Trial by fire as Asian Games begin with an eye on Oly 2020

Kirti Patil
Saturday, 18 August 2018

Focus will be on many more sportspersons too, but the 20-year-old javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra is from a different league and meant for bigger things

Jakarta: Indian tennis players ensconced in the Sumatran island city of Palembang have got a never before chance of qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, two years ahead of the Games. This is true for the men’s and women’s hockey teams also, and that quest opens on Saturday on the chosen date—18.8.18—at Gelora Bung Karno Stadium.

If the gold medals in tennis singles at the 18th Asian Games are sure tickets to Tokyo, much is expected from the shooters whose one eye should be set towards Changwon, where the first batch of rifle, pistol and shotgun exponents will qualify for Tokyo, a day after the Jakarta Asian Games officially close on September 2.

Four years ago at the Incheon Games only hockey gold medal winning teams got Olympic tickets, but tennis getting added to that exalted list, Jakarta-Palembang Games have gained importance something that every Indian athlete should have on their mind.

Flag-bearer Neeraj
Focus will be on many more sportspersons too, but the 20-year-old javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra is from a different league and meant for bigger things.

Neeraj has been rightly chosen as flag-bearer of Indian contingent for the athletes march past during the Opening Ceremony.

Though India is taking part in almost 36 disciplines, the main focus will also be on Archery, Athletics, Boxing, Badminton, Wrestling and Kabbadi.

“We  will definitely improve upon our previous 57-medal mark  which we  achieved in Incheon,” said Chef-de-Mission Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh.

Despite  facing several odds and hardships in the earlier editions, India has done reasonably well in the quadrennial continental Games finishing inside the top eight—barring 1990 and 1998—since hosting the first 
Asiad in 1951.

“India was ranked eighth in the last Asian Games and I am hopeful that we will win more medals this time and improve our overall standings,” said Singh adding: “We  have  won at least 10 gold medals in each of the last four Games and this time we are expecting more yellow medals.”

Then there is Hima Das, who has raised hopes by becoming the first Indian woman to claim a world championships gold, albeit in the under-20 competition.

India’s track-and-field stars have historically done well at the Asiad, delivering 282 medals so far, 74 of them gold. And it is not expected to be any different this time.

Shooting stars
In shooting the expectations will be from the 15-year-old Anish Bhanwala, who became India’s youngest Commonwealth Games gold medallist when he won the men’s 25m rapid fire pistol, snatching the honour from the 16-year-old Manu Bhaker, who had won the women’s 10m air rifle finals on the Gold Coast barely a week before.

A third teenager, rifle shooter Elavenil Valarivan, will be another strong contender after landing two junior World Cup gold medals setting a new world record in the process.

Wrestling led by in-form Bajrang Punia are the other best bet for a gold rush in these Games. In women’s section, Gold Coast champion Vinesh Phogat (50kg) is strong title contender.

Nieva talks up boxers
In boxing, new training methods introduced by the Argentine-born Swedish coach Santiago Nieva has produced positive results for the pugilists in recent competitions.

Vikas Krishan, who won the lightweight gold at Guangzhou in 2010, but took silver when he moved to middleweight four years later, is seeking his third successive Asiad medal.

India have won all nine kabaddi gold since its inclusion in 1990 and the trend is unlikely to change, but Iran could prove to be a difficult contender.

In Compound archery India is likely to dominate having won all four events in this section when the category was introduced in Incheon four years ago.

“They have some experienced archers like Abhishek Verma and Rajat Chauhan but at the same time the youngsters also shot consistently.
The level we reached was very high,” star Italian archer Sergio Pagni, who has been working with the Indian archers since January, was quoted as saying.

“I’m really proud of this group, they are all world class. I am sure that they will come out with flying colors from the Games.”

Shuttlers bring hope
In badminton India is expected to compete for medals against the regional heavyweights.

PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth are in the squad, and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Ashwini are India’s best bet in mixed doubles. They played the quarterfinals at the Worlds before being beaten by the top-seeded Chinese pair Zheng Siwei and Huang Yaqiong.

In Table Tennis, Manika Batra would be aiming for an encore of her golden run at the CWG but it would be easier said than done given Chinese and Japanese presence in the draw. Among the men Veteran A Sharath Kamal would be the one to watch out for again.

Dipa Karmakar would be continuing her spirited return from injury in the gymnastics arena and it would be interesting what she attempts on the vault.

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