Asian Games 2018: From Bajrang Punia to PV Sindhu, a look at some of India's most promising medal contenders

At the last edition of the Asian Games, India won 57 medals. Just 11 of those were gold while 10 were silver. As we stand at the cusp of another Asian Games, here’s a look at some of India’s most promising medal contenders:

Name: PV Sindhu

Age: 23

Sport: Badminton

Category: Women’s singles, women's team

Past Asian Games performance: Round of 16 appearance at the 2014 Asian Games, bronze medal in women’s team event at the 2014 Asian Games

Best performance: Rio Olympics silver medal, two World Championships silvers and two bronze medals

File image of PV Sindhu

File image of PV Sindhu

Over the last few years, India’s PV Sindhu has won multiple Superseries titles, and World Championships medals. However, she is yet to win a medal at the Asian Games. In fact, no Indian woman has ever won the gold for India at the Asian Games. India last won an Asian Games singles medal 36 years ago when Syed Modi won bronze in the men's singles event.

The 18th edition of the Games presents an opportunity for the 23-year-old shuttler to bag a medal for the country in the women’s singles department. At the recently-concluded World Badminton Championships in Nanjing, Sindhu didn’t drop a single game till the final. Carolina Marin may have dominated the Indian shuttler in the title clash but Sindhu trounced all her opponents — Sung Ji Hyun, Nozomi Okuhara and Akane Yamaguchi — in the previous rounds with elan.

Gone are the days of the Chinese dominance in the women’s singles circuit. The likes of He Bingjiao, Gao Fangjie and Chen Yufiei are yet to make an impact. Sindhu will face stiff challenge from Tai Tzu Ying, Ratchanok Intanon and the Japanese pair of Okuhara and Yamaguchi.

The badminton events begin from the 19 August with the preliminary rounds of the men’s and women’s team events, while the individual events begin from 23 August.

Name: Neeraj Chopra

Age: 20

Sport: Javelin throw

Past Asian Games performance: Debut

Best performance: Gold medal in at the 2018 Commonwealth Games

With the kind of form India's ace javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra is in, there is not an iota of doubt regarding his medal prospects.

Showing faith in the 20-year-old, Chopra was selected as the flagbearer to lead the Indian contingent in Jakaata and Palembang, despite the event being his maiden Asian Games.

Chopra has gone from strength to strength ever since he became the first Indian to win a gold medal in World Youth Championships in 2016, setting the world junior record with a throw of 86.48m.

The year 2018 has been an excellent for the Panipat-born athlete. After taking top honours at the Commonwealth Games 2018, Chopra has consistently thrown the javelin beyond the 85m mark and in the process also set a new national record of 87.43m at the Doha Diamond League in May. Only six athletes across the globe have had a better throw this season.

The CWG champion made it clear that he is not thinking about a medal but looking forward to improving on his best. After a three-month training stint in Finland under the legendary Uwe Hohn, it is safe to assume that Chopra would be itching to touch or even break into the 90m club, which in all likelihood would secure a medal.

Name: Kidambi Srikanth

Age: 25

Sport: Badminton

Category: Men's singles

Past Asian Games performance: Round of 16 exit

Best performance: Silver medal at 2018 Commonwealth Games

The year 2017 was the most successful in Srikanth's career as he became the first Indian and only the fourth male shuttler in history — joining the elite list of Lee Chong Wei, Lin Dan and Chen Long — to lift four Superseries titles in a calendar year.

But soon after that brilliant run, he pulled out of China Open and Hong Kong Open to give his body extra time to recover from injury and arrive at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast in perfect condition.

The plan worked to perfection as Kidambi beat Rajiv Ouseph 21-10, 21-17 to set up a summit clash with Malaysia's Lee Chong Wei in the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games final.

The final didn't go as he would liked to though and he eventually landed a silver medal. Srikanth has failed to produce consistent performances since then. His best finish after the final came in Malaysia Open where he crashed out in the semi-final.

The 2018 Asian Games now serve as a brilliant platform for Kidambi to bounce back. His previous outing was hardly inspiring but he is a much better player now and will be eyeing the gold medal once again.

Name: Saurav Ghosal

Age: 32

Sport: Squash

Past Asian Games performance: Silver medal in singles event at 2014 Asian Games

Best performance: Gold medal in team event at 2014 Asian Games

When it comes to Asian Games, Saurav Ghosal has a very good track record. In the last three editions of the Games, Ghosal clinched medals in the singles and in the team events. At the 2010 Asian Games, he bagged the silver medal in the singles event after losing in the final to Kuwait's Abdullah Al-Muzayen. This time around in Jakarta, he would like to go all the way and win the elusive gold.

Ghosal has a thing or two to prove at the Asian Games. Earlier this year, he suffered a setback at the Commonwealth Games when he lost in the second round. Though he won in the mixed doubles with Dipika Pallikal, Ghosal was disappointed that he didn't do enough in the singles event at Gold Coast. Apart from aiming for the top prize in Jakarta, Ghosal will also look to play his part in the team event. Last time at Incheon, Ghosal led from the front to help the men's team grab the gold medal, beating arch-rivals Malaysia.

Medals are expected from India's squash squad, and once again, hopes are heavily pinned on Ghosal to win the medals.

