103 Indian athletes have qualified for the 2016 Olympic Games to be held at Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. This is the nation’s highest ever, beating the previous peak of 83 at the 2012 Olympics. This itself is an amazing achievement; but looking at the athletes who have made it inspires even more pride.
We have compiled a list of 10 who we feel you must watch out for. Scrolling down the list, you will notice how the indomitable Indian women are leading India’s growing Olympic presence. Big reasons for the surge in numbers have been athletics - where India is sending 12 competitors, and the qualification of the women's hockey team. We would encourage you to follow all of the 100 Indians at Rio; and give our athletes the support they deserve!
The first Indian woman since the legendary PT Usha to qualify for the Women’s 100 metres has also broken barriers of acceptance in athletics. Dutee Chand was born with hyperandrogenism, a condition caused by high testosterone levels, and failed the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) “gender test”. Beyond the trauma that this sprinter from Odisha had to face being classified as man rather than woman; she was also not allowed to compete in the Commonwealth and Asian Games. But she fought and overcame this discriminatory policy to become only the second Indian ever to have qualified for the 100 metres event at the Olympics, after a gap of 36 years. Read More: India's Dutee Chand qualifies for Rio Olympics 100m after gender ruling
One of the most talked-about Indian athletes this Olympics, this army officer will compete in the 50 metres air pistol event in Rio. After a string of impressive results in the past two years – including a gold in both the Asian and Commonwealth Games – Jitu Rai stunned the world in March by winning at the Shooting World Cup, despite being ranked fifth in the world. He is now a favourite to win, and is ranked no. 2. The pistol shooter will also participate in the 10m air pistol event, in which he clinched the silver medal at the ISSF Shooting World Cup. Read More: “My goal is the Olympic title” says India’s Jitu Rai in Bangkok, taking 50m Pistol Men Gold
This freestyle wrestler is a well-known face to a lot of Indians after he won gold at both the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games in the 65kg weight category, and landed an impressive Bronze in London 2012! He has been a source of inspiration time and again; losing his father just before the 2006 Asian Games, but forging on and winning the bronze; and overcoming a career-threatening knee injury to win at the Delhi Commonwealth Games. Read More: Wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt bags Rio Olympics quota in 65kg category
Another increasingly famous athlete is discus thrower Vikas Gowda, who also won gold at both the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games. The national record holder finished eight at the London Olympics; this time he will be targeting a medal. He is currently placed at the fifth position in the IAAF world ranking, facing tough competition from Polish throwers. Read More: Know your Indian Olympian: Vikas Gowda- India's ace discus thrower
The first Indian gymnast at the Olympics since 1964 has caused all sorts of upheavals in the world of artistic gymnastics. Her signature move, the Produnova, is one of the most difficult vaults in artistic gymnastics, and is looked down upon by purists mainly because of the risk of injury it poses. But this fearless firebrand has executed the difficult routine again and again to bring India back into a sport dominated by China and Russia. Read More: Dipa Karmakar’s Produnova – A degree in Difficulty
They have an extremely tough group, but some commenters have pegged them to make it to the quarters. Despite being an excellent team – who won at the 2002 Commonwealth Games, and have been winning medals since – for the first time since the women’s hockey was introduced in 1980, India has qualified for the Olympics. And let’s not forget the Men’s Hockey Team either, who are currently ranked fifth in the world and have a serious medal chance. Read More: Hockey India to award Rs one lakh to women’s team for Rio Olympic qualification
The trio of Deepika Kumari, Bombayla Devi Lashram and Laxmirani Majhi is currently one of the most formidable teams in the world of archery. Deepika, former world no. 1, has consistently won medals at the Archery World Cup and was part of the team that won at the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Bambayla and Laxmirani are also experienced and highly ranked archers, who have performed well at the World Cup, and the three have competed together in the archery team event. Deepika is also a Padma Shree awardee. Team India is ranked fourth in the World Archery ranking. Read More: Indian Women's Archery Team for Rio Olympics Announced
The so-called “first family” of Indian women’s wrestling is responsible for another jump for Indian Olympics. In 2012, Geeta Phogat became the first Indian woman wrestler to qualify for the Olympics. This year, her sisters ‑ Babita and Vinesh ‑ have helped raised the number to 3, the maximum berths allowed. Babita and Geeta are the daughters of Olympian Mahavir Singh Phogat (Vinesh is his niece), and the story of how he trained them to become wrestler’s is chronicled in Aamir Khan’s Dangal, coming out later this year. Not forgetting Commonwealth silver medalist Sakshi Malik (pictured here), this is another female powerhouse trio who are expected to bring home medals. Read More: Hoping for two medals in Rio: Indian women wrestling coach Kuldeep Singh
Veteran rifle shooter and three-time Olympian Gagan Narang will be competing in three events this time. He won Bronze at the London Olympics in 10 metre air rifle event; and is aiming even higher this time. The entire Indian shooting contingent is to look out for, in fact, and the men’s squad has reached the maximum allowance. Mairaj Ahmad Khan and Manvjit Singh Sandhu are two names worth remembering. Read More: Gagan Narang
The national record holder in the 3,000 metres steeplechase is another one to watch out for. She competed at the London Olympics, and has won gold in Asian Games. But she only broke the record in May – until when it was held by Lalita Babar, who was also named Sports Person of the Year last year, and won silver in the same event at the 2014 Asian Games. They have formed each other’s only competition in scaling dizzying new heights in Indian long distance running, and together faced down their coach Nikolai Snerasov – who wanted the pair to run in the marathon and not the steeplechase. They prevailed, and proved themselves by qualifying for the Olympics. Read More: Marathon girl Sudha Singh ‘chases’ down Rio 2016 Olympics spot
This list is in no way exhaustive, and in fact just our suggestions for 10 who we thought stand out. However, it misses a number of fantastic athletes – some of whom are likely to win medals.
Narsingh Pancham Yadav was chosen over fan-favourite Sushil Kumar for the 74kg freestyle wrestling event, and is predicted to achieve a podium finish. Inderjeet Singh is another experienced athlete expected to shine in the shotput event. And of course India has chances with the racquet: from Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu, Jwala Gutta and K Srikanth in Badminton to Sania Mirza and Leander Paes in Tennis – a few medals are likely. However, boxing is one sport that has taken a hit – with Mary Kom heartbreakingly missing out on what would have been her final Olympics – India is sending few contenders for a sport it has been doing well in the past few years.
National icon Abhinav Bindra, the only Indian to have won a gold at the Olympics apart from the Men’s Hockey team, is also competing; and will be the nation’s flagbearer. Out of the six medalists at London 2012, only half will be back this time.
With inputs from Aaryan Sharma