New Delhi: After a historic second place at the New Delhi Commonwealth Games, Indian athletes may find it tough to replicate the success at the next big multi-discipline event - the Nov 12-27 Asian Games at Guangzhou, China.
India won 101 medals, including 38 gold, at the Commonwealth Games barely a fortnight ago. But its best at any Asian Games was in the inaugural event here 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’s medal chances are in shooting, wrestling and athletics, but can they peak a second time within a month of their exhaustive stint at the Commonwealth Games?
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.
National shooting coach Sunny Thomas feels it will be difficult for the Indians to repeat the Commonwealth Games performance at the Asian Games.
‘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.
‘In the 2006 Commonwealth Games, we won 27 medals, including 16 golds, but in the Doha Asian Games, our medals tally came down to 13, of which three were gold. I don’t want to predict anything, but can assure that our shooters will try to give their best,’ he said.
Wrestling also swelled India’s medals tally at the Commonwealth Games, but national coach Hargobind Singh knows it will be a different ball game in Guangzhou. 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.
‘Also our first target this year was the Commonwealth Games and there is not even a month’s time before the Asian Games. Once you perform at your peak, it will take some time to get back to shape,’ said Hargobind, lamenting the absence of World Champion Sushil Kumar, who pulled out with a shoulder injury.
‘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,’ he said.
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 4x400m 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).
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.