NEW DELHI – India will be banking largely on their shooters, wrestlers and boxers to deliver gold at the Asian Games in Indonesia to better the 57-medal mark they achieved in Incheon four years ago.
India, who struggle at the Olympics despite their population, have done reasonably well in the quadrennial continental event, only twice finishing outside the top eight since hosting the first Asiad in 1951.
They won at least 10 golds in each of the last four Games and the Aug 18-Sept. 2 multi-sports competition will be a timely indicator ahead of the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
“India was ranked eighth in the last Asian Games and every effort has been made… to ensure we win more medals this time and improve our overall standings,” Indian Olympic Association President Narinder Batra said at a farewell for the athletes.
Spearheading India’s golden pursuit will be the shooters, who topped the medal tally in this year’s Mexico World Cup, finishing ahead of United States and China and be headlined by a trio of talented teenagers.
Anish Bhanwala, 15, became India’s youngest Commonwealth Games gold medallist when he won the men’s 25m rapid fire pistol, snatching the honour from 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.
The wrestling mat could prove equally high-yielding and Bajrang Punia’s sizzling form makes the 2014 silver medallist India’s best bet for a gold in Jakarta.
The freestyle wrestler won the 65kg gold at the Commonwealth Games and was not required to attend trials for the Asiad.
In the women’s section, Gold Coast champion Vinesh Phogat (50kg) will be a strong contender for the gold medal.
New training methods introduced by Argentine-born Swedish coach Santiago Nieva have been credited for the Indian success in recent boxing tournaments.
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, while anything less than gold will be a disappointment for the men’s hockey team who were runners-up in the Champions Trophy.
Commonwealth Games javelin champion Neeraj Chopra also gave himself a major morale boost on the Gold Coast in a rare athletics success for the country and the 20-year-old will be the flag-bearer in Jakarta.