Asian Games is kicking off on Saturday, September 23. There is already so much speculation about India's medal prospects and total count as the country feels charged up for the quadrennial event.
'Aab ki Baar, Sau Paar', which means India would cross the 100 medals mark in Hangzhou, is the slogan being displayed by the official broadcaster of the Asian Games, Sony Network, to grab the attention of viewers. Spectators and Indian sports authorities are also not far behind. They are also creating hype and narratives around it to match the rising expectations. The Indian contingent is determined to surpass the medal tally of 70 from the 2018 Jakarta Asiad.
With India's biggest-ever contingent of 655 athletes participating in the Asian Games in Hangzhou, The Bridge picks up the top ten medal prospects for India.
Neeraj Chopra - Javelin throw
Neeraj Chopra, 25, is the favourite for the gold medal in athletics. He is the defending champion in the Asian Games and will attempt to defend his medal won in Jakarta in 2018. The Indian had won the competition in Indonesia with a tremendous throw of 88.06 meters, taking first place on the podium. This season, in the build-up to the Asian Games, he won the historic World Championships gold medal for India. Neeraj has a personal best of 89.94 metres, and this year, in Doha, he has thrown the longest throw of 88.67m.
Neeraj may face competition from Arshad Nadeem, but the Indian athlete should find it easy, provided the experience he carries on his shoulders. Neeraj’s Indian counterpart Kishore Kumar Jena is a medal contender as well with a personal best throw of 84.77m. Jena finished a creditable fifth in his maiden World Championships last month. He has the third-best throw among Asians this season. If things go well, India could return home with two medals from the men's javelin throw.
Tajinderpal Singh Toor - Men’s Shot Put
The Punjab-born 28-year-old athlete, who won the gold medal four years ago in Jakarta with a throw of 20.75 metres, will enter the event as one of the favourites. As far as individual events go, he is the lone Indian Asian record holder. The one thing about Toor that worries India is his knee injury. He competed at the Asian Championships in July with an injury and won the gold medal. By tossing the iron ball 21.77 meters away while earning gold at the National Inter-State Championships in June, Toor rewrote his own Asian record.
Nikhat Zareen - Women’s Flyweight Boxing
Nikhat Zareen is the current world and Commonwealth champion in the women's 50kg category. She has had an unstoppable run in the flyweight category in the past two years. She has added a couple of Strandja Memorial titles to her two Worlds gold medals. The 27-year-old boxer will make her Asian Games debut in Hangzhou, where she will be the favourite for the gold medal due to the rapid rise she made recently in the international arena. Nikhat will also aim to seal her Paris Olympic quota place by securing the top of the podium finish in the Asian Games.
Murali Sreeshankar - Men’s Long Jump
Sreeshankar will be targeting to redeem himself after his dismal show at the World Championships. Shreeshankar’s personal and season best of 8.41m keeps him in the fourth spot in the world and second among Asians behind fellow Indian Jeswin Aldrin. Chinese Taipei's Asian champion Lin Yu-Tang (SB: 8.40m) and China's Wang Jianan (8.34m) will be his main rivals, besides Aldrin. Jeswin Aldrin and Murali Sreeshankar are Asian dominators, there are high chances India could grab double medals in this event.
Jyothi Yarraji - Women's 100m Hurdles
Jyothi Yarraji, the first-ever Asian champion for India in the 100-metre hurdles, is one of the strongest contenders for the gold medal. With a time of 13.09 seconds, she clinched the gold medal at the Asian Championships in July. Behind Wu Yanni of China, who has the best timing this season, the 24-year-old national record holder (12.76s) is ranked second in Asia. Her personal best indicates that Jyothi has a good chance of winning a gold medal. Her prospects of winning the top spot are further increased by the fact that her competition in the field seems to be minimal.
Aditi Swami - Compound Archery
After winning three gold medals at the World Championships in August, compound archery has reached its peak in India. With Ojas Deotale (men's) and Aditi Swami (women's), the current world champions, India will be in contention for at least two gold medals apart from the men's and women's teams and mixed team events. This year, Aditi has been invincible. In July, the 17-year-old won the Under-18 World Championships. A month later, she repeated the feat at the senior level, becoming the youngest-ever world champion by defeating her "mentor," Surekha Vennam in the semifinals.
Rudrankksh Patil - Men’s 10m Air Rifle
Rudrankksh Patil, the 19-year-old shooter from Thane, Maharashtra, will make his Asian Games debut in Hangzhou. Patil will be among the favourites to win the men's 10m air rifle competition, a feat that no other Indian male shooter has previously achieved in the quadrennial event. At the ISSF World Championships in October last year, he overcame all odds to win the gold medal. Since Abhinav Bindra won the gold medal in the 10m air rifle event in 2006, no India could win the yellow metal for nearly 17 years before Patil broke the deadlock. He also secured India a Paris Olympics quota place for India. Considering his blazing form, Patil will not settle for anything less than a gold medal.
Mehuli Ghosh - Women’s 10m Air Rifle
Mehuli Ghosh, having won bronze and an Olympic berth at the ISSF World Championships in Baku, will lead the women’s 10m Air Rifle team at the Asian Games. She will compete against China's Han Jiyau, a world record holder and gold medallist at the 2023 ISSF World Shooting Championships. The rivalry is expected to be fierce as Ghosh strives to prevail in the challenging competition. When competing in the mixed rifle team event, she teamed up with Aishwary Pratap Singh Tomar, another young world champion.
Satwik Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty - Men's Doubles Badminton
Sat-Chi, as Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty are known among Indian badminton fans, are called the Brothers of Destruction. The world No. 3 Indian pair has been in fantastic shape. They were a part of the Indian team that won its first Thomas Cup trophy in 2022. Prior to winning a historic bronze medal at the World Championships, they also won the gold medal in the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. Before the year 2022 was out, they added one more victory to their resume: they became the first Indian pair to win the French Open Super 750 World Tour title. The pair has won the Asian Championships, the Swiss Open, the Indonesia Open, and the Korea Open this year. At the 2018 Asian Games, Satwik and Chirag lost in the round of 16, but this time, the Indian pair will be expected to go all the way and win the gold medal.
Men's 4x400 relay team
As the eighth-fastest team in the world this season in the men's 4x400m relay, there is a gold medal possibility for India's relay team. At the World Championships in Budapest, Muhammed Anas, Amoj Jacob, Ajmal Variyathodi, and Rajesh Ramesh created history with their breathtaking performance by breaking the Asian mark with an incredible time of 2 minutes and 59.05 seconds, securing the team's first qualification for the final at the Worlds. However, the team's performance of 3:01.80 placed them second at the Asian Championships, trailing only Sri Lanka. The Indian men's 4x400m relay team's two successive sub-3-minute races at the World Championships and their world record-breaking performance in the heats have inspired hope and raised expectations for the gold at the next Hangzhou competition.