New Delhi: After a tumultuous and scandal hit run-up, the large Indian contingent is hoping to capitalise on home environment and support to improve their medals tally
when the Commonwealth Games, the biggest sporting spectacle to be staged in the country till now, opens here on Sunday.
With the large amount of negative publicity generated in the Games build-up due to the poor condition of the Games village, described as "filthy" and "unlivable" by several
participating nations, the hosts are hoping that a record medal haul and standing in the table at the end would obliterate the bad vibes.
The country is hosting for only the third time in its history a multi-discipline sports spectacle, after the 1951 and 1982 Asian Games, and a smooth conduct to the Games after what is being promised as a dazzling opening ceremony, would be the ideal balm to the billion-strong population after the shoddy build-up.
India, fielding a record 619-strong contingent, are targeting to finish not lower than third in the medals table, and are even harbouring hopes of finishing second overall, even without major contributions from their athletics or swimming squads.
The hosts are expecting to reap rich rewards from the shooting range, which offers 36 gold medals for men and women, the wrestling mat (21 gold on offer for men and women) weightlifting arena (15 gold at stake for men and women) and the boxing ring (10 men`s gold medals up for grabs).
Besides the country would look up to their archers, shuttlers, paddlers, squash players and men`s and women`s hockey squads to significantly boost the medals scoop from the
19th edition of the Games that began in 1930.
India`s Chef de Mission Bhubneswar Kalita said earlier this week that the home country was gunning for a second-place finish on the podium.
"We are fielding the largest contingent (619). We are aiming to finish second but we don`t want to finish below third," said Kalita.
India ended up fourth at Melbourne four years ago, behind host Australia, England and Canada in that order, with a final haul of 49 medals, including 22 gold that was
four behind Canada`s.
In 2002 at Manchester there was a neck-to-neck fight for the third spot between India and Canada with the latter edging to third place with a haul of 31 gold as compared to
the former`s 30.
Eight years ago the country had bagged a whopping 69 medals in all and would have to aim much higher than that figure, especially of the yellow variety, to shoot past Canada
and finish at least third.
The best haul for India is expected to be provided by their marksmen (19), which includes the country`s lone Olympic Games individual gold winner Abhinav Bindra, and women (11) who have been training hard for the event.
Coach Sunny Thomas has kept his fingers crossed and is hoping the shooters would handle the pressure of expectations following their superb haul in the last two Games.
India won 27 medals, including 16 gold, in the last edition of the Games in Melbourne, and 24 medals in the 2002 Manchester Games, and according to Thomas, it takes years and years of rigorous training to do one better.
"We know that India`s best chance of winning maximum number of medals is shooting but the rising expectations put a lot of pressure on our shooters. We won 24 medals in
Manchester but it took us four years to make it 27 and it will take an effort to make it 28 this time," Thomas said.
"But according to the existing selection policy, this is the best team we have, so we are confident of bettering our Melbourne performance," Thomas said referring to Olympic
silver-medallist Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore`s last-minute pull-out from the Games.
Rathore skipped the Games selection trials citing irregularities in selection procedure.
"From five medals - three gold and two silver - in 1994 to 24 in Manchester and then 27 in Melbourne, it`s a huge achievement. It`s difficult when you look at those numbers but
it should not be a big problem, winning more medals than the previous two editions," Thomas said.
Tejaswini is expected to spearhead the women`s challenge with support from seasoned Suma Shirur while pistol shooter Samaresh Jung would hope to recapture some part of his superb form of 2006 where he was dubbed "Gold Finger" for his five-gold heist.
The two contact sports of boxing and wrestling would also be looked forward to by the home country to further boost its medal haul.
A few grapplers and ten men pugilists have the capability to add to the country`s medal chest.
Freestyle wrestler Sushil Kumar is the favourite for a gold medal after having become the first grappler to win a world championship title at Moscow. The country has traditionally done well on the mat with a total return of 23 gold, 24 silver and 11 bronze from the 1970 Games.
The matmen are eyeing their best-ever show at the Games, with the hopes in freestyle resting mainly on Beijing Olympic bronze medallist Sushil (66 kg), Yogeshwar Dutt (60), Anil Kumar (55) and 2002 Games winner Anuj Kumar (84 kg).
"Wrestlers have always contributed to India`s medals tally in the Commonwealth Games and we are excited to repeat the same performance again this time," Sushil said in the tune-up to the Games while ruing its absence at Melbourne four years ago.
"I was disappointed wrestling was not there in 2006 Games. I won gold at the Commonwealth Championships, and was a strong contender for gold in Melbourne," Sushil said.
Rajinder Kumar (55kg), Ravinder Singh (60kg), Sunil Kumar (66kg) and Dharmendar Dalal (120 kg) hold a lot of promise in the Greco-Roman style. Women`s wrestling is making its debut.
Boxing is the other sport that has looked up since the
2000 Sydney Olympics where Gurcharan Singh reached the quarter
For all their success in the past two years, Indian boxers have managed just two gold medals -- Akhil Kumar (2006) and Mohammad Ali Qamar (2002) -- in Commonwealth Games but the sport has not been the same ever since Vijender Singh clinched the historic Olympic bronze in Beijing.
