Rio 2016: Indians Who Have a Last Shot at an Olympic Medal


With four days to go until the start of the 2016 Rio Olympics, TOI Sports takes stock of how India realistically stands to fare at the Games.Raninder Singh, president of the National Rifle Association of India, boldly predicted last month that India’s shooters could return home from Rio with six medals – the exact number of the country’s overall haul in 2012 (two silver and four bronze). While that appears a tall claim, there is hope that India’s largest shooting contingent to travel to the Olympics (12) achieves at least a couple of medals.While the big two of 2008 gold medalist Abhinav Bindra and 2012 bronze medalist Gagan Narang headline India’s shooting squad, neither have enjoyed the greatest of lead-ins to Rio. Can they be discounted? Of course not, but current form does indicate a slippery slope ahead.The man who looks best poised to emerge with a medal is 29-year-old Jitu Rai. Of the 50m and 10m pistol events, Jitu is a serious contender in the former, in which he is ranked No 2 in the world. Watch out for this man. Like Vijay Kumar in 2012, expect a silver medal.The dark horse is 39-year-old Manavjit Singh Sandhu, who went to the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Olympics and whose impressive record underlines his potential. But as in the past three Summer Games, Sandhu – who has won at every major tournament – cannot afford to be even remotely off the mark.From India’s women’s squad, Heena Sidhu is one of the best pistol shooters in the world. A genuine medal prospect, who holds the Finals World Record in the 10m air pistol, she is one to keep an eye on.Archery has never been a strong medal prospect for India at the Olympics, and after the disappointment of the 2012 Games – where the men’s team lost in a close shootout to Japan and the women’s team, ranked second in the world, lost to Denmark in the first round – the sport entered a dull phase. Deepika Kumari, a former World No 1 in 2012 now sitting at 12th place, still feels the hurt and anger of 2012 and says that her inner “demons” can only he conquered by an Olympic medal.The 22-year-old from Ranchi shot a world record-leveling 686/720 at the World Cup in Shanghai earlier this year and while her chances in the individual event are low, as part of the women’s team with Laxmi Rani Majhi and Bombayla Devi, there is a possibility of a medal. Standing in India’s way are the mighty South Koreans, however, and to beat them will require a colossal effort and, even, a slice of luck.In the individual competition, there is only one male archer, Atanu Das, who is ranked 22nd. A place in the final round looks the likeliest result for the promising archer.Heading into her third Olympics, Saina Nehwal is, unexpectedly, India’s best bet of a medal in badminton. At least that’s what the heart says. India’s ace shuttler and former world No 1 won her second Australian Open title in June but Rio will pose sterner tests than London did four years ago. Look no further than the fact that in 2016, she has lost to Tai Tzu-ying of Chinese Taipei, Spain’s Carolina Marin and China’s Li Xuerui, the Olympics champion, in Super Series events. Saina has battled injuries this year and must be at her fittest to overcome her Chinese opponents, even if they too appear on the wane from their lofty standards of 2012.Nevertheless, this is a champion shuttler we’re talking of. A bronze medal, at the least, could be had.Sadly, PV Sindhu’s aura has diminished and she doesn’t look like making it as far as Saina. In the men’s arena, the 23-year-old Kidambi Srikanth is a dark horse. He must beat Mexico’s Lino Munoz and Henri Hurskainen of Sweden to get through the group stage; next up could be world No 5 Jan O Jorgensen, a very tough adversary to beat. Should Srikanth get past the Danish shuttler, chances are he will run into Lin Dan, an all-time great and very much the man for the big occasionSince she successfully attempted the dangerous Produvona vault at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, thus becoming one of only five gymnasts across the world to do so, 22-year-old Dipa Karmakar has scaled many heights. She won bronze at the 2015 Asian Gymnastics Championships and reached the final of the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in 2016, both firsts by an Indian, and prompted none other than the iconic Nadia Comaneci to walk up and congratulate her.But the big question on enthusiastic supporters’ lips: Is Dipa good enough to win an Olympic medal?In her own words, the first Indian woman gymnast to qualify for the Rio Olympics, 52 years on from the last time the country had gymnastic representation at the Summer Games, is targeting a place in the final round. Only two of her adversaries have attempted the Produnova – Yamilet Pena of the Dominican Republic and Egyptian Fadwa Mahmoud – but neither has topped Dipa’s highest score in the world, 15.300. It would take something exceptional for Dipa to win an Olympic medal, but then she is a phenomenon in itself.

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