INCHEON, Sept 18 (PTI): Bolstered by a better-than-expected performance in the Commonwealth Games, Indian athletes would now look to assert themselves against the sporting might of continental powerhouses such as China and Japan in the 17th Asian Games commencing here tomorrow.
A total haul of 64 medals in the CWG held in July-August, which included 15 of the golden hue, should act as the ideal springboard for the Indian contingent to better the medal tally claimed at Guangzhou, China, four years ago.
However, the reality is that Asian Games is far tougher to excel in than CWG, barring a few disciplines, especially with the Chinese juggernaut set to roll once again followed by the might of South Korea, Japan and a few other countries, including the ones belonging to to the erstwhile Soviet Bloc.
In 2010, the total medals scooped by the Indian contingent at the Asiad was 65 � comprising 14 gold, 17 silver and 34 bronze � a month after a record haul of 101, including 38 gold, in the CWG held in New Delhi.
The sizeable heist in Guangzhou piloted the country to a highly creditable sixth spot on the table which was topped by hosts China with a staggering haul of 199 gold medals.
The sixth place finish in Guangzhou was India�s best in Asian Games history after the fifth spot it grabbed when hosting the pan-Asian sports spectacle in 1982 at New Delhi. India ended up eighth in 2002 when South Korea previously hosted the Games and retained it four years later in Doha, Qatar, before improving it by two rungs in Guangzhou, leading to the current optimism that the country has the capability to finish even in the top five.
This time the government, on September 9, pruned down the size of the contingent, from what was sent to it by the Indian Olympic Association. The contingent is now 679-strong -� including 516 athletes � from the initial 942 comprising 662 athletes and the rest officials.
The size of the contingent is still quite big and would be seen in action in aquatics, archery, athletics, badminton, basketball, boxing, canoeing and kayaking, cycling, equestrian, football, golf, gymnastics, handball, hockey, judo, kabaddi, rowing, sepaktakraw, shooting, squash, taekwondo, table tennis, tennis, volleyball, wrestling, wushu, weightlifting, and yachting.
Sports Authority of India is confident that India will better the 2010 tally.
�We got 64 medals at the recent Commonwealth Games and I must say it was a satisfying performance. For Asian Games, we are confident of touching the 70-medal mark which would be better than last time,� SAI Director General Jiji Thomson has predicted but that view was aired before the depletion of the tennis team, in particular.
SAI is expecting bulk of the medals from shooting (10-14 medals) and athletics (12-16). The country would also be expecting certain medals from badminton and squash teams, from the boxing ring, the wrestling mat and kabaddi arena, where the men would be gunning for their seventh straight gold and the women their second on the trot. The country�s medal hopes in tennis, in which it has scooped up 23 medals in the previous editions, have been dented severely by the pullout of top players Somdev Devvarman, the men�s singles winner in 2010, and doubles specialists Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna.
Thankfully for the contingent, top woman player Sania Mirza, who had decided to skip the multi-discipline event to garner valuable ranking points on the professional circuit, had a change of heart and will be seen in action here.
But the second-string men�s squad will be severely tested and the medal haul is expected to be meagre after the excellent haul of 2-1-2 in 2010.
The hockey competition is also very important for India with the Asian Games winners gaining a direct entry into the Rio Olympics two years later. The Sardar Singh-led men�s squad � currently looking strong in the continent � would be looked upon to end the gold medal drought extending from 1998 in Bangkok.
In the last edition, a shock semifinal loss to Malaysia ended their title hopes but since then, the performance has improved, albeit only marginally, and the fans are expecting a golden touch this time around in a new format which will see the game being played in four quarters of 15 minutes each for the first time ever. Expectedly, the onus of providing the country with a bagful of medals lies mainly on the track and field athletes, the star-studded shooting squad, as well as the boxing and wrestling teams who will, however, be without injured Olympic medallists Vijender Singh and Sushil Kumar respectively.