Asian Games Profiles: Sakshi Malik to Saina Nehwal, take a look at India's top medal contenders for the quadrennial event
As Asian Games approach, we take a look at ten probable medal prospects that may bring glory to the nation.
The 18th edition of Asian Games is due to start on 18 August in the Indonesian cities of Jakarta and Palembang, and India would look to better their haul of 57 medals from the Incheon Games in 2014. Indian athletes would be buoyed by their impressive showing at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia, earlier this year, where a total count of 66 medals helped them secure a third spot.
The challenge in Indonesia though is expected to be tougher, with all the Asian powerhouses vying for continental supremacy. Here, we take a look at ten probable medal prospects that may bring glory to the nation.
Name: Sathish Kumar Sivalingam
Category: 77 kg
Past Asian Games performance: Debut
Best Performances: Gold in 77 kg at Commonwealth Games, 2014; Gold in 77 kg at Commonwealth Games, 2018
Despite suffering thigh injury before the Gold Coast event that put the weightlifter Sathish Kumar Sivalingam in self-doubt over securing a podium finish, he successfully went on to defend his title at the Commonwealth Games.
Wasting no time in showcasing his desire to excel further, Sivalingham, said, "I hope to do even better in the Asian Games because there is a gap now. Earlier, Asian Games used to come within 20-25 days of CWG, which didn’t give us enough time to prepare. But this time I have got time to prepare and be fully fit now."
Few weightlifters from China and Kazakhstan are banned for doping and will not be able to take part in the events, but there will be no dearth of competition which Sivalingam is well aware of.
After muscling his way to glory in two consecutive Commonwealth Games, success in Jakarta Asian Games will help him establish himself among the best in 77-kg category at the same time it will be a major boost with eventual goal of Olympics two years away.
Name: Sakshi Malik
Past Asian Games performance: Bronze at 2014 Incheon Asian Games
Best performances: Bronze at the 2016 Rio Olympics in 58 kg freestyle wrestling
Despite having won a silver medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Sakshi Malik was not considered to be one of India’s potential medal prospects at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. However, the wrestler from Rohtak, Haryana, was the first to win a medal for the country, with many other Indian athletes exiting the tournament in its early days.
Her bronze medal made her the first Indian woman to win an Olympic medal for wrestling and only the fourth Indian woman to have ever won a medal at the Olympic Games. Malik defeated Purevdorjiin Orkhon in the repechage round, after which she defeated Aisuluu Tynybekova in a play-off to win bronze.
Malik did not look back after her victory, beating Tayla Tuahine Ford of New Zealand in the Commonwealth Wrestling Championships in 2017 to win gold in Johannesburg. Just a few months later, Malik went on to win a bronze in the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in 2018.
The Indian wrestler has established herself as one of the best young athletes in the country and a lot will be expected of her going into the 2018 Asian Games.
Name: Sharath Kamal
Discipline (sport): Table tennis
Category: Men's team, Men's singles, Mixed doubles
Past Asian Games performances: Reached quarter-final in men's team event
Best performance: Gold medal in men's singles in 2006, men's team 2006 and 2018 Commonwealth Games
The poster boy of Indian table tennis, Sharath Kamal is getting better with age. At 36, he is currently the highest ranked Indian in the world. He is in red-hot form at the moment and in the last couple of years has improved in leaps and bounds. This will be his fourth Asian Games and his best chance of winning a medal. After the Commonwealth Games heroics, where he won three medals, the confidence is high. However, Asian Games will be completely different.
In a tournament where all the table tennis powerhouses like China, Japan, Korea, Chinese Taipei will be participating, Sharath's best chance will be in the team event. The draw will also be the key. India are expected to reach the quarters and it's just one game from then on to clinch a medal. On the previous two occasions, India had run into China in the quarter-final, so luck will be a factor and India would prefer the likes of Chinese Taipei or Hong Kong in the quarter-final.
Men's singles and mixed-doubles will be a long shot. But given his World Championship performance, where he won 10 out of his 13 matches and accumulated most number of points and a win per cent of 67 in 2018 along with CWG heroics, there is a good chance Sharath Kamal can inflict upsets. India haven't won a medal at the Asiad and this time they will require the entire team to fire in unison. If Kamal gets that support and wins the elusive medal, he will hit a new peak in his career and with consistency, possibly his best world ranking too.
