Shooters in the frame as India seeks to improve on London Olympic show at Rio

Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Aug.5 : Shooters are aiming to hit the bull's eye on the opening day of competitions as India aspire to improve on its 2012 London Olympic show in the quadrennial sporting extravaganza beginning Saturday.

India had won six medals in the 2012 Olympics, two silver and four bronze medals that became their best-ever show despite the glitter of gold missing from the tally.

Four years on, the Indian contingent has scored a maiden century by sending a squad of 119 athletes to the Olympics, but a few positive dope tests ahead of the departure for Brazil has taken some sheen away.

India are now facing a strenuous test of matching their own show at the last Olympics as young and untested sportspersons comprise a majority of the Indian contingent.

Led by ace marksman Jitu Rai, the 10-metre air pistol shooters will unveil the Indian challenge in both the men and women's events on the first morning of competition following the grand opening ceremony the previous evening.

Rai and Gurpreet Singh in the men's event will be accompanied by Apurvi Chandela and Ayonika Paul in the women's competition representing the aspirations of the nation of 1.2 billion, which has been starved of Olympic success.

Rai's consistent show in world-level competitions makes him India's best hope, while observers will be scrutinizing how well Apurvi can hold her nerves when stepping up on the grand stage.

Shooting medals for India in almost every event he has participated in the past couple of years, Rai is India's favorite medal hope.

The reigning 50-metre air pistol champion in the ISSF World Cup, armyman Jitu will take his first shot at the 10-metre range.

Gorkha Rifles soldier Jitu is aspiring to match the 2008 Olympic golden performance of air rifle shooter Abinav Bindra, who will come into the frame the following day.

Participating in the fifth Olympic Games, Bindra will make a final attempt for the podium finish before he quits competitive shooting.

India's lone non-hockey Olympic gold medalist, Bindra had taken a long break from the sport after the 2014, but has come back chasing his dream of a golden double.

Keeping Bindra company in the air rifle range will be 2012 Olympic bronze medalists Gagan Narang, who has qualified for three events - 10-metre air rifle, 50-metre rifle prone and 50-metre rifle three-positions.

The shorter air rifle event is his favourite event. Narang had to settle for bronze four years ago after watching the silver slip out of his grasp in the last stages.

The multiple medallist from the Commonwealth Games is determined to improve on his past show. Making her Olympic debut, Apurvi faces a challenge to deliver on her first appearance on the big stage as she leads the medal aspiring women's trio that features Heena Sidhu and Ayonika Paul.

Elsewhere on the firing ranges, seasoned trap marksman Manavjit Singh will be looking to overcome the disappointments of the past to shoot a medal this time, while Mairaj Khan is the country's best hope in skeet.

Away from shooting, badminton represents India's best medal hopes with 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Saina Nehwal leading the fray.

Bolstering the Indian challenge in women's singles is 2013 world championship medallist P.V. Sindhu, while Kidambi Srikath will be looking to reproduce his giant-beating show. The spotlight has followed Srikanth for the past two years since he stunned two-time Olympic gold medallist Lin Dan for the China Open title.

India's women archers are out to rewrite the script after the London Olympic debacle, where frayed nerves dashed their hopes.

Returning as a more experienced utfit, the women's recurve team consisting of Deepika Kumari, L. Bombayla Devi and Laxmi Rani Manjhi are rated as tough challengers by the world's leading archers. Deepika represents India's best chance of earning an individual medal. The mixed doubles pair of Rohan Bopanna and Sania Mirza represent India's best hope on the tennis court, while veteran Leander Paes will appear in his seventh Olympic Games for an Indian record that will take decades of effort to match.

Paes will partner Bopanna in the men's doubles, but the reluctance of Bopanna to pair up with 1996 Olympic bronze medal winner Paes has made more news than their joint show on the court.

Eventually, it was a directive from the All India Tennis Association that forced the unlikely pairing.

Having made his Olympic Games debut in 1992 as the under-study to Ramesh Krishnan, the 43-year-old Paes is now a senior journeyman of the global tennis circuit.

Fortunately, there has been no controversy in women's doubles where world's highest-ranked doubles player Mirza teams up with Prashanta Thambare.

London Olympic bronze medallist Yogeshwar Dutt will need to overcome his injured knee that plagued him throughout 2015 to seek a podium finish again in wrestling's 65 kg category, while World Championship medallist Narsingh Yadav will have to quickly make up for the lost momentum following the controversy over his dope test.

Getting a reprieve from the United World Wrestling after being absolved of doping charges, Yadav has gone through a lot of uncertainty to make the trip to Brazil, where he will grapple in the 74 kg event that double Olympic medallist Sushik Kumar wanted to participate in.

A legal tussle had to go in favour of Yadav before he got the nod for the Olympic participation, and then came the instance of his allegedly drug-spiked case.

In women's wrestling, Babita Kumari and Vignesh Phogat will require grit to put up a fine show. The three-man boxing squad of Asian Games gold medalists Vikas Krishan, Shiva Thapa and Manoj Kumar has shown the potential to match the best punchers in the world.

Thapa will get this opportunity as a tough draw pits him against the defending champion in the 56kg division, while seventh-seeded Krishan in 75kg can warm up with some measured punches before moving into a rougher ring.

Hockey remains a sentimental favourite among India's Olympic sport, having won eight of the country's entire haul of nine gold medals.

Once the golden boys, Indian hockey has been through the lows and is now hold promise again. The new format, where eight teams qualify for the knock-out quarterfinals - instead of four into the semifinals - has injected hope into several teams that include India.

The Indian women's hockey team is returning to the Olympics 36 years after their maiden appearance in 1980 at Moscow.

That was the first time women's hockey was played at the Olympics and India missed a medal to finish fourth among six teams.

There has been a lot of excitement around lone Indian gymnast, Dipa Karmakar who got the highest mark among 14 competitors at the Olympic qualifier.

Karmamar's first vault, the difficult Produnova, gave her 15.066 points and paved way for her entry to the Olympic competition.

Athletics is usually the show-stopper at the Olympic Games, but for several past decades the Indian dreams have been shattered through dismal performances at the big moment.

India's biggest-ever contingent - which has grown from 83 at London to 119 here in Rio de Janeiro - faces a formidable task to improve on the six medals won in 2012.

If there were any medals for controversy, India could have been among the front-runners. The controversies reached a climax through a public spat over procuring furniture and television sets at the Olympic Athletes Village.

Source: ANI