Commonwealth Games 2022: The Indian Medal Favourites at Birmingham CWG
Members of the Indian Commonwealth Games squad during a send-off ceremony in New Delhi.
The 2022 Commonwealth Games is underway in Birmingham, and, even as action takes centre stage from July 29, debates on the relevance of the Games in modern sporting context and economics rage on at the sidelines.
There is no doubt that the CWG holds significance for the Indian athletes. It provides as equal a platform as the Asian Games for them to assess their progress halfway through an Olympic cycle. Assess with a fair chance at winning, to be exact. A medal would fetch them not just vindication of the success of their training programmes, but offers financial rewards along with promotion or professional growth at their respective public sector jobs. The big Indian reality, so to speak.
So, Indian athletes would be keen to put up the best possible show. India hope to not just win at events they were traditionally strong at, but also to stamp their presence in new disciplines as well. It would be a daunting task for them to match their haul from the previous edition on the Gold Coast, Australia. Shooting is not part of the CWG programme this time around in Birmingham. The shooting range has always been India’s happy hunting ground at the CWG and the rich haul always bloated India’s tally.
India has fielded 205 athletes across 16 disciplines in Birmingham. Let us take a look at the athletes who will be bearing the weight of India’s medal ambitions.
India is the dominant nation in wrestling at the CWG. At Gold Coast 2018, India took home a haul of 12 medals including five golds. In this edition, the 12-member contingent (six men and six women) is studded with stars. Two Tokyo Olympic medallists -- Ravi Dahiya (57kg) and Bajrang Punia (65kg) -- are looking to keep their momentum going. Defending champion Vinesh Phogat (53kg) will be keen to banish her Tokyo disappointment while Rio Olympics bronze medallist Sakshi Malik (62kg), who has never won a CWG medal, would be happy with nothing but a gold.
The boxing squad is a mix of new faces and old warhorses. Two of the favourites for gold would be Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist Lovlina Borgohain (70kg) and world champion Nikhat Zareen (50kg). Both are eyeing maiden medals at the CWG.
In the previous edition, India won nine from the ring (3 gold, 3 silver, 3 bronze). But the gold medallists from Gold Coast are no longer present in the team. The boxers failed to impress at the Tokyo Olympics last year with Amit Panghal (52kg), one of the favourites at the Olympics, having a disastrous outing. He will be looking for redemption while veteran Shiva Thapa is searching for his first CWG medal. It will also be an opportunity for youngsters such as Sumit Kundu (75kg), Sagar Ahlawat (+92kg), Jasmine Lamboria (60kg), Nitu Ghanghas (48kg) to shine. Boxers from England, Ireland, Canada and Nigeria will be their biggest challenge. Britain finished second in the boxing medals tally at the Tokyo Olympics, and will be looking to stamp their authority at home.
Nine medals came from weightlifting at the 2018 edition. This time, too, the contingent of eight men and seven women would be expected to do some heavy lifting. Tokyo silver medallist Mirabai Chanu, the defending champion in 48kg, will be the favourite in the 49kg division. Much is expected of young Jeremy Lalrinnunga (67kg), the 2018 Youth Olympics gold medallist. Punam Yadav (76kg) is another favourite, and is gunning for her third medal at the CWG.
With Jamaica, Australia, England, Canada, New Zealand and Kenya in the fray, Indians have always struggled to win medals in Athletics. With only five gold medals in 21 editions at the CWG, the returns are nothing spectacular. Tokyo Olympic javelin champion Neeraj Chopra has pulled out of competition as well. In Chopra’s absence, the 43-member track and field squad will hope long jumper Sreeshankar Murali, who has a best of 8.36m this season, javelin thrower Annu Rani and steeplechaser Avinash Sable, who made it to the final of world championships, will feature in the medal chase.
Youngsters DP Manu and Rohit Yadav will be expected to do well in men’s javelin but it would be impossible for them to fill Chopra’s shoes. Manu has recorded the second-best distance by an Indian this season (84.35m), while Yadav is high on confidence after finishing 10th at the World Athletics Championships last week. The three triple jumpers, Abdulla Aboobacker, Praveen Chitravel, and Eldose Paul (who made the final at the world championships) will attempt to touch their personal bests.
CWG gold has eluded two-time Olympic medallist PV Sindhu. She lost to Saina Nehwal in the final at Gold Coast 2018. Sindhu seems to have found form at the right time, winning the Singapore Open title two weeks back. She will be firm favourite for gold while on the men’s side, Kidambi Srikanth, Lakshya Sen, and the doubles duo of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty, who were part of the historic Thomas Cup campaign earlier this year, are expected to put up medal winning performances.
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Sen, who had an exceptional All England and World Championships, is making his CWG debut, while Srikanth, a former silver medalist, is keen to change the colour of his medal. World No.5 Malaysian Lee Zii Jia has skipped the CWG while world champion Loh Kean Yew of Singapore will be the biggest favourite in the men’s segment.
Both the men’s and women’s teams finished fourth in hockey in the previous edition.
The women, who were the 2002 champions, had a great outing in Tokyo but missed bronze to end up fourth. Since then, they have been through a rebuilding process. They have been in questionable form, and finished ninth at the World Cup in the Netherlands and Spain earlier this month.
The men, on the other hand, won bronze in Tokyo — India’s first Olympic medal in 41 years. However, since then, their form has been up and down and they will have plenty to prove, especially against favourites Australia. They lost the 2010 and 2014 CWG final to Australia.
Women’s T20 cricket is making its debut at the CWG. The Indian women’s cricket team, led by all-rounder Harmanpreet Kaur, will fancy a medal though Australia, England, New Zealand and South Africa are in the eight-team field. India, who failed to reach the ODI World Cup semifinals this year, are motivated to make amends in Birmingham.
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