The 2018 Commonwealth Games will begin in Gold Coast, Australia, just under two days from now. And though the chances of India repeating their Delhi 2010 feat of bagging a century of medals are slim, anything less than a top-four finish cannot and should not be considered as a successful campaign.
Four years ago, India were pipped to the fourth spot by hosts Scotland, who had four more gold medals, and even this time around, the number of gold medals would once again be the defining factor if they have to rise above the challenge from New Zealand and South Africa for a berth in the top five.
The 15 gold medals in Glasgow was less than half of the 38 top-of-the-podium finishes in Delhi 2010. Even considering the fact that the pairs events in shooting (in which India won seven gold), archery and tennis were dropped from the programme, India’s failure to dominate shooting and wrestling cost them dearly.
The challenge in Gold Coast is going to be no different with shooting (19 golds), weightlifting (16) and wrestling (12) making up for 47 gold medals India can realistic challenge for apart from a couple in badminton and maybe the odd one in squash and para-powerlifting.
And given the form the shooters, wrestlers and even the weightlifters have shown in the Commonwealth Championships of the respective disciplines, they should be favourite to bag the yellow metal in at least half the events during the 10-day event.
The Indian contingent had bagged 20 medals including six golds from the Commonwealth Shooting meet in December last year, the wrestlers went a step ahead with the women finishing on the podium in all the 10 weight categories while men’s freestyle team bagging 10 gold medals in Johannesburg, South Africa. The weightlifting team also set the stage on fire in Gold Coast a few months ago and ensured that five lifters qualified for the Games through the Commonwealth Championship.
Mind you, the field in these three disciplines at the Commonwealth Games is hardly world class and the Indian contingent boasts of two-time Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar, Rio Olympic bronze medallist Sakshi Malik among the wrestlers and world champion Mirabai Chanu in weightlifting.
But the shooting contingent is the most formidable one. They have been in great form going into the Games, bagging the top spot in the medals tally at ISSF World Cup in Mexico for the first time ever and the perfect mix of youth and experience make them favourite to bag a medal, even a gold, in almost every category.
What that also means that if the shooters falter under pressure, India could even be staring at a position outside the top-5. And there probably lies India’s biggest challenge in Gold Coast.
Despite a strong selection criteria by the Athletics Federation of India this year, India’s chances of winning a medal in a discipline with highest number of gold medals on offer relies on the trio of javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra, high jumper Tejaswin Shankar and discus thrower Seema Punia and even for that they would have to be at their best or improve on their season bests.
The only other events the Indians could hope for a medal would be the 20km walk and the 4x400m relay if things go exceptionally well. For others, the maximum expectation would be to prove that they can at least be competitive at this stage and then build on that performance to land a medal at the Asian Games in August.
Multiple medals in badminton?
The only other sport that India could hope of multiple medals, and even gold, could be badminton.
Despite the return of former world No 1 Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia in the men’s section, India could well challenge for the mixed team gold for the first given the depth in the overall squad and formidable mixed doubles pairing.
And Chong Wei should be the primary hurdle in retaining the men’s singles gold that P Kashyap won in 2014.
In the women’s singles, a failure to finish – one-two despite the injury scare to world number 3 PV Sindhu just a week before the Games – should go down as a huge disappointment.
In the last two editions, gymnastics has contributed a couple of medals to the Indian tally and all eyes would be on 2010 Games medallist Ashish Kumar and rings speciallist Rakesh Patra to continue that trend in Gold Coast.
The other events where India is expected to win medals are table tennis, boxing and hockey. While the performance in these sports would definitely contribute to the overall tally, there is no denying the fact that the three sports India has been traditionally dominating in the Commonwealth Games would decide where they ultimately finish.