Jakarta, Aug 17 (UNI) As the 20-year old javelin champion Neeraj Chopra leads Indian contingent into the 18th Asian Games here on Saturday with fans back home hoping and praying for the country’s 800 plus athletes to do well in these continental quadrennial sporting extravaganza, the controversial pull out by Leander Paes has somewhat dampened the spirits.
Though India is taking part in almost 36 disciplines, the main focus will be on Archery, Athletics, Boxing, Badminton, Hockey ( Men/Women) Shooting, Wrestling, Tennis and Kabbadi.
“We will definitely improve upon our previous 57-medal mark which we achieved in Incheon four years ago,” said chef de mission Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh.
Despite facing several odds and hardships in the earlier editions of the Games, India has done reasonably well in the quadrennial continental competition finishing inside the top eight (barring 1990 and 1998) since hosting the first Asiad in 1951.
“India was ranked eighth in the last Asian Games and I am hopeful that we will win more medals this time and improve our overall standings,” Singh said, adding “We have won at least 10 golds in each of the last four Games and this time we are expecting more yellow medals.”
Hockey will once again attract more attention because winning here will not only be a morale booster for the team ahead of World Cup slated to be held in Odisha in November but will also assure direct qualification for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Indians expect that their campaign for gold haul will be heralded by star studded shooting squad spearheaded by a trio of talented teenagers.
Anish Bhanwala, 15, became India’s youngest Commonwealth Games gold medallist when he won the men’s 25m rapid fire pistol, snatching the honour from 16-year-old Manu Bhaker who had won the women’s 10m air rifle finals on the Gold Coast barely a week before.
A third teenager, rifle shooter Elavenil Valarivan, will be another strong contender after landing two junior World Cup gold medals setting a new world record in the process.
The wrestling led by in –form Bajrang Punia’s are the other best bet for a gold rush in these Games.
In women’s section, Gold Coast champion Vinesh Phogat (50kg) is strong title contender.
In boxing, new training methods introduced by Argentine-born Swedish coach Santiago Nieva has produced positive results for the pugilists in recent International competitions..
Vikas Krishan, who won the lightweight gold at Guangzhou in 2010 but took silver when he moved to middleweight four years later, is seeking his third successive Asiad medal.
India have won all nine kabaddi gold since its inclusion in 1990 and the trend is unlikely to change,.
In athletics Commonwealth Games javelin champion Neeraj Chopra starts favourite for the title in the Games and its hoped that his team mates will also justify their inclusion in the squad with spirited display.
In Compound archery India is likely to dominate, having won all four events in the compound section when the category was introduced in Incheon four years ago.
“They have some experienced archers like Abhishek Verma and Rajat Chauhan but at the same time the youngsters also shot consistently. The level we reached was very high,” star Italian star archer Sergio Pagni, who has been working with the Indian archers since January, has been quoted as saying. “I’m really proud of this group, they are all world class. I am sure that they will come out with flying colors from the Games.”
In badminton India is expected to compete for medals against the regional heavyweights.
P. V. Sindhu, Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth are in the squad, and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Ashwini are India’s best bet in mixed doubles. They played the quarterfinals at the Worlds before being beaten by the top-seeded Chinese pair Zheng Siwei and Huang Yaqiong.
(Article authored by Harpal Singh Bedi)