Rio de Janeiro: India’s stuttering campaign in the Olympic Games got a major boost due to the excellent show put on by woman steeplechaser Lalita Babar, who opened a new chapter by becoming the first female track athlete to qualify for a final at the Games in 32 years.
The Maharashtra woman would strive to become the first-ever medallist from the country in athletics when she competes in the 15-strong final on Independence Day on Monday in the race by overcoming hurdles, physical as well as mental. On Sunday, the ninth day of competitions in Rio, the country’s hopes of opening the medal chest rest on diminutive gymnast Dipa Karmakar and mixed doubles tennis duo of Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna.
The Tripura girl Dipa, who has already created a wave by being the first Indian to qualify for a final in the gravity-defying sport, would step into the gymnastics arena to see whether she can reach an altogether different plane by winning the country’s first-ever medal in this visually appealing discipline.
Dipa, however, will have to compete with the likes of the all-round apparatus champion and the darling of the Games, the pint-sized American Simon Biles. In tennis, the duo of Sania and Bopanna , who lost to the American pair of Venus Williams and Rajeev Ram on Saturday night, will face the Czech pair of Radek Stepanek and Lucie Hradecka in the bronze play-off.
Since their match is set to commence much before Dipa’s vault final, they have a golden chance to open the country’s medal chest in what has so far been a fruitless campaign by the 100-plus contingent. On Saturday, the eighth day, India were left to rue a missed opportunity when Sania and Bopanna lost to the USA duo in three sets. A historic Olympic silver medal was well within reach before they suffered a sudden mid-match slump and frittered away an advantageous position to lose the clash from a position of strength to the American duo.
After dominating the first set, Sania and Bopanna lost 6-2 2-6 3-10 to the Americans. The Indians were cruising at one stage but once Sania’s service was broken in the fourth game of the second set, the tide turned in the favour of the Americans. Leander Paes remains the only player to win a tennis medal in India’s Olympic history.
“We have to try and recover as quick as possible, mentally and physically. Probably more mentally. We have to go back, try and get some sleep, put some food in our body and recover for tomorrow," Sania said after the defeat.