If shooting and wrestling can lead the charge at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, backed up by the promise of others in the 218-member contingent, India could be in with a chance to finish among the top three
The Commonwealth Games (CWG) is one multi-discipline competition where India often sits pretty in the medals tally. A consistent top-10 finish since 1958, and 50 or more medals in every edition since 2002, stand testimony to that. These numbers are reason enough to be buoyant about the country’s medal prospects at the 2018 games that began in Gold Coast, Australia, on Wednesday.
CWG 2010 in Delhi saw the hosts breaching the century mark (101) in the medals tally. Four years later, in Glasgow, the total fell way short (64)—still India finished fifth overall. If shooting and wrestling can lead the charge once again in Gold Coast, backed up by the promise of others in the 218-member contingent, India could be in with a chance to finish among the top 3.
The chief hopes will be Sushil Kumar and Sakshi Malik (wrestling), Jitu Rai and Gagan Narang (shooting), P.V. Sindhu and Saina Nehwal (badminton) and M.C. Mary Kom (boxing). Youngsters Manu Bhaker (shooting), Neeraj Chopra (javelin throw), Pranaav Jerry Chopra and N. Sikki Reddy (badminton), Tejaswin Shankar (high jump), Arpinder Singh (triple jump) and many others have earned themselves the opportunity to establish their status as global stars.
But when 71 nations fight for 275 gold medals across 18 sports, it’s never easy to finish among the top 3 spots—often shared between Australia, England and Canada over the years, with India’s second-place finish in 2010 coming on the back of home-turf advantage.
A two-time Olympic medallist and gold-medal winner from the last two CWGs, Sushil Kumar (74kg) is a strong contender for a golden hat-trick. Hopes of a top-place finish can also be pinned on Bajrang Punia (65kg), who won a silver at the 2014 Glasgow games (in the 61kg category).
Among the women, Vinesh Phogat (50kg) and Babita Kumari (53kg) may have moved to different weight categories but they would want to hang on to the golds they won in Glasgow. Rio Olympics bronze medallist Malik (62kg) also figures on the list of India’s expected gold medalists.
India’s main competition may come from the Canadian and Nigerian wrestlers in the women’s category.
Excluded from the 2022 Games, shooting could be making its last CWG appearance, evoking mixed feelings in Indian shooters who have historically led India’s gold rush. It’s for India to continue that trend, as the recent senior and junior International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) World Cup results indicated. In Jitu Rai, Heena Sidhu, Gagan Narang and Manavjit Singh Sandhu, India have the experience, while the young blood comprises teen sensations Bhaker and Mehuli Ghosh, along with Apurvi Chandela.
Vikas Krishan (75kg) and Manoj Kumar (69kg) will carry India’s hopes in men’s boxing, while Mary Kom (48kg) won’t be expected to return with anything less than a gold. Kom, who couldn’t qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympic, would want to put that behind her with a top-place finish in Gold Coast, especially in the absence of her nemesis, England’s Nicola Adams who has turned pro. After a short stint in professional boxing, the experienced Sarita Devi (60kg) is making a return to the amateur arena alongside the promising Pinki Rani (51kg).
Sindhu, Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth will lead India’s challenge on the badminton courts. World No.3 Sindhu and world No.2 Srikanth, who have made rapid strides since the last CWG edition, are among the leading contenders for gold. The focus will also be on the mixed doubles pair of Chopra and Reddy, who have a good chance of bagging India’s first medal in mixed doubles. If they can go past the Malaysian teams, it could well be gold.
With 2017 Commonwealth Weightlifting Championship winners Sathish Sivalingam (77kg), Ragala Rahul (85 kg) and Pardeep Singh (105kg) in the men’s squad and Mirabai Chanu (48kg) leading the women, India could see a historic haul in Gold Coast.
While Sivalingam also won gold in 2014, Mirabai became the toast of the nation when she won the 2017 world championship in the US with a world record total lift of 194kg. If she can repeat that performance, the gold is hers for the taking. Expectations are also high from Sanjita Chanu (53kg), who, along with Mirabai, won gold at the Commonwealth Weightlifting Championships last year. Sanjita also won the 48kg gold at the 2014 games.
CWG debutant javelin-thrower Chopra will be required to provide the spark for India’s track-and-field athletes as the Haryana man is expected to build on his growing reputation. There are also high hopes from teenage high-jumper Tejaswin Shankar, discus-thrower Seema Punia and triple jumper Arpinder Singh.
Consecutive silver medals in the 2010 and 2014 men’s hockey event have added muscle to India’s chances at the CWG. However, their nemesis Australia, whom they lost to in the final both times, will be even more motivated as hosts and may yet again prove to be India’s biggest hurdle.
The women’s team, enjoying its best-ever rank (world No.10), is looking good under new coach Harendra Singh but will need to pull out all the stops for a podium finish.