Contenders | Points to prove

Contenders | Points to prove

Gurmeet Singh

Athletics, 20km race walk

The 27-year-old is the first Indian to qualify for the event in 28 years. It may be an unfashionable sport, but Singh has clocked up timings good enough for an Olympic podium finish. He came in second at the Asian Race Walking Championships in March, and set his personal best of 1 hour, 20 minutes and 23 seconds at the Inter-Railways meet this year.

Verdict: An outside chance at a medal, but only if Singh can shave 30 seconds off his present best.

Krishna Poonia

Athletics, Discus throw

Poonia, 30, won a bronze at the 2010 Asian Games, and qualified for the Olympics with a year to spare by winning gold at a meet in Portland, US.

She has been improving steadily in the last two years, and registered her personal best in May with a 64.76m throw at a meet in Hawaii. This is now a national record.

Verdict: The 2008 Olympic gold in women’s discus was won with a throw of 64.74m. So on current form Poonia has a good chance, except that at least three women have thrown distances of 68m and above this year.

Women’s archery team

Swuro, 29, will be the first athlete from Nagaland in 64 years to represent India at the Olympics. Devi, 27, is from Manipur and Deepika, 18, is from Jharkhand.

The team will head to the Olympics on the back of a golden run, having won the Archery World Cup 2011 stage 4, and finished second at the Archery World Cup 2012 stage 1.

Verdict: A silver is easily within reach for this dynamic team.

Deepika Kumari

Recurve archery

Verdict: alm under pressure, Deepika will be looking for nothing less than gold.

Saina Nehwal

Badminton, women’s singles

Michael Regan/Getty Images

In 2008, Nehwal became the first Indian woman to reach the quarter-finals of the Olympics.

2010 has been the best year of her career so far, with three Super Series and two Grand Prix titles, and a gold at the Commonwealth Games. She touched a high of No. 2 in the world rankings.

2011 saw her form dip—she won just one Grand Prix title, parted with her long-time coach Pullela Gopi Chand after a fight, and went out of action with an ankle injury.

After patching up with Gopi Chand, and recovering from her injury, Nehwal began to go on the offensive again, winning the 2012 Swiss Open and the 2012 Indonesia Open Super Series.

Verdict: Apart from the Chinese, who can only field three players according to Olympic rules, no other player stands in Nehwal’s way.

Sushil Kumar

Freestyle wrestling, 66kg

Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Verdict: Despite a poor lead-up to the Games, Kumar remains a favourite because of his technical ability and calm temperament.

Mary Kom

Boxing, 51kg

Kom struggled to qualify for the 2012 Olympics, losing to world No. 2 Nicola Adams in the quarter-finals of the 2012 World Championships, her first loss at that stage of the event. She qualified only after Adams won her semi-final.

She currently stands fourth in the world rankings in her division.

Verdict: In the final stages of her career, Kom is not the dominant force she used to be, but has the willpower and experience.

Vijender Singh

Boxing, 75kg

Singh crashed out in the first round of the 2011 Aiba World Boxing Championships, and won no competition of note through the year.

Verdict: Far from his peak but Singh can still outsmart most rivals, and will draw on his vast experience.

Vikas Krishan

Boxing, 69kg

In 2011, Krishan jumped two weight categories, from 60kg to 69kg, and still managed to win a bronze at the World Amateur Boxing Championships, becoming only the second Indian after Vijender Singh to do so.

Verdict: At the top of his game— Krishan is regarded as one of the most intelligent boxers in the world right now.

Ronjan Sodhi

Shooting, Double trap

Verdict: On current form, Sodhi is one of India’s best chances for a medal at the Olympics.

Abhinav Bindra

Shooting, 10m air rifle

Abhinav Bindra (left) and Gagan Narang (Graham Crouch/Getty Images)

He kept a low profile in 2011, shooting mostly at small European competitions.

His form was on display at the 2012 Asian Shooting Championships in January, where he beat world-record holding Chinese shooter Zhu Qinan for the gold.

Verdict: Bindra keeps his form under wraps before major competitions like the Olympics, but remains as strong a contender as he was in 2008.

Gagan Narang

Shooting, 10m air rifle, 50m rifle 3 positions, 50m rifle prone

The reclusive 29-year-old has won everything in his field except an Olympic medal. Narang won four gold medals at the 2010 CWG, and two silver medals at the Asian Games. Disappointed with his performance at the Beijing Games, Narang equalled the world record for a 10m air rifle qualifying score by shooting 600 out of 600 at the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) World Cup in Bangkok in 2008, and then went on to set the world record for a score in the finals by shooting a 703.5. China’s Zhu Qinan broke his record in 2011 with 703.8.

Verdict: Narang is India’s best bet at a shooting gold.

Photographs by Priyanka Parashar, Pradeep Gaur, Indranil Bhoumik/Mint

rudraneil.s@livemint.com

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