Rio de Janeiro: India would be eyeing a medal on the opening day of competitions itself when the redoubtable Jitu Rai takes aim at the shooting range even as the much-hyped men’s hockey team begins its quest to rediscover a golden past in the 31st Olympic Games on Saturday.
The 29-year-old Jitu would be the cynosure of all eyes when he would walk in with his pistol at the Olympic Shooting Centre to compete in his pet 10m air pistol event. The pint-sized dynamo has managed to keep a low profile heading into the Games despite being in imperious form for the last two years during which he won gold medals at the Commonwealth and Asian Games. His most recent medal—a silver—came at the World Cup in Azerbaijan in June, making him a hot property for opening India’s medal haul in the Games.
Also beginning its quest for ending the medal drought of the last 36 years on Saturday would be the men’s hockey team, which has, after a long time, managed to generate some buzz about its fortunes by producing some encouraging results in the run-up to the Games. The team has decided to skip the opening ceremony to focus on the Group B lung-opener against Ireland.
The feuding tennis stars would also present their challenge for a medal from Saturday with Leander Paes, who arrived late, teaming up with Rohan Bopanna for the opening men’s doubles match. The Indian duo are pitted against the Polish pair of Marcin Matkowski and Lukas Kubot in the opening round on Saturday.
In the women’s draw, Sania Mirza and Prarthana Thombare are starting their women’s doubles campaign against the Chinese pair of Peng Shuai and Shuai Zhang in the first round.
Success in shooting will be key to India’s hopes of surpassing London Olympics’ six-medal haul, and the performance of Jitu and Abhinav Bindra would be crucial to that aim, while the likes of Gagan Narang, Manavjit Singh Sandhu, Heena Sidhu and Apurvi Chandela can also climb the podium. Shooters don’t like to make noise outside the range and they go about in a low key manner which has been their trademark, and Bindra’s innocuous tweet 15 days ago that he would be incommunicado with the outside world till his fifth and last Olympics campaign begins sums up the mood in the shooting camp. Tipped to give India their second individual gold medal after Bindra, armyman Jitu is the reigning world champion in 50m pistol as he will compete in both the events with an aim to make an unprecedented double in the Olympics.