India have created a major landmark in their Olympics history, as the nation will send a contingent of 120 athletes to Rio, the biggest Indian contingent to participate in the quadrennial event until now. With such a large number of sportspersons heading to the Games, which starts on Aug. 5, fans are also expecting the best medal haul ever.
India have shown gradual improvement in the Olympics over the last few events. Until 2004, India had only returned home with one or two medals in each edition, but the last two editions of the quadrennial event have produced some wonderful memories. India won three medals in 2008, and six in 2012. But the question remains: Can India better the record in Rio 2016?
The answer seems a resounding 'yes,' considering the country has some serious contenders in Rio. Here is a look at top five Indian athletes, who are gold medal prospects for the nation.
Jitu Rai – 10m and 50m air pistol event (Shooting)
There has been a lot of talk about the incredible achievements of the 29-year-old in the last couple of years in the field of shooting. There is something special about Jitu, who loves the big stage, and excels in such competitions, as was witnessed in the 2014 World Cup in Maribor. He won the gold and silver in 10m and 50m air pistol event, and the nation is expecting a similar performance from the shooter in Rio.
He had won the gold in 2014 Commonwealth and the Asian Games the same year, and an Olympic medal in the 50m event is on the horizon for Ritu, who is ranked second in the world. He ranks third in 10m air pistol.
Saina Nehwal — Women's singles (Badminton)
The former world number one has all the ingredients in her bag to bring home the gold medal. But she needs to maintain her fitness levels. Since last year, Saina has been battling injuries, and played through pain in some majors last year.
However, there has been a spring in her stride after her comeback at the All England Open earlier in the year, and the shuttler has continuously improved since then. Saina will head into this competition with immense confidence after her win in the Australian Open last month. To win the all-important medal, she has to get past some of the best shuttlers in the fray, including Carolina Marin and Li Xuerui, among others.
Sania Mirza-Rohan Bopanna – Mixed double (Tennis)
When it comes to tennis, this mixed doubles pair is India's best bet, and Sania has openly spoken about it as well. They may not play together in the doubles circuit, but the pair will depend on their friendship, which might result in a great chemistry on court. Sania and Rohan are known as doubles specialists in their respective men's and women's doubles competitions, and are ranked world number one and 13 respectively, thus establishing the pair as one that would be tough to beat in Rio. With both the players being powerful strikers of the ball, if they get going, they might power themselves to glory in Brazil.
Yogeshwar Dutt (Wrestling - 65kg)
The wrestler has won a number of gold medals in world events, but an Olympic gold is missing in his cabinet. The wrestler, who is set to participate in the 65-kg event, will be keen to bring that elusive medal and showcase India as a major force in the sport. Yogeshwar managed to win a silver in London 2012 (60 kg), and he needs to put up a consistent performance in Rio, where the competition is going to be top-notch, to win gold. The wrestler is said to be 100 percent fit now after he suffered knee injury last year.
Deepika Kumari (Archery)
The 22-year-old has already achieved great things at a young age. Now, her focus will lie on the gold in Rio. She displayed some sensational performances, winning the silver medal in the mixed recurve event with Atanu Das during the Archery World Cup 2016. The archer will be more than determined to put in an impressive performance this Olympics, as the favourite in London 2012 was dumped out of the competition in the first round. Her preparation has been brilliant in recent times, and she heads to Rio with only one objective – gold, and nothing else.