The Games are just 29 days away, and all we hear about is corruption and controversy. It’s time the spotlight turned on what really matters — sports. How many medals will India win? We think at least 70. Aabhas Sharma does the math
The Indian contingent at the 2010 Commonwealth Games (CWG) in New Delhi will have 495 sportspersons, nearly thrice as many as the 180 who went to Melbourne in 2006. Athletes comprise the largest group in the contingent — 146— followed by aquatics, where 68 swimmers are taking part in different events. The shooters comprise the third largest group at 36, while the men’s and the women’s hockey teams will have 16 players each. Initially, 1,140 sportspersons were shortlisted as core probables; the list was later pruned to 838 who are now training at different venues. At stake are 829 medals in 17 disciplines.
Twenty seven of India’s haul of 50 medals at the 2006 CWG in Melbourne came from shooting. The shooters are expected to hit bull’s eye this time too. A total of 120 medals will be up for grabs in shooting and coach Sunny Thomas is confident of improving on the 2006 medal haul. “We have more or less the same line-up, but the shooters are more experienced and have gained a lot of international exposure.”
However, the advantage of competing on home ground will be lost as the shooters won’t be allowed to practise at the Karnail Singh Shooting Range before September 23. The range was inaugurated in May, but is still unusable. “It will be like a foreign range for us,” says a shooter. Tejaswini Sawant, who won the World Championships in Munich last month, disagrees. “We will not lose the home advantage,” she says.
Sharath Kamal surprised even himself when he won a gold in Melbourne. This time around, he expects a repeat performance. “I have been working hard and want to win a medal in front of home supporters,” says Kamal, ranked world number 39. It’s a matter of national honour, since Kamal well knows that a CWG medal won’t do anything to help his world ranking. Incidentally, Kamal is the first Indian to break into the top 50 in table tennis.
Massimo Constantine, the Italian coach of the Indian team, is confident too. “We will win a medal or two,” he says. However, the Indians will face stiff competition from Singapore — especially Gao Ning, ranked 19 in the world. England’s Paul Drinkhall is the current British champion and has won three gold medals at the European Youth Championships.
Boxing has become popular after the good Indian show at the Beijing Olympics where Vijender Singh won a bronze, and Akhil Kumar and Jitender Kumar missed out narrowly. In January 2010, Vijender was ranked number one boxer in the world in the 75 kg category; he also won a gold at the Commonwealth Boxing Championships earlier this year, along with Akhil and three other Indian boxers. Naturally coach Balbir Sandhu is upbeat about their chances next month. But even so, he is not predicting a medal count. “We are prepared for any challenge,” is all he says on the phone from Patiala where the boxers are training. There are 10 gold, 10 silver and 20 bronze medals at stake in 10 weight categories. Akhil Kumar who won the gold at the 2006 Melbourne Games is looking forward to the home support — “The crowd can play a big part in giving us confidence,” he says. And the absence of the Cubans will make things easier for the Indians.
|THEY MAY SURPRISE US YET|
The men’s and women’s hockey teams haven’t been in the news for the right reasons for a long time now, what with M K Kaushik, the coach of the women’s team, being accused of sexual harassment by his charges, and Jose Braga, coach of the men’s team, accusing the Indian Hockey Federation of bringing about hockey’s downfall. Not the ideal environment to be going into the Games, where India will face tough competition from England, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Malaysia. As for the home crowd advantage, it didn’t work to our favour earlier this year when the Hockey World Cup was held at the Major Dhyanchand stadium (the venue for CWG as well) when India finished a lowly eighth.
If there’s one discipline where India has always had a dismal medals haul, it’s athletics. Even in 2002 and 2006, two of our best performances at the CWG, the athletes won only four medals. This time around as well things don’t look too good. There’s no Usain Bolt, but the competition will be tough. PT Usha’s protege Tintu Luka (800m and 4x100 relay) is highly rated by experts and will be aiming to prove them right. Pankaj Dimri (800m) is another athlete who has burst onto the national scene after impressive performances in national level meets — he won gold in the 800m at the nationals earlier this year. We need not expect much from discus throwers or shot putters
Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi are favourites for gold but haven’t played together for over two years now.Tennis coach Jaidip Mukherjea feels that India could win a medal in doubles, whereas in singles, it will take a lot of things to go right for a win. “Gold could be difficult but a silver and bronze is well within our reach,” he says.
India’s big medal hope is of course Saina Nehwal. She’s had a great run these past 12 months, winning three Super Series tournaments which catapulted her to world number two, although she comes to Delhi with a defeat in the quarter finals of the recently-concluded World Championships in Paris. Coach P Gopichand, however, is optimistic. “She has been in good form over the last 12 months and it would be great if she won the gold in front of the home crowd.” China’s absence from the Games will help Nehwal’s chances but she will face competition from Malaysia, Singapore and England. Apart from Nehwal, the mixed doubles pair of Jwala Gutta and V Diju, top seeds at the Games, should at least reach the final rounds, which would win them at least a bronze. The men’s challenge would be spearheaded by Chetan Anand, ranked number 15th in the world, and Anup Sridhar, ranked 60th.
The doping scandal will certainly hit the wrestling squad, especially since it means Rajiv Tomar, a medal favourite, will miss out on the CWG. It’s a pity since, after boxing and shooting, wrestling is the one sport where India is a favourite to win medals. In the last two major international events — the Commonwealth Championships and Asian Championships — the Indians won 29 medals in various categories. A lot will now depend on how the wrestlers deal with the controversy and whether they focus on the challenges ahead.
On January 14, during an exclusive interview with TV host Oprah Winfrey, Lance Armstrong—winner of seven consecutive Le Tour De France (1999-2005) ...