Rio de Janeiro: Shuttler P.V. Sindhu raised serious hopes of breaking India’s long-awaited medal quest in the Rio Olympics by storming into the semi-finals of the women’s singles event with a stunning straight games win over London Games silver medallist Wang Yihan of China, here.
The two-time World Championship bronze medallist Sindhu, who came into the match with a 2-4 head-to-head record, dished out a compact game to outmanoeuvre the more experienced Wang 22-20 21-19 in a gruelling battle lasting 54 minutes.
The 21-year-old Indian now stood just a win away from assuring India an elusive medal at the Rio Olympics.
With the memorable win, Sindhu became the second Indian badminton player to reach an Olympic semi-final after Saina Nehwal achieved the feat four years ago. Sindhu’s win has overshadowed the fresh saga surrounding India’s floundering campaign at the Rio Games on day 11 after World Anti-Doping Agency lodged an appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sports against the clean chit given to wrestler Narsingh Yadav by NADA in the dope scandal back home.
“WADA has appealed against the NADA (National Anti-Doping Agency) clearance in Court of Arbitration (CAS). Now the hearing is on and the IOA Secretary General (Rajeev Mehta) is there with WADA officials," Indian contingent’s chef-de-mission Rakesh Gupta told PTI.
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If CAS upholds WADA’s appeal Narsingh, who is scheduled to fight in the 74kg freestyle category on August 19, will not only be able to take part in the Games here but could also face a career-threatening four-year ban.
Enduring a disastrous campaign thus far, the medal-less Indian contingent has been pinning its hopes mainly on shuttlers Sindhu and Kidambi Srikanth, besides its wrestlers—including world championship bronze medal winner Narsingh—to end the drought before the disheartening development.
Eleven days of action have failed to bring India, that won a record six medals in London four years ago, a single podium finish and there’s growing desperation to end this poor run.
India’s campaign now has been reduced to three disciplines—track and field, badminton and wrestling—after the flop show put up by the contingent in other sports. It’s woes continued on day 11 today when Hardeep Singh lost 1-2 in his opening encounter against Turkey’s Ildem Cenk in the Greco-Roman 98kg category. And adding to the miserable run was the news that some of its contingent members were served only “peanuts" at a dinner party organised by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports here on Independence Day, after having skipped dinner at the Games Village.
Having conquered world no. 2 Yihan, India’s all hopes now rests on Sindhu who will face the winners of the last quarterfinal between Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi and Nozomi Okuhara on August 18 for a place in the gold medal encounter. The lanky shuttler from Hyderabad and Srikanth, who made it to the men’s singles quarters, are the only two medal contenders left in the badminton competition after the shock elimination of last Games bronze medallist and former world no. 1 Saina Nehwal two days ago.
Srikanth also showed his class when he upset higher Srikanth also showed his class when he upset higher ranked Danish rival Jan Jorgensen to become the second man from India to enter the last eight in badminton after Parupalli Kashyap in the 2012 London Games. He too faces an arduous task in the quarter-finals against two-time Olympic champion Lin Dan of China, who is defending the title he won in London. Greco-Roman wrestler Hardeep Singh was the other Indian in action on day 11 while the freestyle event, to start later, could see three men and as many women in fray.
Among them is London Games bronze winner Yogeshwar Dutt, who will take to the mat on the last day of the Games on 21 August and Narsingh who would take part in his event on 19 August, provided CAS turns down WADA’s appeal a day before his opening bout. Narsingh was reinstated by NADA after returning a positive dope test on 25 June with the authorities accepting his version that the food or drinks he had ingested had been spiked with prohibited anabolic steroid, methandienone. Away from these two disciplines, track and field is the only other arena left for India to strike it rich but the depth and quality of the top athletes is such that they carry very slim chances of winning a medal.
Thus far, barring Lalita Babar in women’s 3000m steeplechase, it has been a dismal show by the athletes with many of them not even approaching the mark which had earned them qualification for Rio. If India draw a blank in the Games it would be the first Olympics since 1992 in Barcelona that the country has emerged without a single medal to its name. It has been a gradual improvement since 1996 when tennis player Leander Paes provided the country with its first individual Olympic medal after 1952 Helsinki by winning a bronze in men’s singles.
The bronze medal by woman weightlifter Karnam Malleswari in Sydney 2000 was followed by shooter Rajyawardhan Singh Rathore’s silver winning effort in Athens 2004. These were forerunners to Abhinav Bindra becoming the first and only Indian individual gold medal winner in 2008 Beijing where wrestler Sushil Kumar and boxer Vijender Singh also won bronze medals. Three in Beijing became six in London four years later, albeit without a gold medal to boast of, as Sushil Kumar (silver), shooters Vijay Kumar (silver) and Gagan Narang and Dutt (all bronze), among men, and shuttler Saina Nehwal and boxer M. C. Mary Kom, among women, climbed the medal podium.