The strapping Vijender, with his good looks to go hand in hand with his box of tricks inside the ring, would spearhead the host country`s challenge along with Akhil who
would be defending his bantamweight crown won at Melbourne.
There are other talented boxers such as Suranjoy Singh (52 kg), Jai Bhagwan (60 kg) and Manoj Kumar (64 kg) who are poised to do well.
The main challenge would come from English, Canadian, Australian and Nigerians.
The weightlifing arena has provided India with both euphoria - in the form of a bagful of medals and shame – by virtue of the country`s participants testing positive for
banned substances - over the years.
Even participating in the Games looked out of bounds for the country`s lifters who have been repeatedly caught doping by the authorities and India are hoping these shameful acts are not repeated when they are hosting a multi-discpline
sporting spectacle after 28 years.
Fifteen men and women bar bell handlers would be seen in action in the Games in the discipline which has provided the country with 93 medals, including 33 gold, since 1966 at Kingston, Jamaica.
The Indian tally from the lifting stage is third overall behind Australia (145) and England (105) and once again the lifters are expected to reap a huge medal haul at the same
time being dope-free.
In 2002, two Indian lifters -- Sateesha Rai and K Madaswamy -- were caught doping and booted out of the Manchester Games.
Four years later, the ignomity was repeated when two women -- Shailaja Pujari and B Prameelavalli – tested positive for banned substances just before the Melbourne Games
while Tejinder Singh and Edwin Raju were caught for doping during the event.
The Indian lifters` participation in the Delhi Games
itself has been made possible due to the eleventh-hour
bail-out by the CWG Organising Committee headed by Suresh
The OC paid the last instalment of Rs 1.75 crore fine due to be paid to the International Weightlifting Federation following the six lifters flunking dope tests conducted by WADA last year. The total fine imposed by IWF was 500,000 USD.
The lifters are confident that they would win at least a dozen medals through 15 participants including eight men.
Favourites to win gold medals are K Ravi Kumar (men`s 69 kg), Soniya Chanu (women`s 48kg) and Renubala Chanu, defending champion in women`s 58kg.
"Most of our lifters are among top three in Commonwealth rankings and we are expecting 12-14 medals," said Indian Weightlifting Federation President Birendra Prasad Baisya.
Indian archers are targeting a rich medal haul on home turf without the challenge from world champions Korea and formidable China.
"We have a strong side with a lot of experience. With home condition, we should get at least six gold medals with top places in men`s and women`s recurve section," chief coach
Limba Ram said ahead of the competition.
With senior archers Olympians Tarundeep Rai and Dola Banerjee and cadet world champion Deepika Kumari in the ranks, the squad is a blend of experience and youth.
Jayanta Talukdar and Rahul Banerjee make a strong men`s
recurve side with Rai, who has made the cut at the expense of
Beijing Olympian Mangal Singh Champia.
The trio is high on confidence especially after their gold medal triumph in the World Cup Stage 4 in Shanghai with a record 224 score, highest so far by the men`s side.
In all, 24 medals are up for grabs but India`s best bet is the recurve bow event.
In the racquet sports of badminton, tennis, table tennis and squash the country has good chances to win a few medals, including the yellow metal.
Ace shuttler Saina Nehwal, one of the country`s leading gold medal hopes, looks well-set to clinch the women`s singles crown -- the first if and when it happens for India.
More medal heists are expected from the badminton court through mixed doubles specialists V Diju and Jwala Gutta.
In tennis, Sania Mirza looks well-set to clinch a gold with none from the East European nations -- to whom she has been losing of late -- in fray. She is also to partner veteran
Leander Paes in the mixed doubles event.
Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi are favourites for the men`s doubles crown while Somdev Devvarman, the country`s highest ranked singles player, and Rohan Bopanna should be among the front runners to get a medal, even a gold, in the absence of top players like Andy Lloyd and Lleyton Hewitt.
In table tennis, Achanta Sharath Kamal and the men`s doubles pair of A Amalraj and Soumyadeep Roy would hope to defend their titles.
In the last phase of preparations, the Indian players have again gone to the ping-pong powerhouse -- China – for training and Kamal is brimming with confidence that it will
stand them in good stead.
"I am very confident of retaining the singles title in the Commonwealth Games. I had started my mental preparation three years ago, because to win such a big event you need to formulate a long-term strategy, things do not happen overnight," said Kamal ahead of the competition.
In squash, the country would depend on the understanding between their two mixed doubles pairs -- Sourav Ghosal with Dipika Pallikal and Harinder Pal Sandhu with Joshna Chinnappa -- to clinch medals apart from the chemistry between Dipika and Joshna in the women`s doubles.
In hockey, in which the men are aiming to win a medal for the first time and the women to regain the gold, things do not look rosy.
The men are expected to face a tough challenge from World Cup champions Australia, Pakistan, England and Malaysia in their quest to win a medal since the game made its debut in 1998 at Kuala Lumpur.
The women have done better -- a gold medal in 2002 followed by a silver four years ago -- but things remain a bit unsettled after the sacking of chief coach M K Kaushik a few
Athletics, the mother of all sports, is one area where India are yet to get a gold medal since Flying Sikh Milkha Singh`s golden 440-yard (quarter mile) run in the 1958 Games.