Leave out hockey, medals of which dried up after 1980, and the pre-Independence heroes like Norman Pritchard, and any average sports fan will rattle off the names of KD Jadhav, Leander Paes, Karnam Malleswari, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, Abhinav Bindra, Sushil Kumar and Vijender Singh as the only Indians to win medals at the Olympics. A grand total of one gold, one silver and five bronze medals. The haul of three in Beijing made the 2008 edition of the Games India's best ever.
Well, London 2012 could be different. Not dramatically, but then, what is 'ho-hum’ to one person could blow the mind of another, right? So, while my prediction of around eight medals for the Indians at the Olympics Games will do nothing to shatter the theory of Indians being a non-sporting nation (eight medals for a country of a billion people – what!), to me, the number being almost three times our best ever, is reason to be excited.
Don't think its possible? Or maybe you think it's possible, but not probable? I think it’s possible and probable. Yes, and it will be the boxing contingent that will bring home a large chunk of the glory [helping the sales of my book too, I hope] and make this India’s best Olympic Games
Okay, so here are my medal winners, starting with the ones I think have a good chance, but are not, at the moment, strong enough for me to bet my money on.
Shiva Thapa, the 56 kg boxer. Young, very talented, in with a shot at reaching the podium but, maybe, in the next edition of the Olympics and not in London. Krishna Poonia and Vikas Gowda, the two discus throwers could, at their best, be medal prospects, but that would mean punching above their weights. Not impossible, but improbable, because at the Olympics, everyone punches above their weight. The Jwala Gutta-V Diju in the badminton mixed doubles will be in the race too. And, finally, the wrestlers Yogeshwar Dutt and Geeta Phogat; they both have medals from international meets and have the experience against top wrestlers to be in the hunt.
Before going to the ones I am banking, and betting, on, a quick word about the tennis contingent, which doesn’t really belong to either category. At their best, the Leander Paes-Mahesh Bhupathi combine and the Bhupathi-Sania Mirza combine are among the best in the world
and a shoo-in for medals. But neither of these combinations is in the fray. And I don’t know if Paes-Sania and Bhupathi-Rohan Bopanna are good enough. In the race? Maybe. Out of the race? Maybe. Who knows? Even the players themselves might not be sure.
And then, the ones I will risk my modest salary on: Boxers Vikas Krishan, Vijender Singh and M.C. Mary Kom (yes, despite her stuttering qualification campaign); shooters Abhinav Bindra, Gagan Narang, Bindra-Narang in the 10m air rifle pairs and Ronjan Sodhi, the double trapper; Saina Nehwal in the badminton; and wrestler Sushil Kumar – he was the world champion in 2010 after all.
How many does that add up to? Around eight, isn’t it? Don’t ask me what colour the medals will be – I have no idea and don’t really care.
It could all go horribly wrong, of course, but imagine what would happen if it didn’t go wrong! Yes, it’s a good time to be backing Olympic sports
in India. We have as good a set of athletes as we have ever had, and that was reflected in India’s campaigns at the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games, both held in 2010. Now, for the big one. And this time, India
looks good to do more than just make up the numbers.
(About the contributor: Shamya Dasgupta is Senior Editor with Wisden India and the author of ‘Bhiwani Junction: The Untold Story of Boxing in India’. You can follow him on Twitter @shamyad)