With 119 athletes bound for Rio, the Indian Olympic delegation has come a long way since 1900, when they it sent a lone participant for the international games. Although India sent its first national team to the summer games only in 1920, it has attended every one since. In 2016, its athletes will be taking a stab at 65 events. In its Olympic tenure, Indian Olympians have brought home 26 medals, including nine golds. Eight of those golds were won by the national field hockey team and the ninth was won by shooter Abhinav Bindra, the air rifle champion from the 2008 games in Beijing.
In the past, India has had a stellar run with shooting, with Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, Vijay Kumar, and Gagan Narang bringing home medals in addition to Bindra. Meanwhile, Leander Paes’ tennis performance remains one of the country’s oldest and most noted individual successes at the games. In wrestling, excellent performances by Yogeshwar Dutt and Sushil Kumar remain on record, while Vijendar Singh and Mary Kom gained prominence in boxing. Other significant female individual Olympic Indians are Karnam Malleswari for wrestling and Saina Nehwal for badminton.
The 2016 Indian shooting team is a force to reckon with this year. It includes both Bindra and Narang, but viewers should also watch out for Jitu Rai, the first Indian shooter to qualify this year. Rai has been a medal winner at the ISSF World Cup multiple times and won the gold in 2016. Apurvi Chandela, who broke the world record in the finals of the air rifle world championships, was the first Indian woman to qualify for Rio this year and is another important addition to the delegation.
In gymnastics, Dipa Karmakar will become the first Indian woman to participate. A bronze winner at the Commonwealth Games in 2014, she currently has 67 gold medals to her name across tournaments at different levels. In badminton, Saina Nehwal has a lot of hopes riding on her and female debutante PV Sindhu will be joining her as well.
This year sees far fewer boxers in contrast to the London games; notably, Mary Kom failed to qualify. Rowing (Dattu Bhokanal) and Judo (Avatar Singh) only have solitary representation from India. However, the men’s hockey team, which failed to qualify in Beijing, is back with a bang, on the heels of a silver at the Champions Trophy.
Leander Paes and Sania Mirza will both be representing India in tennis at the Olympics – with Rohan Bopanna in the men’s doubles and mixed doubles categories respectively. Mirza will also be playing in the women’s doubles category.
2014 Commonwealth games gold medalist Sivalingam Sathish Kumar will be an important contestant for India in weightlifting this year.
Wrestling, which has been rife with controversies in the qualifying stage, is expected to be another strong suit for India. Praveen Rana, a provisional replacement for Narsingh Yadav after his suspension on testing positive for banned substances, made waves with his gold at the Youth Commonwealth Games in 2008 and at the Dave Schultz Memorial Tournament in 2014. Sandeep Tomar, who won a gold at the 2015 Asian Championships, is another source of a possible big win.
With the Rio Olympic games set to begin in less than a week, the archers, athletes, boxers, and shooters have already arrived and settled in as viewers are pouring in. Flagging off a 5 kilometer ‘Run for Rio’ event in New Delhi on July 31, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has expressed his certainty that the largest Indian contingent of Olympians in history is sure to do very well.