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.
As usual, there is expectation of a few medals. Indian Olympic Association president Suresh Kalmadi feels: “a few are on the cards’’.
Somewhere in between lies the truth.
“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.
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