Dope scandals marred what was turning out to be a euphoric build-up but India’s biggest ever contingent would nonetheless be eyeing a historic medal haul when the 31st Olympic Games — the first ever in South America — get underway with the opening ceremony here on Friday.
The Indians are eyeing their first ever double-digit medal haul riding on the sheer number of qualifiers this time, standing at 118 now after sprinter Dharambir Singh and shot-putter Inderjeet Singh were told to stay back after being caught in the dope net.
Not to forget, the drama that chased wrestler Narsingh Yadav ever since he was selected ahead of double Olympic-medallist Sushil Kumar. Narsingh was caught in the dope storm as well but managed to clear his name after convincing NADA that he was victim of conspiracy and sabotage.
But despite all the controversies that plagued the Olympic build-up, what cannot be overlooked is the improved performances of Indian athletes which makes them strong medal contenders.
On the first day of competitions on Saturday, India can eye a medal from Jitu Rai, the pint-sized star whose pistol has been shooting medals at almost every event he has participated in.
Jitu is the reigning 50m air pistol champion at the ISSF World Cup and the favourite to repeat Abhinav Bindra’s gold medal feat of Beijing 2008.
Currently ranked 3rd in both 50m pistol and 10m air pistol, the 28-year-old has won two golds, three silvers and one bronze in the World Cups, an sian and Commonwealth gold and besides an Asian Games gold.
Competing in both the events, the Nepalese-origin shooter is undoubtedly the favourite for a top finish in a star-studded 12-member team.
In his fifth and final appearance, Abhinav Bindra, who would be India’s flag-bearer at tomorrow’s opening ceremony, would look to end his career on a high even though he has not been in his top form.
Bindra will be joined by London Olympics bronze-medallist Gagan Narang, who will compete in three events, in his fourth appearance.
Focus will also be on the likes of Heena Sidhu, Ayonika Paul, Apurvi Chandela — the three women shooters.