Name: Saina Nehwal
Category: Women’s singles
Past Asian Games performance: Quarter-final appearance at the 2014 Asian Games
Best performance: Quarter-final appearance at the 2014 Asian Games
India have never won silver or a gold medal in badminton at the Asian Games. However, this time around in Jakarta, all hopes will be pinned on the singles players, especially PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal.
This will be Nehwal's fourth Asian Games as the right-handed shuttler has managed to reach the quarter-finals of the prestigious tournament in the 2010 and 2014 editions.
Notably, Nehwal won gold in the recently-concluded Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, where she defeated compatriot PV Sindhu in the summit clash. Despite the win, the 29-year-old has struggled to make an impact on the BWF World Tour events — apart from the Indonesia Masters in January — facing early exits regularly. Nehwal could only make it to the quarter-finals of the 2018 World Badminton Championships in Nanjing.
The competition in the women’s singles department is quite open, but it’ll be difficult for Nehwal to tame the Chinese, Japanese and of course, Tai Tzu Ying in Jakarta as she's still fighting her way back to the top.
Name: Sushil Kumar
Past Asian Games performance: Bronze at 2006 Doha Asian Games
Best performances: Silver at 2012 London Olympics in 66 kg freestyle
Sushil Kumar has dealt with more than his fair share of criticism over the course of a career that has seen him win numerous medals. The wrestler has silenced his critics time and again by putting on incredible performances to win medals at the most difficult of competitions.
Kumar’s first success on the global stage came way back in 2006, after he won a bronze medal at the 2006 Asian Games in Doha. However, the wrestler truly became a household name in India after winning a bronze at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
He followed up his impressive performance in 2008 with an even better medal-winning performance in the 2012 Olympics, one-upping himself to bag a silver after losing the final to Tatsuhiro Yonemitsu. The silver medal made him the first, and so far the only, Indian to have two individual Olympic medals.
Sushil Kumar has also been a dominant force at the Commonwealth Games, winning three gold medals back to back in 2010, 2014 and 2018.
At the age of 35, Sushil Kumar is nearing the end of a glittering career and a victory at the Asian Games would be yet another feather in his cap, and would help him in a potential push to participate in the 2020 Olympics.
Name: Joshna Chinappa
Category: Singles, Team event
Past Asian Games performance: Silver medal in the team event at the 2014 Asian Games
Best performances: Gold in doubles event at the 2014 Commonwealth Games
Historically, squash has been a medal-winning sport for India at the Asian Games. This time around in Jakarta too, medal hopes are pinned on squash and Joshna Chinappa will have to a big role again. At the last Asian Games, she played a pivotal in the Indian women's team run to the final where they lost to Malaysia. Currently the Asian champion in the singles event, Joshna is a big favourite to win the gold medal at the upcoming mega event.
This will be Joshna's fifth Asian Games, but so far she has no medals to show for it as she crashed out in the quarter-final stage of the singles event on last four occasions. She might not get another chance at the Asian Games, so she will try to make a big impact this time. However, she will face tough opposition, especially from Malaysia's Nicol David and Hong Kong’s Annie Au. Nicol has been around for a long time now and she would be looking to clinch her fifth Asian Games gold medal.
Joshna will also look to go a step further and win the gold medal in the team event at Jakarta. Apart from her, the Indian women's team will also depend on another star player Dipika Pallikal. It will not be an easy task but Joshna is capable of clinching gold medals in the singles and in the team event.
Name: Manika Batra
Discipline (sport): Table tennis
Category: Women's team, Women's singles, Mixed doubles
Past Asian Games performances: Reached quarter-final in Women's team event
Best performance: Gold medal in women's singles and team in 2018 Commonwealth Games
The eleven days in Gold Coast changed Manika Batra's life. Four medals not just brought name and fame, it also instilled confidence in her which will be very crucial as she heads into the Asian Games. It will be virtually improbable to emulate the CWG performance. Batra knows that and is not getting too far ahead of her.
"Obviously (the goal is) to win a medal. But there will be some really good players participating. I am practising hard with my coach. My goal is to reach till quarterfinals, because no (Indian woman) has reached that stage and at the Asiad, playing a quarter-final or semi-final is also a big thing. So my aim is to reach the quarters and semis," Batra told Firstpost.
Manika's best chance will be in the team event. There is a good mix of talent and experience in this team. She will have to be at her very best to stand a chance in the singles. The dream is a bit far-fetched. However, she is working hard to remain unpredictable with her unique style. She is trying to increase her speed and improve on her forehand attack. The Delhi girl has had a decent year so far with the CWG heroics, coupled with National Ranking (North Zone) and UTT titles. She didn't have the best outing at the World Championships but there were lessons learnt. Medal or not, this will be a huge learning curve for the 23-year-old.
