Jakarta, Aug 18 (IANS) After a chaotic and sometimes controversial build-up, Indian athletes will gear up to challenge the best in the continent when the main competitions of the 18th Asian Games start here on SUnday.
Represented by 804 athletes and officials, the Indian contingent will aim to better the showing at the previous Asiad in Incheon, South Korea, where they finished eighth with 11 gold, 10 silver and and 36 bronze medals.
The best performance by India at the Asian Games came at the 2010 edition in Guangzhou, China where they finished sixth with 14 gold, 17 silver and 34 bronze.
This year, around 12,000 athletes from 45 countries will compete in 40 disciplines.
The main thrust of the Indian challenge is expected to come from athletics, wrestling, boxing and shooting.
Indian athletes have traditionally done well at the Asian Games. This year, for junior world champion and reigning Asian champion Neeraj Chopra is among the favourites for the gold medal in men’s javelin.
The 20-year-old from Haryana is in good form this year, and have trained in Finland for the past few weeks where he won gold at ths Savo Games last months.
Neeraj ste a new national record during the first leg of the Diamond League in Doha in May when he registered a career best attempt of 87.43 metres. That is alos the best throw by an Asian athlete so far this season.
In men’s shot put, Tejinder Pal Singh Toor is another strong contender for a medal. The 23-year-old is one of the best proponents of the shot put in Asia and took the silver medal at the continental championships last year.
On the track the Indian sprint quartet of Kunhu Muhammed, Amoj Jacob, Rajiv Arokia and Mohammad Anas will aim to dominate the competition. They had won the 4x400m title at the 2017 Asian Athletics Championships and will aim to maintain their dominance.
Anas is the reigning Asian champion in the 400m individual event and will be one of the top contenders for the gold medal here as well.
Emerging star Hima Das will spearhead the Indian challenge in the women’s sprint events. The 18-year-old from a remore village in Assam became the first Indian to claim a world championships gold in the track events when she won the women’s 400m title at the World U-20 Championships last month.
In wrestling, there was the usual controversy over the selection of veteran star Sushil Kumar with upcoming wrestler Parveen Rana crying foul over the selection process of the Indian squad.
Sushil (74 kg) and Bajrang Punia (61 kg) were selected without a trial since the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) felt that the duo were too superior to other wrestlers in their respective categories.
Although Sushil has struggled to to remain fit due to chronic injuries over the past couple of years, the double Olympic medallist still has enough ability to emerge triumphant at the Asian Games.
The other Indian wrestlers will also be among the top contenders in their respective men’s freestyle categories. The Indian Greco-Roman wrestlers have also been doing well since last year and it will be interesting to see how they perfrom against the best in the continent.
As always, the shooting contingent will be expected to be a major contributor to the medals tally.
Manu Bhaker, the youngest Indian to win a gold medal at the ISSF World Cup, will be expected to win gold in the women’s 10m air pistol event. The 16-year-old won gold in her maiden Commonwealth Games (CWG) appearance at Gold Coast, Australia earlier this year and will be expected to take her superb form into the shooting ranges at Palembang.
The experienced Sanjeev Rajput, Apurvi Chandela, Heena Sidhu and reigning junior world champion Anish Bhanwala are also expected to be among the medals in their respective events.
In boxing, the Indians are among the best in Asia. Among the men, Vikas Krishan (75kg), Shiva Thapa (60kg) Gaurav Solanki (52kg) and Amit Panghal (49kg) are among the title contenders in their respective weight categories.
Of the three women pugilists, Sonia Lather is expected to lead the pack.
In gymnastics, Ashish Kumar and Deepa Karmakar have done well at past Asian Games and CWG and are expected to well this time as well.
The Indian tennis squad are witnessing the usual controversies which crop up before major multi-sports events. With veteran super star Leander Paes deciding to pull out at the last moment, coach Zeeshan Ali faces a major headache as he tries to re-work the combinations in men’s doubles and mixed doubles.
In men’s hockey, India are the favourites to defend the title they won in 2014 while the women’s squad will aim to improve on their third place finish.