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Indian athletes who'll make the nation proud this Olympics

Apoorva Pathak
Apoorva PathakJul 22, 2016 | 19:17

Indian athletes who'll make the nation proud this Olympics

In a fortnight the 31st edition of the Olympics will commence at Brazil's Rio de Janeiro. It will feature more than 10,500 athletes from more than 206 nations competing for 306 sets of medals in 42 disciplines at 37 different venues. New heroes will be born, old one forgotten.

Nations will get a chance to showcase their sporting might and sports fans across the globe will have a feast watching human endeavour and competition at its best.

India too awaits the mega event with hopes of having an unprecedented medal haul. Rio will see India's biggest ever participation in the Olympics with 121 athletes having qualified for it.

This is the first time that India managed to have over 100 athletes qualified to represent it and this itself has raised hopes of the best ever medal outing, though in part the high participation numbers are because of the women's hockey team, with 16 members, having qualified after a long gap.

Still, hopes are running high with the sports minister even asserting that India could double its last Olympic medal haul (which at six is the best till date).

But who are the men and women on whose shoulders the hope of our nation lies? Here are five sportspersons/disciplines most likely to get a podium finish for India at the Olympics this year:

1. Saina Nehwal (badminton)

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Saina secured India its first Olympic medal in badminton at the London Olympics in 2012.

Since then, she has scaled greater heights, becoming the first Indian women to be ranked world number one in badminton and winning silver in the world championships apart from clinching various super series titles.

Troubled by injuries in the past year, her current ranking has dropped to fifth. But with her recent victory in the Australian Open Super Series, which included getting the better of world number two Wang Yihan, Saina is going to Rio as a strong contender for a medal, if not gold.

Carolina Marin, Li Xuerui, Ratchanok Intanon and Wang Yihan will be her biggest challengers in this endeavour.

PV Sindhu (world number ten) and Kidambi Srikanth (ranked 12th, who won the China Open by beating Lin Dan in straight sets in the Chinese shuttler's own backyard) are other good probables for medals in badminton.

2. Jitu Rai (shooting)

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Shooting has been India's most reliable bet in the Olympics since Athens in 2004.

This time too, the Indian shooters are being looked up to for a medal.

Though the 12-member shooting contingent comprises the likes of former Olympic medal winners Abhinav Bindra and Gagan Narang, India's biggest medal hope in this discipline is Jitu Rai.

The army man is ranked third in the world in the 10m pistol and second in the 50m pistol categories.

This year, he won silver in the 10m pistol world championship and gold in the 50m pistol world championship. His good form and widely recognised talent mean that India can even expect more than one medal from the 29-year-old.

3. Deepika Kumari (archery)

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This 22-year-old archer from Jharkhand was ranked world number one when she went to the London Olympics in 2012 with high hopes but returned disappointed.

Over the past four years she has gained a lot of experience, reducing the chances of succumbing to the pressure that Olympics brings.

Earlier this year, she equalled the world record in the women's recurve event. The current world number five is expected to get India a medal in individual recurve archery.

In the team event of archery too, Deepika Kumari along with her teammates Bombayla Devi and Laxmirani Majhi are medal hopefuls with Deepkia and Majhi having been partners in the silver medal finish at the world championship last year.

4. Yogeshwar Dutt (wrestling)

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Having already won a bronze in 60kg freestyle in the London Olympics, Yogeshwar heads to Rio with expectations to alter the colour of the medal in what could be the final chance for the 33-year-old.

This time Yogeshwar will be competing in 65kg freestyle category in which he had won gold in the 2014 Commonwealth as well as the Asian Games.

Overcoming injuries that bothered him last year he qualified for Rio with gold in Asian Olympic qualification.

Besides Dutt, Narsingh Yadav, who won a place over two-time Olympic medal winner Sushil Kumar, is a likely medal winner in the 74kg freestyle wrestling.

Having secured podium finishes at most other mega events - Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and world championships - Rio is a good chance for Narsingh to crown it all with an Olympic medal.

5. Men's field hockey team

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Once fabled for its dominance in hockey (India won six back-to-back gold medals in hockey between the 1928 and 1956 Olympics), India has fallen behind in the last three decades.

But the past year has seen a revival in the fortunes of the men's hockey team under Dutch coach Roelant Oltmans.

The team's ranking has improved from number 11 to no five and India has again discovered what it takes to get medals at top notch competitions.

The team has won Asian Games gold, World Series bronze and Champions Trophy silver to the surprise of everyone.

Having avoided being placed in the same group as Australia, it may not be such a surprise if India, which has won the most number of gold medals in hockey in the Olympics, wins a medal in this discipline once again.

Apart from these five disciplines, India has a strong prospect of winning medals in lawn tennis and boxing too. In fact, a medal is more likely in those disciplines than hockey but hockey has been prioritised because of its importance in our sporting history and culture.

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Rohan Bopanna and Sania Mirza. 

Sania Mirza's (world number one in doubles) fabulous doubles and mixed doubles run gives strong credence to medal hopes in tennis for India.

The team of Sania and Rohan Bopanna has a very good chance of bagging a medal at Rio. In boxing too, India can expect a medal or two, with Shiva Thapa and Vikas Krishnan leading the charge.

Last updated: July 22, 2016 | 19:17
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