comes hopes for a big medal haul. After all, post Beijing & London, winning has become more important than participation.

Having followed the qualifications very closely this time around, I can safely say, no one can predict an Olympic medal. Forget a medal, qualifying for the Games is a tremendous achievement. But how can one be a sports fan without awakening their inner Octopus. So here are my predictions for the Indian contingent at Rio. (Found a website which predicts Olympic medals table).

Hockey: 2 events
Men: After years of living in the glorious past, Indian Hockey had scraped the very bottom with non-qualification for Beijing followed by wooden spoon at London. But things are looking up now - Asian Games Gold (2014), World Hockey League Bronze (2015) and Champions Trophy Silver (2016). Add a new format with an extra knock-out round added, it becomes more of a lottery. All in all, raising Indian hockey fans’ hopes once again.
Women: It was a tremendous improvement for the team to qualify itself, after a gap of 36 years. A quarter-final finish would be a good result.
Expectations: Very High; Chances: Medium (Men); Unlikely (Women)

Archery: 3 events
Since the days of Limba Ram, Archery has promised much and delivered nothing. This time, the men’s team hasn’t qualified with Atanu Das being the sole representative in the individual category. Like last time, the women’s team and Dipika Kumari are all in good form. If (a big IF), they maintain the current form, a couple of medals can be added to India’s kitty.
Expectations: Low (after the London disappointment); Chances: Medium (in all 3 events)

Badminton: 4 events
Indian players have been consistently winning at the World Stage with Saina, Sindhu & Srikanth being ranked in top 10 for a long time also securing world championship medals.
Expectations: High; Chances: High (Singles), Low (Doubles)

Shooting: 11 events
One sport where multiple medals are expected (lots of them). Jitu Rai, Heena Sidhu, Bindra, Narang are amongst the favorites in their categories, but can’t count out the likes of Mairaj Khan, Apurvi Chandela, Chain Singh, Gurpreet Singh et al. But this is one sport with no room for error. Multiple world cups have thrown up different winners. Lets see who wins on the day.
Expectations: Very High; Chances: High (Count can be anywhere between 1 & 5)

Boxing: 3 events
The mess in the Boxing federation has ensured that Indian Boxing has regressed, with entries declining from 8 in London to 3 in Rio. Indian boxers have had to fight under the AIBA flag for the last couple of years because their own federation kept getting suspended. Even for Rio, there was a fear that they may not get to represent India. Shiva Thapa (current world bronze medalist) is amongst the favorites while Vikas Krishan & Manoj Kumar would certainly want redemption for their controversial exits at London. 
Expectations: Low; Chances: Medium (for Thapa)

Tennis: 3 events
Tennis broke India’s 16 year medal drought at Atlanta through Leander Paes. 20 years down the line, Paes is still going strong albeit in doubles. Speaks volumes of Paes’s longevity and India’s inability to produce another top notch player. Tennis should have brought in more medals, but players’ incompatibility/ego issues /bad luck have combined to ensure that it remains one of India’s biggest Olympics disappointment. The run-up to London was marked with bad blood, some of which has been spilled over this time also. Do not see any of the 3 doubles combinations going much farther in the draw. Interestingly, one of the medal predictor sites gave India a Gold in Mixed Doubles!!! (with the wrong pairing).
Expectations: Low; Chances: Low (Mixed Doubles is best hope)

Wrestling: 8 events
Post London, the expectations are high with India sending its biggest ever wrestling contingent. Run-up to the Olympics was marred by the Sushil Kumar-Narsingh Yadav battle. That High Court had to intervene in the selections left a bad taste but finally the Wrestling Federation stuck by its decision of picking the current world championship medalist Narsingh over two time Olympic medallist Sushil. (Quite a bold move).
Expectations: High (Yogeshwar Dutt, Narsingh, Vinesh); Chances: Medium (1-2)

Weightlifting: 2 events
Bucking the trend of every sport post an Olympics medal, Indian weightlifting has been in a free-fall since Karnam Malleswari’s bronze lift at Sydney. A succession of doping controversies even led to the country getting banned for some time. For Rio, India earned a quota each for men’s & women’s division. There is a good chance of a top 5 finish for Mirabai Chanu, but a medal will be an exceptional achievement.
Expectations: Low; Chances: Low (Chanu may lift a surprise though)

Athletics: 21 events
If we discount Norman Pritchard’s two medals at the 1900 Games, Indian athletics at Olympics has been mainly a case of participation being more important than winning. Our most celebrated moments are Milkha Singh & PT Usha missing podium finishes by a whisker. This time we have our biggest ever athletics contingent going to Rio. To give an idea of how far behind Indian athletics is to the rest of the world, many of the qualifiers had to break existing national marks to just meet the qualifying standards!!! Special mention must be made of Dutee Chand who had to fight to just be deemed eligible to participate as a woman.
Expectations: Low (Likes of Vikas Gowda (Discus), Lalita Babar (Steeplechase) should make it through to their respective finals); Chances: Nil (New national marks will be highs)
Following the recent crackdown on the doping front (ban on Russians & close watch on Kenyans), Athletics events might just throw interesting results.

Golf: 2 events
Golf returns to Olympics after 112 years. Given the spate of withdrawal by its biggest stars, there is a good chance it might not appear again in future. The sport will be missing many of the biggest stars following withdrawals and nationality restrictions. This opens up a slim chance for Anirban Lahiri & Shiv Chowrasia. Chances for Aditi Ashok are not that great in the Ladies side.
Expectations: Low; Chances: Low 

Gymnastics: 5 events
An Indian girl qualified for Gymnastics!!! And if Dipa Karmakar executes her Produnova Vault perfectly, India might be getting their hands on their most unexpected medal ever. 
Expectations: Low; Chances: Low

Table Tennis: 2 events
In Table Tennis, unlike Badminton, Indians haven’t been able to break the East Asian hegemony. All the 4 paddlers might win couple of rounds but don’t see them progressing much further.
Expectations: Nil; Chances: Nil

Judo: 1 event
Avtar Singh will be sole Judoka representing India at Rio. How much progress he makes will depend a lot on the luck of the draw.
Expectations: Nil; Chances: Nil

Rowing: 1 event
Dattu Bhokanal will India’s sole rowing representative. Has an interesting back-story of coming up from a drought-prone region to representing the country in a water sport!!!
Expectations: Nil; Chances: Low

Swimming: 2 events
2 swimmers have been allocated wild cards for Rio. Don’t see them progressing beyond the Heats.
Expectations: Nil; Chances: Nil

Olympic Medal Predictor Site says India gets a silver & a bronze. My prediction would be a tally of 5-8 medals. Will it be the known names? or will there be new ones raising the flag? The draws will also play a crucial role. A better measure of progress would be the number of athletes making different finals. After the sweat and toil, which they went through to just qualify (all unseen), now we add the weight of expectations of a nation of a billion plus watching.

Predictions done. Now to enjoy the grandest sporting spectacle as it unfolds at Rio. The run-up to the Games have been marked with controversies galore (reminding one of the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games). Hopefully it will be incident-free and bring positive news amidst all the gloom and doom unfolding in the world.

With best wishes to all the members of the Indian contingent.


Monica Mahto said...

Very informative and well-written!

Pristine said...

Very nicely written

Pristine said...

Very nicely written