India is all set to send its largest ever contingent of 90 athletes to the Rio Olympics, which is scheduled to be held between August 5 and 21. The 90 players who qualified include 58 athletes for individual events and 32 hockey players (both men and women).
While the Indian Olympic Association is looking forward to bringing back more than ten medals home, here is a look at some of India’s best bets for winning a medal in the world’s biggest sporting event.
Saina Nehwal: Ace Indian shuttler Saina Nehwal will be leading the pack of the largest ever badminton contingent, a total of seven, for the 2016 Olympics. She won a bronze medal at the London Olympics in 2012 and was also the first Indian woman to become world number 1 badminton player. Millions of eyes will be on her as she is the top Indian contender in badminton who can bring a medal home.
Pusarla Sindhu: The 20-year-old badminton player became the first ever Indian women’s singles player to win a medal at the World Championships in 2013. She was just 16 when Saina won the first Olympic medal in badminton for India. This is what Saina Nehwal said while praising the rising badminton star: “Sindhu has won medals in the World Cup (World Championships) and also in many more tournaments. She is young too, and I wish she brings many more laurels to the country”.
Jwala Gutta: Jwala is the first female Indian badminton player to qualify for two different events in the Olympics – Women’s Doubles with Ashwini Ponnappa and Mixed Doubles with V Diju. In the 2012 London Olympics, Jwala and her doubles partner Ashwini Ponappa missed the quarterfinal berth by just one point but they are looking much more confident this time.
Deepika Kumari: India’s ace archer and former World No. 1 player Deepika Kumari is in sublime form and surely comes across as India’s best bet for winning a medal in the Olympics. Currently ranked World No. 7, she also won a gold medal in the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
Vinesh Phogat: Ace Indian wrestler became the first Indian woman wrestler to seal a spot at the Rio Olympics 2016. The 21-year-old wrestler clinched the contest in the 48-kg category to become the first Indian female wrestler to qualify for the big event and is expected to win a medal at the forthcoming global event.
Dipa Karmakar: Dipa created history as she became the first Indian woman gymnast to book a berth for the Rio Olympics. The 22-year-old Indian artistic gymnast also became the first Indian woman to win a medal (bronze) in the Commonwealth Games in 2014. Karmakar is hopeful of returning to India with a medal from Brazil, and so is the nation.
Abhinav Bindra: India’s ace shooter Abhinav Bindra will be looking forward to repeat history in the Rio Games that he created at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games by becoming India’s first individual ever to win a gold medal in the 10 m air rifle event in the Olympic Games. He will also join Sachin Tendulkar, A R Rahman and Salman Khan as India’s Goodwill Ambassador for the Rio Olympics.
Gagan Narang: Gagan Narang was the third Indian shooter to qualify for the Rio Olympics after Jitu Rai and Apurvi Chandela. The 33-year-old Indian air rifle shooter won a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics and is now expected to make India proud at the Rio Olympics.
Jeetu Rai: Jeetu Rai struck gold at the ISSF World Cup earlier this year and is now a strong contender to win a medal for India at the Rio Olympics. Earlier, he bagged a silver medal at the ISSF World Cup 2014 and then a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games 2014.
Vikas Gowda (Discus Throw): This Indian discus-thrower qualified for the 2016 Rio Olympics after the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) lowered the entry standards from 66.00 metres to 65.00 metres. Currently the Asian champion, Gowda won a gold medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Holding a national record of 66.28 m, Vikas will be looking forward to improvise on it in the upcoming global sporting event.
Inderjeet Singh (Shot Put): Inderjeet Singh is Asia and India’s number one shot-putter who achieved the Olympic qualification mark with a throw of 20.65 m at the 19th Federation Cup. He also won the gold medal at the Asian Athletics Championship in 2015. Inderjeet will be one of India’s biggest hopes in the field events.
Men’s Hockey Team
Eight-time Olympic gold medallists India finished 12th and last in the London Olympics after failing to qualify for the Beijing Olympics in 2008. However, chief coach Roelant Oltmans thinks that Indian men’s hockey team can win a medal in the Rio Olympics. “We are in a group of teams that can win a medal but everything has to fall in the right place at the right moment and that is what the Olympic Games are all about,” said Oltmans.
Women’s Hockey Team
Indian women’s hockey team qualified for the 2016 Rio Olympics after 36 years since the 1980 Moscow Olympics. The team achieved a top-five finish at the 2014-15 Women’s FIH Hockey World League semi-finals. Though the women’s team will face stiff competition from strong teams like Japan, Great Britain, Australia and Argentina, there are big hopes that the team will bring a medal home.