Name: Vikas Krishan
Discipline (Sport): Boxing
Category: Men's 75 kg
Past Asian Games performance: Gold medal in Men's Boxing in Lightweight category at 2010 Guangzhou Games, Bronze medal in Men's Boxing in Middleweight category at 2014 Incheon Games
Best performance: Gold medal in Men's Boxing in Lightweight category at 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games
In 2010, Vikas Krishan won gold medal at 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou. Eight years on, he will be looking to replicate the heroics in Jakarta. The boxer will go into the 2018 Asian Games full of confidence on the back of a gold-medal winning performance at 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast. Vikas defeated Dieudonne Wilfried Seyi Ntsengue of Cameroon in the 75kg category final at the 21st Commonwealth Games (CWG) in Gold Coast
Since winning the gold medal at 2010 Asiad, Krishan has seen a lot of turnarounds in his career. At the age of 20, he lost in the quarter-final of the 2012 London Olympics. Taken aback by the loss, the boxer took a sabbatical from the sport for 18 months. It wasn't until 2014 Asian games, where he won bronze, that he tasted some success after his comeback.
In the subsequent year, Uzbekistan's Bektemir Melikuziev defeated Krishan in the final of the Asian Boxing Championships. He entered the Rio Olympics, once again, as a medal contender but his tournament was cut short in the quarter-final, once again, by Melikuziev.
This is what makes the trajectory of Krishan's career quite interesting. At the 2018 Asian Games, apart from carrying the country's hopes, he will also have to mentor the juniors.
Name: Dattu Bhokanal
Discipline (Sport): Rowing
Category: Men's single sculls
Past Asian Games performance: Finished fifth in Men's doubles sculls at 2014 Incheon Asian Games
Best performance: Silver medal at the 16th Asian Championships in China in 2015
Rower Dattu Bhokanal's qualification for the 2016 Rio Olympics was nothing short of a fairytale — he couldn't swim till 2012, was afraid of water and came from a drought-hit village. But the rower from Maharashtra achieved the improbable feat by winning the silver at the FISA Asian and Oceania Olympic qualification regatta and will be India's sole rower at Rio.
Bhokanal clocked 7:7:63 in the 2-km course to finish second, but was on course for a gold medal finish, as he was leading the five-man field till the 1,500-metre mark. But Korean Dongyong Kim (07 mins 05.13 secs) overtook him over the final stretch. At Rio, Bhokanal reached the final. Although he couldn't emerge victorious, the 27-year-old had made a mark in the sport.
In days before taking up the sport, Bhokanal was intimidated, and wondered why water was being used for a sport when so many people in the farming belt were thirsty. However he evntually warmed up to rowing and the rest, as they say, is history.
As the Jakarta Games approaches, Bhokanal is determined to have a better showing as compared to 2014. "There is a difference in the timing between 2014 (Asian Games) and now. The timing has improved at every event by 7/8/9 seconds. Since I got a lot of time, I have been able to develop my body," Bhokanal told PTI before leaving for the Asiad.
Standing an imposing 6 foot 4 inches (1.95 metres), he is confident of bringing back a medal for his country from Jakarta and wants to do something for his villagers, who still have little access to drinking water.
Name: Shreyasi Singh
Discipline (Sport): Shooting
Category: Women's Double Trap shooting
Past Asian Games performance: Bronze medal in women's double trap shooting at 2014 Incheon Asian Games
Best performance: Gold medal in women's double trap shooting at 2018 Commonwealth Games
Shreyasi Singh's greatest moment as a shooter came at Gold Coast when she clinched the gold medal in women's double trap event at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Shreyasi shot 96 in the finals and beat Australia's Emma Cox 2 shots to 1 in the shoot-off at Belmont Shooting Centre.
The shooter's victory in Australia was on the cards after she had warmed up to the event with a silver medal at the 2017 Commonwealth Shooting Championships.
Shreyasi, whose grandfather and father served in the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) as its president, represented the country in two events at the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games but failed to win a single medal.
The Delhi-born Shreyasi however, won the individual silver medal in double trap in Glasgow and followed that by winning a bronze medal at the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon.
Shreyasi didn't have the best of performances in the recently-held Shotgun World Cup where Indian mixed trap team failed to reach the final. However, the shooter will be keen to shrug off the disappointment and go on a medal hunt in Jakarta, just like she did in Gold Coast.
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