Rio de Janeiro: India will be eyeing a medal on the opening day of competitions itself when the redoubtable Jitu Rai takes aim at the shooting range in the 31st Olympic Games here on Saturday.
The 29-year-old will be the cynosure of all eyes when he walks into the Olympic Shooting Centre for his pet 10m air pistol event.
The pint-sized dynamo has managed to keep a low profile heading into the Games despite being in imperious form for the last two years during which he won gold medals at the Commonwealth and Asian Games.
His most recent medal — a silver — came at the World Cup in Azerbaijan in June, making him a hot prospect to open India’s medal haul in the Games.
Success in shooting will be key to India’s hopes of surpassing London Olympics’ six-medal haul, and the performance of Jitu and Abhinav Bindra are crucial to that aim, while the likes of Gagan Narang, Manavjit Singh Sandhu, Heena Sidhu and Apurvi Chandela can also climb the podium.
Tipped to give India their second individual gold medal after Bindra, Jitu is the reigning world champion in 50m pistol as he will compete in both the events with an aim to make an unprecedented double in the Olympics.
If Jitu is making his Olympics debut, Bindra will perhaps be in his last and fifth Summer Games and he would like to bow out on a high. Four years after setting up the gold standard in Beijing, Bindra crashed to a 16th place finish in 2012 London, but this time the shooter from Zirakpur is keen to make it count.
Day One at the range will also see 10m air rifle women Apurvi Chandela and Ayonika Paul in action.
Paddlers begin their campaign
A record four-member Indian table tennis team will aim to make the most of their time in Rio in the men’s and women’s competitions with the first round beginning on Saturday.
World no. 73 Sharath Kamal, in his third Olympics, leads the campaign even though he is ranked lower than team mate and world no. 68 Soumyajit Ghosh. Veteran women’s paddler Mouma Das is here for her second Olympics, with her maiden experience coming 12 years ago in Athens. Making her Olympic debut will be rising star Manika Batra, ranked 127 ahead of Das (150).
Weightlifter Mirabai aims for medal
Saikhom Mirabai Chanu will have an outside chance of a podium finish when the weightlifter begins her campaign in the women’s 48kg category. Another Indian in the fray — Sivalingam Sathish Kumar — will compete in the men’s 77kg division on August 10.
In the last one and a half months Mirabai is believed to have improved her lift by a couple of kilograms, and if she has managed to achieve it, she will have a good chance of finishing with a bronze medal here.
It’s not love all at the tennis courts
A potential pre-London Olympics-like drama was nipped in the bud in the run-up to the Games but speculation of a rift between Paes and his men’s doubles partner Rohan Bopanna is doing the rounds here. Talk is that Paes refused to share a room with him at the Games Village.
Paes checked in at the Village on the eve of the opening ceremony. He arrived late and was left high and dry with no room allotted to him before finally being given one on Thursday.
Paes, who will be playing in his seventh straight Olympics, a first in tennis, checked in at the Games Village on the eve of the opening ceremony. He arrived late and was left high and dry with no room allotted to him before finally being given a room Thursday evening.
India’s Chef-de-Mission Rakesh Gupta clarified that Paes was always going to stay alone. “He (Paes) was given a room and there’s no controversy at all. For a legend like him, Paes deserved a separate room for himself,” Gupta said, explaining that the Indian ace was playing a tournament in New York and hence the delay.
The Indians are pitted against Poland’s Marcin Matkowski and Lukas Kubot in the opening round. In the women’s doubles, world No. 1 Sania Mirza and Prarthana Thombare take on China’s Peng Shuai and Zhang Shuai in the first round.