With little over two weeks left for the Olympics to start, let’s have a look at India contingent for the Games. Let’s start from most hopeful – Badminton. The two-decade old quest for an elusive Olympic medal in badminton may end in London for Indian shuttlers. India will be fielding a formidable outfit comprising five shuttlers, with an eye on clinching three medals. Incidentally, this will be the biggest Indian badminton contingent after the sport gained entry into the Olympic Games in Barcelona in 1992, with Saina Nehwal leading the way.
Saina Nehwal is a top contender for a medal finish at London. Saina Nehwal has undoubtedly raised the bar for Indian shuttlers. World No. 5 and extremely popular, she is looked upon as a strong medal prospect at the London Olympics. She may or may not like to be under such rising expectations, but it has been inspiring her peers to give their best and even win a medal in the mega event.
The women’s doubles pair of Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa, who claimed bronze at the World Championships, and the mixed team of Valiyaveetil Diju and Jwala are also among the favourites to finish on the podium. Jwala-Ashwini complements each other quite well on the court. If Jwala controls the game and finds gaps in the rival court with immaculate accuracy, Ashwini is the workhorse who not only retrieves well but can also stuns rivals with power-packed smashes. The elegant Ponnappa from Bangalore possesses one of the most powerful smashes in the world. A hard-working shuttler, who does a lot of court coverage, plays behind Jwala. Whether it is with Ashwini Ponnappa in women’s doubles or Valiyaveetil Diju in mixed, Jwala has always succeeded in exploiting rivals’ weakness with her creative approach.
In Diju, India have a world-class doubles player. The tall Kerala shuttler possesses an attacking return and picks a lot of points by attacking from the net. Asian girls always find him a major threat. Valiyaveetil Diju is currently among the most feared doubles players in the world. His returns on the first serve are deadly. Diju and Jwala were the runners-up at the Indian Open at Hyderabad in 2009. The duo also reached the final in World Super Series Masters final in Malaysia the same year. Riding on these performances, the duo had reached the career-best ranking of world number six in August 2010.
The same cannot be said about men’s singles shuttler Parupalli Kashyap. But if the lanky lad can reproduce the game he displayed at the Indonesia Open, he can do wonders. Parupalli Kashyap will represent India in the London Olympics in men’s singles badminton event while Jwala Gutta’s participation in both women’s doubles and mixed doubles.This will be the first time that any of the Indian badminton doubles pairing will get a direct entry in the history of Olympics. As for Jwala, she became the first Indian to qualify for two badminton events – mixed and women’s doubles – in the Olympics.
India’s badminton coach Pullela Gopichand is hoping for more than one medal from his wards at the London Olympics. Gopi says that apart from Saina, the two doubles pairs Jwala Gutta-Ashwini Ponappa and Jwala-V Diju also have an outside chance of winning a medal. Gopi feels that Saina would be targeted by the Chinese since she won the last two tournaments.