Name: Bajrang Punia

Age: 24

Sport: Wrestling

Category: 65 kg Freestyle

Past Asian Games performance: Silver at Asian Games 2014 in Incheon

Best Performances: Bronze at Wrestling World Championships, 2013; Silver in U-23 Senior Wrestling World Championship, 2017; Gold at Commonwealth Games, 2018

One of the most promising wrestlers to emerge from the Haryana stable in recent times, Bajrang Punia has, in a span of couple of years, become a genuine medal prospect for India. The Yogeshwar Dutt protege tasted success early, when, as a 19-year-old, he won the bronze medal at the Wrestling World Championships in 2013. That early success propelled him on the road to consistent glory, and Bajrang, who moved to 65 kg category after Yogeshwar decided to step back from competitive wrestling, went on to win gold at the Commonwealth Games in 2018, improving on his second-place finish at the event four years earlier.

Jakarta-Palembang will be Bajrang’s second consecutive appearance at the Asian Games. In 2014, he had won a silver in Incheon, losing to Iran's Masoud Esmaeilpoorjouybari 4-0 in the final.

He won the Asian Wrestling Championship gold in New Delhi in 2017, and the same year, Bajrang claimed silver at the U-23 Senior Wrestling World Championship in Poland.

Year 2018 has been very productive for Bajrang, who has won four medals from four events so far. His rich haul includes a bronze at the Asian Wrestling Championship in Bishkek, Kyrgystan, and a gold each at Commonwealth Games, Tblisi Grand Prix and Yasur Dogu International in Istanbul.

Asian Games 2018 presents him an excellent opportunity to break out from the shadow of his illustrious mentor and announce his arrival. And on the evidence of his current form, he looks certain to do that.

Name: Vikas Thakur

Age: 24

Sport: Weightlifting

Past Asian Games performance: Debut

Best performances: Silver medal at 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games (85 kg) and bronze medal at 2018 Gold Coast (94 kg)

Vikas Thakur nails his lift during the Commonwealth Games

Vikas Thakur nails his lift during the Commonwealth Games

The weightlifter has done well over the last four years if his results at the Commonwealth Games are to be considered — he won a silver medal at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games (85 kg) and followed that up with a bronze at the 2018 Gold Coast edition, albeit in the 94 kg weight class.

But the Asian Games is a much sterner test of ability, as India’s lifters have time and again found out. They have after all, won just one medal since 1998 at the Asian Games. The chances of Indian weightlifters doing something spectacular took another hit when Mirabai Chanu was forced to pull out. Now the hopes of the Indian contingent rest firmly on the shoulders of Sathish Sivalingam and Vikas Thakur.

Name: Laxmirani Majhi

Age: 29

Sport: Archery

Past Asian Games performance: Fourth in women's recurve team event at 2014 Asian Games

Best performance: Silver in women's team event at the 2015 World Championships.

Hailing from Jharkhand, Laxmirani Majhi will look to bank on her experience to make it count at Jakarta. She had participated in the last edition of Asian Games and also featured at the 2016 Rio Olympics. She has been around for quite a few years now so she will try make the upcoming Games a success for her.

Majhi will partner with Deepika Kumari, Asia Cup gold medallist Promila Daimary and world junior gold medallist Ankita Bhagat in the recurve event. Winning an individual medal at the Asian Games will be a huge task for Majhi but her form is pivotal in women's team event. Last time, the women's team went till the semis but then lost their next two games and did not win a medal.

Much is expected out of Deepika Kumari, who will lead the challenge in the recurve event. Comparatively, Majhi is under less pressure to deliver a medal but she has the ability to go all the way. If not an individual medal, Majhi will try her best to clinch a medal in the women's team event at Jakarta.

Name: Manu Bhaker

Age: 16

Sport: Shooting

Category: 10 metre air pistol

Past Asian Games performance: Debut

Best Performances: Gold at ISSF World Cup in Guadalajara in 2018, Gold at Commonwealth Games 2018

Arguably the most promising Indian sportsperson at the moment, teenage sensation Manu Bhaker hails from Goria village in Jhajjar district of Haryana. Born to an engineer father and a school principal mother, Manu has ruled the range ever since she switched to shooting after trying a variety of outdoor sports.

She bagged gold at Khelo India School Games in New Delhi last year, but what really announced her arrival on the national scene was the 11-medal return at the national championships later that year. Manu’s rich haul included nine gold medals, and she broke seasoned campaigner Heena Sidhu’s national record of 240.8 points, scoring 242.3 points in the final.

Her first international success was at the Asian Junior Championships where she bagged a silver. Manu followed it up with a gold at the ISSF World Cup in Guadalajara in Mexico, becoming the youngest Indian and the third youngest of all time to achieve the feat, in the process, beating local favourite Alejandra Zavala, a two-time champion.

In the same competition, she combined with Om Prakash Mitharval to pocket a mixed-team gold.

Manu's success story continued at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, where she once again shot gold, this time with a Games record score of 240.9 points.

This is Manu’s maiden Asian Games, and the golden girl of Indian shooting looks set to rewrite a few more records. ​


Updated Date: Aug 18, 2018 21:01 PM

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