#India is well-placed to prove a thing or two at the Asian Games in Indonesia
The Asian Games begin in the Indonesian cities of Jakarta and Palembang on Saturday, providing Indian sport a bracing(हौसला पैदा करनेवाला) opportunity to prove its composite progress at the global level. While confined to competition from within Asia, the Asiad is keenly contested, involving some of the best sportspersons in their respective disciplines. China continues to be the behemoth(विशालकाय), and it is a pointer to its overall excellence that having finished at the top of the table in the last edition, in 2014, at South Korea’s Incheon, it also secured the third highest number of gold medals in the 2016 Olympics at Rio de Janeiro. In fact, South Korea and Japan, which also finished in the top three at Incheon, were among the leading ten at the Olympics. (In an ongoing burst of sporting diplomacy, South Korean and North Korean athletes will march behind a common flag in Indonesia.) In the last edition, India finished eighth, with a tally of 57 medals, including 11 golds. This time around, expectations are high, given a line-up that includes badminton’s World Championships runner-up P.V. Sindhu, Commonwealth Games and former junior World champion javelin-thrower Neeraj Chopra, 400 m under-20 world champion Hima Das, and shooters Manu Bhaker and Elavenil Valarivan.
In badminton, India has never gone beyond the bronze at the Asian Games, but the presence of two Olympic medallists, Sindhu and Saina Nehwal, may well change that. India may not be a powerhouse in track and field. All the same, athletics has brought the country more than half its golds across Asiads. Now, Chopra begins as the favourite to wrest the javelin gold. The 4×400 m relays — there are three, with the introduction of a mixed relay — may also bring some joy. Much depends on how the Athletics Federation of India handles the Nirmala Sheoran issue. The Asian women’s 400 m champion had stayed away from national camps. The AFI has a dilemma(दुविधा) as in a crackdown on doping it had repeatedly stressed that non-campers would not be included. It is not clear if it will make an exception for Sheoran. India will be eager to grab both golds in kabaddi. The women’s and men’s hockey teams have had an encouraging run leading up to the Asian Games, and they would look to make a statement in style two years ahead of the Tokyo Olympics. Veteran(दीर्घानुभवी/पुराना सिपाही) Leander Paes’s decision to pull out at the last minute depletes India’s tennis reserves further, and with the number of golds on offer down from seven to five, the challenge of bringing in its traditional haul of tennis medals will be tough — India won 5 in tennis in 2014, including a gold. But away from the medals table, Indonesia 2018 will provide a glimpse of the changing profile of sport, with eSports debuting as a demonstration sport.