Hope fills Indian hearts as the ‘samba’ Games begin

B Baskar Chennai | Updated on January 17, 2018

Indian women archers during the practice session for Olympics 2016 at Rio de Janeiro   -  PTI

A nation of a billion-plus looks to better its medal tally at Rio 2016

The thunderous rumble of samba drums will echo in millions of living rooms and human hearts around the world as the fortnight-long Olympic Games carnival gets under way in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

More than 10,000 sportspersons from 200 member-nations of the IOC will compete at the Games, to be held in 33 venues across Rio and five other cities – Sao Paulo, Belo Horizonte, Salvador, Brasilia and Manaus – until August 21. There are 306 medals up for grabs in 28 events ranging from athletics to rugby sevens to golf.

The Games come at a difficult time for Brazil, which is in the throes of political and economic turmoil. Compounding these problems, fears of the mosquito-borne Zika virus are fluttering on the wings of heightened anxiety.

The stakes are particularly high, given that this is the first time the Games are being held in South America.

The doping scandal

Although Rio 2016 is free of international political rancour – of the sorts that saw a boycott of the Moscow Olympics in 1980 – the spectre of a doping scandal haunts these Games. After Yuliya Stepanova, the Russian 800-metre runner, blew the whistle on a systematic state-sponsored doping programme in her home country, Russia was banned by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).

However, the IOC steered clear of a blanket ban on Russia and said that ‘clean’ Russian athletes can take part in these Games. On Friday, it confirmed that 271 Russian sportspersons will compete at Rio – in events other than athletics, rowing, weightlifting and canoeing, in which significant numbers of Russians have been banned.

India is sending its biggest-ever contingent of 118 sportspersons, evidently buoyed by its best-ever medal tally in the 2012 London Games: two silvers, four bronzes. In athletics, India is sending its largest-ever team of 36 — 19 men and 17 women. The other key events in which Indians will participate are wrestling, shooting, archery, boxing, hockey and badminton – where their medal chances are bright – and tennis, golf, gymnastics, judo, rowing, swimming and table tennis.

Spectacular performance

The performances of some Indian sportspersons in the run-up to the qualification for the Rio Games have been spectacular, although some disturbing questions over doping remain.

The shooting team is led by Beijing Olympics Gold medal winner Abhinav Bhindra and London Games Bronze winner Gagan Narang; the prospects of a medal look particularly bright. There are also high hopes of a podium finish by archer Deepika Kumari. In hockey, too, India’s prospects of a medal are bright, especially after its terrific performance in the recent Champion’s Trophy, where it finished runner-up to the mighty Australians.

Wrestling and boxing are the two other sports where India can hope to land some medals, although the shadow of the Narsingh Yadav doping saga lingers even after he has been cleared of the charges.

Dipa Karmakar is the first Indian to qualify in gymnastics at the Olympics and the first Indian to have won a medal in this event at the Commonwealth Games. Even if a medal remains out of reach, her progress this far in an event where Indians have traditionally not fared well is nothing short of stupendous.

India’s star-studded badminton team, led by London Olympics Bronze winner Saina Nehwal, too has good chances of winning medals.

Goldman Sachs has predicted that India will win eight medals, including a Gold, at the Rio Games. If that prophesy comes true, Indian hearts will pound with justifiable pride over its sporting stars as much as they will sway to the beat of those distant samba drums.

Published on August 05, 2016

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