Decoding India at Rio 2016

Logo of the Rio 2016 Games

Even before the Olympics begin, there’s always some controversy surrounding it in India. For the London Games, it was Rohan Bopanna choosing the much out-of-form Mahesh Bhupati as partner for doubles in tennis that took the shine off the build-up to the Games.

This year, while Bopanna is still in the limelight, a more bizarre situation had the sportsmen in India divided — the Indian Olympic Association decided to name Bollywood superstar Salman Khan as the ambassador of the Indian contingent for the Rio Games.

The legendary Milkha Singh was the first to criticize the move. “I am of the view that our sportspersons — be those from shooting, athletics, volleyball or other sports — are the real ambassadors of India who should represent the country at the Olympics. Still, if we had to pick an ambassador, it could have been from the sporting arena,” he said. Meanwhile London Olympics bronze-medallist Yogeshwar Dutt said he cannot understand what purpose such an appointment will serve for the athletes. “Everybody has the right to promote movies in India, but the Olympics is not a place to promote films,” Yogeshwar tweeted in Hindi. “Can anyone tell me what is the role of goodwill ambassador? Why are you fooling the public?” he added.

Then came the Sushil Kumar vs Narsingh Yadav controversy. Sushil approached the Delhi HC with a plea to conduct a special trial against Narsingh to decide participation in the 74 kg freestyle competition in Rio. Sushil is a double Olympic medallist and a former world champion in the erstwhile 66 kg category. Yadav won the 74 kg bronze medal in the 2015 Worlds and, in the process, bagged the Rio quota. Of course, the Delhi HC squashed his plea saying there was no perversity in the Wrestling Federation of India’s decision to send Yadav to the event.

While all these controversies are synonymous to the build-up to the Games, let’s not let it ruin what athletes have actually achieved.

Best medal hope

Of the dozen sporting disciplines that India will be participating in, perhaps shooting is one in which India’s medal prospects are very high.

Remember Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore at the 2004 Athens Games? Once he struck silver in the men’s Double Trap event, the floodgates of Indian shooting just flew open. It gave Indian shooters the much-needed impetus to instil in them the belief that ‘if Rathore can, why can’t we?’ Then came the mighty Abhinav Bindra at Beijing 2008. The home-schooled lad won India its first ever individual Olympic gold medal in the men’s 10m Air Rifle event. For the record, Bindra will call it quits after the Rio Games. His career of 20 years was nothing short of phenomenal.

At the London Games, another army man Vijay Kumar won silver in the men’s 25m Rapid Fire and Gagan Narang bagged a bronze in the men’s 10m Air Rifle, making it four medals from shooting in three successive Olympics. It was the best performance of any Indian sport at the Olympics apart from hockey.

Ayonika Paul

At the Rio Games, all eyes will be on 23-year-old Ayonika Paul. She missed out narrowly for the London Games, and must be raring to make up for that. She secured India’s 11th Olympic quota with a silver in the women’s 10m air rifle at the Asian Shooting Championships in January. But the Mumbai resident still felt that her moment should have arrived in 2012.

“I still feel so bad (not qualifying for London). It should have come four years ago in Doha. I should have qualified for the finals but Anjali Bhagwat and I couldn’t go all the way despite each of us shooting 396/400,” says Ayonika, who won the silver medal in the women’s 10m air rifle at the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

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