The official Logo of the ATHENS 2004 Olympic Games - Games of the XXVIII Olympiad

Athens: Double trap shooter Rajyavardhan Rathore is world No. 3, long jumper Anju George and tennis player Mahesh Bhupathi No. 5 and shooter Anjali Bhagwat No.6... Now, if only rankings could assure medals.

In the past few weeks, these three and other Indian medal hopes have converged on sports pages of the ToI presenting a picture of optimism. But to even open the door to the pantheon of Olympic greats — Indian and international — they will have to slug it out in a gloriously competitive arena.

Unlike previous years there is one consolation. Each of the 75 Indians in Athens has earned the right to be there.
Yes, there are a few lucky ones, like sailing wild card entrants Malav Shroff and Sumeet Patel, or others who got in because others pulled-out.

As usual, there is expectation of a few medals. Indian Olympic Association president Suresh Kalmadi feels: “a few are on the cards’’.
The great Milkha Singh, not one to mince words, has a contrasting view.

Somewhere in between lies the truth.
And that is independent India has produced only three individual bronze medals — K D Jadhav in Helsinki 1952, Leander Paes in Atlanta 1996 and Karnam Malleswari in Sydney 2000 —apart from the golden era of hockey in the 50s and 60s. Hockey, which has made news for off-field skirmishes, has been on the wane and after 1980, when we won our last gold in a depleted field in Moscow, a fifth place at Los Angeles has been the best showing.

“Only God can save Indian hockey,’’ commented former captain Pargat Singh after the Indian Hockey Federation chief went snip-snip on the coaches list.

Perhaps Dhanraj Pillay can play God. The 36-year-old is in his fourth Olympics and has been dreaming for 16 years of standing on the podium, chest out and Jana Gana Mana in the air.

For sheer longevity in a demanding sport, Pillay deserved to be flag-bearer in Athens, an honour given to Anju now. Pillay can play Pied Piper but will his teammates follow suit?

Adrenaline flows as thickly as patriotism in the veins of Pillay and Leander Paes. They are never short of inspiration. “The chest-butts are back,’’ said Paes after rejoining ex-partner Bhupathi to win the Toronto Masters two weeks ago. Unlucky in Sydney to run into Woodies in the second round, the Indian Express have again raised medal hopes.

Flag-bearer Anju can be the inspirational leader but the onus is on shooters Bhagwat and Suma Shirur to deliver.

The 10m Air Rifle event, where Shirur is a joint world recordholder, is scheduled on August 14, a day after the opening ceremony.
There is pressure on the duo and it’s not just from the gun on their shoulders. A medal for either (or both) will have the momentum going for India.

Don’t expect the Indians to set the Acropolis on fire, yet, with a little luck, the national anthem could be played a few times in the next fortnight in Athens.


India's challange in following events in Athens 2004