India at CWG: Bigger medal hopes, chance for emerging talents to shine
In a country starved of medals at major sporting events, the Commonwealth Games is always good news. On April 4, the Indian contingent, female athletes ditching saris for trousers, will stride down the Carrara stadium in Gold Coast, Queensland, with hopes of another great haul.
The Games' relevance has been on the wane since its first edition in 1930 and it's largely seen as a sporting extravaganza to celebrate a defunct empire. For Indian athletes, though, it's a favourite hunting ground for medals, courtesy a small pool of participating countries and a relatively low standard of competition in most disciplines. India has won a total of 438 medals across 14 editions. At the 2010 edition in New Delhi -- the country's most successful campaign -- India finished second with a staggering 101 medals.
The popular accusation of a rich medal tally at the event not being a true reflection of a country's sporting prowess isn't without reason. Only two years after a 215-member contingent returned with 64 medals at the 2014 edition, India had a grand total of two medals to show for its Olympic performance in Rio.
Larger contingent, bigger medal hopes
With the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) increasing the number of quota places for India in athletics and boxing this time, the country is likely to field 225 athletes across 15 disciplines. The increase in quota spots in a few disciplines, though, comes at the cost of a trimmed squad in sports such as gymnastics, shooting and cycling. On the invitation of the CGF and the sport's world body FIBA, Indian basketball teams will make a comeback to the Games -- which adds to the size of the contingent -- after a gap of eight years. A rich medal count for India can be expected, particularly from disciplines such as wrestling, shooting and boxing, which have pretty modest levels of competition.
Shooting's parting shot?
Though CGF boss David Grevemberg recently refuted reports of shooting being scrapped from the next Games' roster, insisting that it continues to remain in the optional category, host Birmingham's reluctance to pick the sport -- given the huge distance between the venue and the Olympic-standard range and the necessity of having to build another facility -- has been evident. For India, shooting has traditionally been one of its brightest medal prospects and stands second in the all-time CWG medal list of the sport, accounting for 114 of its 438 medals. For many in this year's contingent, this may well be a final shot at glory.
Chance for promising names to shine
A year after she won the junior continental title at the Asian Championships, 17-year-old Mehuli Ghosh marked her transition to the senior circuit with a bronze medal in the ISSF World Cup series in Guadalajara, Mexico, on Saturday. The 10m air rifle shooter is seen as a huge medal hope and the Games could be the perfect launch pad for many like her to pitch themselves as names to be reckoned with. World junior javelin champion Neeraj Chopra, who stuttered at the World Championships last year and has been training under world record holder Uwe John for the past few months, is also tipped to succeed.
Final flourish for ageing stars?
The Boxing Federation of India (BFI) picked a squad without the customary trials, questionably dropping the 57kg category, which has had promising boxer Sonia Lather delivering both a World as well as an Asian silver medal, to make room for the 48kg weight category Mary Kom competes in. While Sushil Kumar, whose gold-medal-winning comeback on the mat last year was mired in controversy following three walkovers, has qualified for the Games by virtue of a gold medal at a depleted Commonwealth Championships. One might argue that chasing a Commonwealth Games medal is unnecessary for a five-time world champion or a two-time Olympic medallist, but both Mary and Sushil will be headed to Gold Coast next month to do just that.