Ranchi: After six postponements and a chaotic build-up, the 34th National Games begin here on Saturday, with more than 8,000 athletes, including a host of Commonwealth and Asian Games medallists, vying for top honours.
Jharkhand Olympic Association, which had faced several roadblocks in the run-up to country’s biggest multi-sporting event, is relieved that the Games will finally begin at the sprawling 325-acre Khel Gaon (Mega Sports Complex) in Hotwar, in the outskirts of the city.
That it took four years after Guwahati hosted the last edition -- in February 2007 -- tells a different side of the story, but now that the Games begin, sporting competition is expected to take the centrestage in the next fortnight till February 27.
“Seven state governments have come and gone but despite that we have built up such a world class infrastructure. We are ready,” Jharkhand Olympic Association supremo R K Anand said.
Located five kilometers from the city, the Khel Gaon will play host to 19 of the 23 events that will be held in Ranchi while also housing 1200 flats to accommodate the large number of athletes and officials.
Dhanbad and Jamshedpur are the two other centers which will host the multi-discipline competition that will see about 11,000 participants, including around 8,500 athletes vying for top honours in 33 events.
Services Sports Control Board topped in the last edition of the Games winning 59 gold, 46 silver and 37 bronze medals, while Manipur (51-32-40) and Assam (38-53-57) finished second and third respectively.
Hosts Jharkhand will look to improve their tally of six gold, nine silver and seven bronze medals that they had won in Guwahati.
Secretary General of the Jharkhand Olympic Association S M Hashmi told PTI that they were aiming for top three finish this time around.
“Our athletes have been preparing for a long time now. We are confident of a top 3 finish,” Hashmi, who is also the organising secretary of the Games, said.
Beside looking to do well in athletics that has 135 medals up for grabs, Jharkhand will look to swell their medals tally in archery with Commonwealth Games golden girl Deepika Kumari leading the challenge.
Athletes from Kerala will look to dominate the track and field events while in the aquatics events, Karnataka will look to set the pool on fire.
Long distance runner Kavita Raut, who clinched a silver and bronze in the Asian Games, will lead the challenge of a 550-member strong Maharashtra contingent that includes 15 Commonwealth Games and 16 Asian Games medallists.
Maharashtra will also have star swimmer Virdhawal Khade, while in shooting all eyes will be on Tejaswini Sawant and Anjali Bhagwat.
“We have good chances in athletics, swimming and shooting... Tribal girl Kavita will be our flagbearer and we hope to win more than 100 medals,” Maharashtra Olympic Association joint secretary Pralhad Sawant said.
But with the competition taking place after a long gruelling season that saw two big events in Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games, the National Games will be without some big stars.
Star shuttler Saina Nehwal, Asian Games gold medallist long distance runner Preeja Sreedharan, Asian Games 800m bronze medalist Tintu Luka have already pulled out of the tournament to give themselves some recovery time.
Security has been beefed up in and around the city. Three companies of Jharkhand Armed Police and one company of JAP women have been put at strategic locations inside the Mega Sports Complex.
Jharkhand Governor M O H Farook will declare the 34th edition of the National Games open in presence of Chief Minister Arjun Munda and IOA officials, including its president Suresh Kalmadi.
It wil be followed by an opening ceremony that will showcase the cultural and sporting heritage of the state at the Birsa Munda Athletics Stadium.
The opening ceremony will also have Bollywood flavor with performances by Ameesha Patel and Vivek Oberoi.
Sukhwinder Singh will also perform on the stage.
The three-hour show will begin at 5pm with a tribute to Jharkhand’s warrior Birsa Munda followed by performance by the folk artists and a laser show on the eminent sportspersons from the state.