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Target Rio


The largest ever Indian contingent for the Olympics looks sharp and confident to improve its medal tally, says Harpal Singh Bedi
HARPAL SINGH BEDI | Issue Dated: June 5, 2016, New Delhi
Tags : Sports Authority of India | Vijay Kumar | Sushil Kumar | Mary Kom | SAI Director General Injiti Srinivas | Asian Games | World Cup Hockey |

With over 90 sports persons having already made the cut, India will be sending its largest ever contingent in the Olympics. Among those who have qualified for the Rio include 59 sportmen, who will take part in individual events, and 32 hockey players.

According to the Sports Ministry and Sports Authority of India (SAI) who have heavily invested in the preparations of the teams for the Games the country is likely to win over 10 medals. Ironically three of the London Olympic medal winners—Vijay Kumar, Sushil Kumar and Mary Kom—have failed to make the cut for the Rio Olympics.

Mary Kom, who has just been nominated to Rajya Sabha, was hoping to repeat her London Games medal success in Rio too but that was not to be as she could not make it to the semi-finals to secure an Olympic berth.

India had finished 55th in the medal standing at the 2012 Olympics. The country was placed 50th on the leader board in the Beijing Games  with one gold and two bronze, could have made the top-40 nations had it managed one yellow metal in London. 

“Our projection of getting in double digit medal  tally is based on the assessment of the athletes who have qualified for the Games,” says SAI Director General Injiti  Srinivas. However the senior IAS officer is pragmatic enough to understand that there could be no final word till the competition is over, so he quickly adds, “What happens on that particular day is something none of us can predict, but we should achieve this target.” 

In  all the Olympic Sports based International competition like Asian Games, or World Cup, Hockey attracts the most attention of the Indians and this time is no exception. Team India is in tough pool “B” along with Germany, Holland, Argentina, Ireland and Canada. The pools will be played on round robin basis where first four teams in each group will qualify for the quarter finals which will be played on knock out basis.

“We are hopeful that our team will make it to the knock out round and after that i can be any body’s chance,” Srinivas opined. His assessment is based on the assumption that India will at least finish fourth beating Ireland and Canada even if it loses to three other teams. However, hockey commentator Anupam Ghulati has a different take on this. He feels that to underestimate Ireland against whom we are playing our first match will be fatal. “Ireland has the best goal keeper in the World. They have made it to the Olympics after 100 years and they are going to give up easily. If we are eyeing fourth place in our group then must also be thinking on those line.” Wrestling is another category where medals are expected. Though this time a record eight wrestlers have qualified, their preparation has been marred by the unnecessary controversy raised by Sushil Kumar who wants a trial with Narsingh Yadav in the 74 kg category WFI made it very clear that it will go by the book and the grappler – Narsingh Yadav – who has qualified will represent the country in Rio. “Till now, a wrestler believes that if he brings a quota, he will go to the Olympics. But the day it would become a norm that even if one athlete brings a quota but someone else may go to the Olympics, that day wrestling in India would be finished. No one would work hard to bring a quota as the wrestlers may not feel secure,” said WFI chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, explaining the Federation’s stand.

However in shooting, Sanjeev Rajput was not so lucky. He won a quota place spot in the 50 m rifle 3 positions but the National Rifle Association of India drooped him and included Manavjeet Sandhu. The Federation, using its clout with the world body, exchanged a spot in the 50 m rifle 3 positions with the men's trap. Unlike wrestling there was no uproar  in the media and Sanjeev’s dream of representing the country lay shattered. 

This time the biggest shooting squad of 12 men and women will be in Rio from India and once again all eyes will be on Beijing Olympic gold medalist Abhinav Bindra. Other medal hopefuls are Gagan Narang and Jitu Raj. .

NRAI chief Raninder Singh is confident of a much better showing this time.“ Since 2004 Athens Olympics, Shooters are doing well. In the last three Olympics, we had one gold, two silvers and a bronze. I think this time we will do much better. All the selected shooters are in good nick and are training rigorously,” he said beaming with confidence.

In the other lesser focused sports, gymnastic, India has a new heroine in Dipa Karmarkar. She has the distinction of being the first Indian woman gymnast to qualify for the Olympics. In the Olympic qualifiers, Dipa's first vault, the extremely difficult Produnova — a double frontal vault — gave her 15.066 points, the highest among 14 competitors. “If she maintains her form, I will not be surprised if she surprises others with a podium finish. She has all the talent. She needs a bit of a luck and push at Rio,” adds Srinivas.

Coming to tennis, there is still some confusion about how many Indians have a chance to qualify as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will not offer any wildcards for the tennis events. The International Tennis Federation (ITF) Secretary General Juan Margets clarified that no National Association can apply for wild cards.

This means that individual players will have to qualify for the Olympics based solely on their ranking and cannot be nominated by their respective national associations. As of now, any doubles player ranked 10th or better on 6 June, will get direct entry and can choose their partner. However, India has only one player in the top 10 doubles ranking. At present, barring Sania Mirza who is the World No 1 in Women's doubles, no Indian player is ranked high enough to make it to Rio. However, Rohan Bopanna, India's top-ranked men's doubles player at number 11, is in sniffing range. Sania will get to choose her partner for women's doubles. However Mixed Doubles could turn out be problematic because only players who are part of the tennis contingent in singles and doubles can be nominated for the mixed doubles.

The next Indian on the doubles list is Leander Paes at 59, an Olympic bronze-medalist who is trying for a record seventh Olympics appearance.  In the men's doubles, if Bopanna breaks into the top 10, he will make it to the draw and could pick any partner he wants. There is a possibility of Bopanna and Paes, India's highest ranked pair, partnering in the doubles based on their combined ranking and one of them will partner Sania in the mixed doubles.

In badminton, India’s main hopes are Saina Nehwal and P.V. Sindhu. Their performance this season has been uneven, and the defeats they suffered at the hands of the Chinese in the Uber Cup further dented their confidence. But they still have time to bounce back.

It is based on these facts that the SAI DG is willing to stick his neck out and say that India will improve its performance. “Sports Ministry’s Target Olympic Podium (TOP) scheme has played a vital role in our preparations for the Games,” he explains. Sports persons qualified for the Games have been sent for training to places which have the same time zone as the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro so that they can acclimatize properly. For example, qualified archers and shooters are already in North America – in the same time zone – so that they can acclimatize properly and don't face jet-lag.

 “Because our performance is not predominant in measurable events such as athletics, it is difficult to predict the number of medals we will win. But, going by form, we are expecting a double digit figure performance. Anything below that will be disappointing,” Srinivas added for good measure.

Such confidence was difficult to find only a decade ago. Naturally, a focus on medal-giving sports and the scientific and professional way of training has changed the ground reality for good. How much will that convert into medal gains is anyone’s guess, however.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017