Olympics: India on a medal count
New Delhi, July 27 - Though India have picked their biggest squad of 81 athletes for the Olympics, only a handful of them are expected to make the podium in london. All the potential medal winners worked really hard and, more importantly, they themselves make no secret of their ambition. India never had it so good.
Best bet for a medal
Saina Nehwal (badminton): The World No. 5 is expected to better her quarterfinals showing at the 2008 Beijing Games. Since the Beijing Games, the Hyderabadi had a meteoric rise at the international level and is one of India's strongest medal prospects in London.
She has been handed a favourable draw but things can still get tough for her. Saina has been seeded fourth and has been clubbed with World No. 55 Lianne Tan of Belgium and 65th ranked Sabrina Jaquet of Switzerland in Group E.
She is expected to get past the group stage without any hiccups. In the pre-quarters, the 22-year-old Saina is expected to face 14th seed Yao Jie of Netherlands and fifth seed Tine Baun of Denmark in the quarters.
Saina has a 3-3 head-to-head record again her old foe Baun, but her real test will be against China's World No. 1 Yihan Wang, whom the Indian may face in the final. Saina has never beaten Yihan in five matches.
Sania can give Paes second medal
Leander Paes and Sania Mirza (tennis): Leander Paes, who gave India its only Olympic tennis medal at the 1996 Atlanta Games, will be partnering Sania Mirza in the mixed doubles category.
The duo has already been seen as India's best bet for a tennis medal. Though they won the gold at 2006 Doha Asian Games and a bronze at the 2002 Busan edition, the Olympics will be a different ball game.
It will be a 16-team draw and two wins may take the pair to the threshold of a medal. The draw will be made July 31 and the event will start from Aug 1.
Top shot in double trap
Ronjan Sodhi (shooting): India's ace double-trap shooter will be the one to watch out for. Sodhi, who is the first Indian to have defended a World title, will look to set the record straight after missing out on the Beijing Olympics.
Since missing the 2008 Games, when he was a double world record holder and World No. 5, Sodhi has established himself as one of the top shooters in the world. He has filled the shoes of his fellow double-trap shooter Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, who won the historic silver at Athens in 2004.
Sodhi, now ranked World No. 10, has won two gold medals, one silver and one bronze in various world cups and he has two silver medals won at the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games and gold medal from the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games.
It won't be a cakewalk for Sodhi as he will get stiff competition from top marksmen like Walton Eller and Joshua Richmond of the US and Beijing Games bronze medallist Hu Binyuan of China.
Still good for a medal
Abhinav Bindra (shooting): One cannot rule out the golden boy of Indian shooting. His historic gold medal in the 10metre air-rifle in Beijing inspired the next generation of Indian shooters. Bindra has nothing to lose in London and that makes him a strong favourite for a podium finish.
However, it wont be easy for him as he faces a stiff challenge from his compatriot Gagan Narang, who narrowly missed out the final round in Beijing on a count back. They have shared a healthy rivalry and that may just bring the best out of both here. Veterans Zhu Qinan of China and Hungarian Peter Sidi are just some of the top names who can pose a threat for Bindra.
It has to be a special
Vijender Singh (boxing): Vijender would be making a record third Olympic appearance and the former World No. 1, would look to bettering his performance at the Beijing Games, where he won a bronze.
The 26-year-old boxer, who won gold in Guangzhou, will have it all to do this time around in the 75kg category.
Ukrainian Evhen Khytrov and Ryota Murata of Japan are the firm favourites to take home the medals and the Indian will have to come up with something special for a top-three finish. That's a big ask.
He's a class act
Sushil Kumar (wrestling): Sushil's bronze in Beijing glamourised the traditional Indian sport. The wrestler from Baprola, on the outskirts of Delhi, has achieved an iconic status in Indian sports.
The World Championship gold in 2010, the first by an Indian, made Sushil a truly world-class wrestler. But the flag-bearer of the Indian contingent at the opening ceremony will need to do a lot to improve upon his Beijing performance here, though he is seen as a favourite.
Her quest for gold
M. C. Mary Kom (women's boxing): A world champion is a rarity in India and achieving the feat five times makes Mary Kom a legend. In fact it was her exploits that prompted the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to include women's boxing for the first time in the Olympics.
The diminutive boxer from Manipur, mother of twin sons, also had to graduate from her pet 48kg to 51kg for the Games.
Despite her status as a renowned boxer, Mary Kom was extremely lucky to qualify for the Games during the World Championship in China. It was also the first World Championship from which Mary Kom returned empty handed. But now she is determined to end her career on a high, with an Olympic medal, preferably gold.
Her record points to a medal
Deepika Kumari (archery): India have huge expectations from the 18-year-old, who reached the top of the world rankings last month. She is in top form and recently won the World Cup in Antalya, Turkey. A good show by Deepika can lead to a medal in both individual and team events.
She is a former cadet and youth world champion, besides being a double gold medallist at the 2010 Commonwealth Games. (IANS)
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