Expectations are high from Indian athletes at Asian Games

Thursday, November 11, 2010

GUANGZHOU - After a stupendous performance at the Commonwealth Games last month, expectations will be high from Indian athletes at the Asian Games starting here Friday.

Indian athletes are riding high after a historic second place finish at the New Delhi Commonwealth Games, where they won 101 medals, including 38 gold medals. But replicating the success at Asian Games will be tough.

India’s best at any Asian Games was in the inaugural event in 1951 in New Delhi, when they finished second with 29 medals, including 15 gold. In the last edition four years ago in Doha, India topped the 50-medal mark only the second time but finished eighth with 54 medals, 10 of which were gold.

At Guangzhou, India would majorly depend upon shooting, wrestling and athletics for medals.

At the Commonwealth Games, India shooters bagged 30 medals, including 14 gold, while wrestlers won 19, including 10 gold. India had a surprisingly good haul from the track and field, winning two gold in a haul of 12 medals.

All eyes will be on Olympic shooting champion Abhinav Bindra, who gave India its maiden individual gold medal at the Beijing OLympics Games two years back. Bindra along with compatriot and world No.4 Gagan Narang will contest with Chinese rivals Zhu Qinan and Wang Tao as India will be looking to challenge China’s domination in Asian shooting.

National shooting coach Sunny Thomas feels it will be difficult for the Indians to repeat the Commonwealth Games performance.

“It would be unfair to expect the shooters to perform in Guangzhou as well as they did in the New Delhi Games. Then the level of competition will be much higher in China, considering the presence of heavyweights like China, Japan and South Korea. One should not expect the medal count to be anywhere near that of the Commonwealth Games,” said Thomas.

Wrestling coach Hargobind Singh knows that the presence of traditional powerhouse like Iran will make it tough. In the Doha Asian Games, India won six medals in wrestling — one silver and five bronze medals.

“We would be aiming to maintain our performance and win at least six medals. Though a lot would depend on the draw because the world’s top wrestlers would be there at the Asian Games. In almost every category, there are two world championships medallists. In some categories there are even three. Countries like Iran, South Korea, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan are the world’s best in wrestling,” he said.

Lamenting the absence of World Champion Sushil Kumar, who pulled out with a shoulder injury, Hargobind said: “We surely missed one gold as Sushil Kumar will not be there. But I can say this is a better team than the one at Doha. The good thing about this team is that every wrestler is a medal prospect. We will be competing in all the 18 categories and we just hope that the draw is in our favour.”

There was an unprecedented medal haul in athletics as well, but to put it in perspective the performances would not compare favourably with the best in the region.

However, the women’s 4×400m relay team, which won the gold at Doha, and triple jumper Renjith Maheswary are the best contenders for gold. The women’s relay team, which won the gold at the Commonwealth Games, with a timing of 3:27.77 stands out in Asia. Bronze medallist Renjith’s 17.07 m is the best mark by an Asian this season.

Discus thrower Krishna Poonia’s 61.51 metre, that fetched her the Commonwealth gold, has been bettered by 20 other women in the world this season (her season’s best, 63.69 m, recorded in the US, ranks 10th).

Krishna said that she has not lost focus after winning the gold.

“Peaking thrice in a three months time is very tough. First I had to do for the Asian All Stars, then for the Commonwealth Games and now for the Asian Games. But I have not lost focus and started practicing from the very next day,” she said.

In tennis, sans Leander Paes, India will find it hard to defend the mixed doubles and the men’s doubles gold medals they won four years ago. Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi won the men’s doubles gold while Paes and Sania Mirza won the mixed doubles event.

This time Paes has decided to skip the Asian Games as he has qualified for the World Tour Finals in London and even Bhupathi is yet to confirm his participation as he is trying to book his London berth. Sania Mirza and Somdev Devvarman will keep India’s hope alive in the singles.

In badminton, Commonwealth Games singles champion Saina Newhal would be eyeing a medal. But for that she will have to match the strength of her powerful Chinese opponents.

“It will be a tough challenge and I will give my best,” said the world No.3.

The men’s hockey team will be on a high after winning a surprise silver in the Commonwealth Games but coach Jose Brasa knows that it will be a tough task to make a podium finish. “We need to work on our penalty-corners and also tighten our defence,” he said.

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