How many medals will hosts India win?

Last Updated: Mon, Sep 06, 2010 13:00 hrs

With less than a month to go for the Commonwealth Games, the focus is slowly shifting from all the controversies surrounding its preparation to what the event is all about: sporting performances. But with new scandals involving doping coming to light, the big question now is whether India can return its best performance at the 19th edition of the quadrennial event on home turf.

The 440-member Indian contingent is participating in all 17 disciplines at the Games and will be vying for 793 medals.

Organising Committee vice chairman Randhir Singh, an Asian Games gold medallist in shooting, is upbeat.

'The athletes have been putting all effort to see that we come up with our best performance in the Commonwealth Games and they need our encouragement,' Randhir Singh told IANS.

But then, the late handing over of the stadia to the Organising Committee means that the athletes will hardly get time to train at the venues, where work is still being carried out even though they have hosted test events. As a result athletes are either training at Sports Authority of India centre at Patiala or Balewadi Sports Complex in Pune.

In such a situation, the Indian athletes may lose a bit on the home advantage factor as crucial practice in the new facilities would have made a world of a difference.

There will be plenty to cheer for fans as they watch out star players like Beijing Olympic gold medallist shooter Abhinav Bindra, bronze medallists Sushil Kumar and Vijender, badminton World No 3. Saina Nehwal and tennis stars Sania Mirza, Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi who will lead the Indian challenge at the Games.

The question uppermost in the minds of sports buffs is whether India will be able to improve its performance at the Games.

India finished fourth at the previous edition at Melbourne, but its 50 medals, including 22 gold, were way behind the top three -- Australia (221), England (110) and Canada (87). At Manchester in 2000, India had won 69 medals, but this again was quite distant from Australia (207), England (166) and Canada (118).

Shooting gave a fillip to India's tally at Melbourne and it is again expected to lead India's campaign. Besides shooting, weightlifters and wrestlers are expected to provide the bulk of the medals.

India topped the shooting charts at Melbourne with a whopping 27 medals, 16 of them gold. This time a far bigger haul is expected, though the team will be completely new.

Pistol shooter Samresh Jung, who four years ago was India's hero in Melbourne winning five medals, has managed to qualify only for the standard pistol event and lost his place in the air pistol and free pistol category.

Also missing from the line-up will be Athens Olympics silver medallist Rajyavardhan Rathore, who was the title holder in the double trap event in Melbourne.

The team will have new faces in junior world champion Asher Noria, who won gold in double trap with a world record equalling score in the Munich World Championship. Ronjan Sodhi will be the other shooter in the category.

'Though Rathore has been left out, we will not miss him because he has not been in the team for the last year and a half. Ronjan Sodhi has been shooting well in international competition. Noria will be one of the young shooters to watch out for,' coach Sunny Thomas told IANS.

'At the Commonwealth Games all the participating nations will be in full strength and for us the real challenge to surpass the previous record of 27 medals won at Melbourne,' he said.

Badminton, Table Tennis, Archery and Tennis are also expected to boost India's medals tally.

A majority of new medals is likely to come from wrestling, which did not feature at Melbourne, at which 21 gold medals will be at stake.

This in a situation in which four wrestlers, including Arjuna Awardee Rajiv Tomar, who tested positive positive, have been removed from the squad.

Organising Committee secretary general Lalit Bhanot says the doping cases will not hamper India's performance.

'It's not a good thing what has happened, but in terms of performance, I don't think it will have an impact,' Bhanot said.

Wrestling Federation of India president G. S. Mander is also confident that India will get more than a handful of medals in the sport.

'Our teams have got exposure trips abroad. We have foreign coaches, masseurs and proper training staff. It has made a difference,' he said.

'We are confident of winning a medal in every event and more than 50 percent will be gold medals, the doping scandal notwithstanding,' Mander maintained.

Boxing is another sport that will draw a lot of attention as it has received a tremendous fillip after Vijender Singh's bronze medal performance at the Beijing Olympics.

'We had won five medals in Melbourne and we will be aiming to win at least seven medals this time,' said P.K. Muralidharan Raja, secretary general of the Indian Boxing Federation.

The lack of prowess in athletics and swimming, the two disciplines which account for the maximum number of medals, has been the reason for India's low medal count.

In athletics, India has claimed only one gold medal in the history of the Commonwealth Games and that was by Milkha Singh who won the 400 metres at the 1958 Cardiff Games. At Melbourne, India had only three medals to show in athletics from the 160 up for grabs.

In swimming, which accounts for 127 medals, India returned empty-handed in the last two editions.

This time though, India are expected to win a handful of medals in these two events.

The preparation of the athletes has not been without the shadow of controversy.

The government allocated a whopping Rs.6.78-billion ($145 million) programme to train athletes. Foreign coaches were appointed in every discipline and teams were send abroad to train. Extra sums were doled out for the diet of athletes.

Though lengthy paper work and procedural hurdles meant that precious time was lost in clearance of finances and the less-popular sports in the country like cycling and gymnastic have suffered as they have not got the equipment on time. Similarly, the full bore shooters are still to get their rifles that the government ordered three months ago.

Top tennis players recently threatened to withdraw from the Games because of delay in payment of their dues by the All India Tennis Association.

However, the Games are about the athletes and the controversies will fade away once athletes take centre-stage.

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