Rio de Janeiro: Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna’s awesome march into the mixed doubles semis, gymnast Dipa Karmakar’s sensational vault to reach the final and ace shooter Abhinav Bindra’s narrow bronze medal miss were the high-water marks of India’s performance, amid plenty of heartbreaks in the first week of competition at the Rio Olympic Games.
After a huge build up ahead of the Games, with the authorities setting a target of a dozen medals – in fact a 240-page Sports Authority of India report to the government stated the booty could even go up to 19 – the series of failures by the star athletes have come as a major disappointment to the people back home and the Indian diaspora scattered across the globe. While even Fiji, with a population of around 8.81 lakh, a little more than Sikkim, and a size of about 18,300 square kilometers, smaller than even Manipur and Mizoram, has already got into the medal bracket with a gold, a podium finish still eludes India.
But the second week could bring cheer at last, with men’s middleweight boxer Vikas Krishan punching his way into the quarterfinal, to be a win away from a medal, just like Sania-Bopanna. However, 24 year old Vikas now has to take on the formidable Uzbek Bektemir Melikuziev, the silver medallist in the 2015 world boxing championships. Acknowledging Melikuziev as the “toughest”in the group, Vikas has promised to “return with the gold” if he can get past the Uzbek. “I won’t take a silver or bronze. I will return empty-handed or the gold medal. Gold is assured if I get past him,” said Vikas after cruising past his pre-quarterfinal opponent Onder Sipal of Turkey. Sania-Bopanna would now be up against the crack US team of Venus Williams and Rajeev Ram.
Even if the Indians lose, they would get another shot at the medal in the bronze play-off. The Indian men’s hockey team has put up an impressive show, by making the Olympics knock-out stage after 36 years — that is after Moscow where they had lifted the gold in a boycott-ridden Games. The Indians have been creative and speedy, but the penalty corner conversions and finishings have looked patchy, and it is largely because of these two defects that the team finished 2-2 against Canada in their last pool B game.
Now they have a fight at hand, against the the Red Lions of Belgium, who topped Pool A. Despite the pessimism expressed by the game’s legend, Ashok Kumar, son of hockey wizard Dhyan Chand, about India claiming a medal from the discipline, the country’s sports buffs have high hopes from the team. India’s badminton queen Saina Nehwal and veteran wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt are also bright medal prospects. Though Saina seemed far from her best in her opening encounter, as she was stretched byAlocal favourite Vicente Lohaynny, one assumed as a seasoned pro she has kept her finest displays for the coming battles. Dutt got a bronze in the 60 kg freestyle category four years back in London, and looks India’s best bat on the mat to make an encore or even better. Much is expected of 74 kg freestyle wrestler Narsingh Pancham Yadav, whose, training, however, was hampered following a dope controversy, till he got a clean chit to make it to Rio. And last but not the least among the prospects is Dipa. The girl seems on a history making spree.
After becoming the first woman Indian gymnast to make it to the Olympics, the 23 year old has emerged as the country’s first gymnast to reach the final by finishing eighth, giving an excellent exhibition of the ‘Produnova’ vault – also called the vault of death because of its high risk factor. On Sunday night, the country would be glued to Rio to watch her perform in the summit round. Her coach Bisweshar Nandy has ruled her chance as high, saying “Any of the eight finalists can bag medals, as only half a point separates them”. But even if Dipa misses her moments on the podium, there is no doubt she is already the toast of the nation.
To talk about a missed medal, one has to turn to Bindra. In his swansong Olympics, he finished fourth in the 10m air rifle event final, with a couple of wayward shots in the bronze play-off bringing the curtain down on the glorious career of India’s only individual gold medalist in the quadrennial games. But Bindra’s was the best show in the midst of a shocking below-par display from his highly rated shooter comrades – Gagan Narang and Jitu Rai. Narang, though, will take aim at the 50m rifle 3 position on Sunday. Belying pre-Games billing, archery too proved to be a disaster, as the women archers Laxmirani Majhi, Deepika Kumari and Laishram Bombayla Devi and their male counterpart Atanu Das failed to keep their arrows on target.
Old warhorse Leander Paes, who won a bronze medal in the Atlanta Olympics 20 years back, also disappointed, as he and his men’s doubles tennis partner Bopanna exited in the opening round. With the Games now in its second half, it is clear that India’s ambition of a dozen or more medals tally has evaporated into thin air. It remains to be seen whether the remaining competitors can reverse the trend and ensure a decent metal count. Fiji’s gold medal finish in men’s rugby sevens can be an inspiration. A –IANS
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