Yet another edition of the Asian Games, being held in Hangzhou this time, is nearly upon us. India will aim to bring home a rich haul of medals from the marquee event, where China generally rules the roost.
Given the variation in the standards of sporting disciplines across geographies, it is natural to view medals in different disciplines differently.
An Indian gold in shot put, for instance, should not surprise anybody as Tajinderpal Singh Toor is the hot favourite there. A gold medal in weightlifting or badminton, however, would be praiseworthy given Asia’s strength in those sports.
Here are eight Indian gold medal contenders beyond disciplines with weaker fields, and beyond Neeraj Chopra and cricket – where India have a legacy edge.
Jyothi Yarraji (Women’s 100m hurdles)
Jyothi is India’s first and only Asian champion in women’s 100m hurdles, and also the country’s first and only woman to have run a sub-13 second race – a feat she has achieved seven times already this year.
The 24-year-old is ranked second in Asia this season with a best of 12.78s, just 0.02s behind Yanni Wu of China. Jyothi’s consistency this season and drive to keep bettering her mark could lead her to a memorable gold in her maiden Asiad appearance.
Mirabai Chanu (Women’s 49 kg weightlifting)
Mirabai is a bonafide superstar in contemporary weightlifting. The Olympic silver medallist and two-time Commonwealth Games champion is a frontrunner in the women’s 49kg category wherever she goes, but things have changed a bit in the recent past.
As many as seven athletes have crossed the coveted 90kg mark in snatch so far, but the 29-year-old from Manipur is yet to get there. Her strength, though, is the clean and jerk, where she will be looking to maximize her total.
Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty (Men’s doubles badminton)
The World No. 3 pair has been in red-hot form in the past 12 months. The attack-minded duo has followed up its CWG triumph and World Championships bronze last year with four titles this year, defeating higher-ranked opponents with impunity along the way.
The competition at Asian Games is as tough as it gets in their category, and the World No. 1 Indonesian pairing of Fajar Alfian and Muhammad Rian Ardianto is just one of many tough nuts to crack. The good news is that Satwik-Chirag have had recent success against all of them, including three back-to-back wins against the top seeds.
Mehuli Ghosh (10m air rifle shooting)
The 22-year-old from West Bengal has a Youth Olympics silver medal, a CWG silver and four ISSF World Cup medals to her name. She most recently won bronze at the World Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan, which sealed her berth at the 2024 Paris Olympics.
Mehuli will have the world champion and top-ranked Han Jiayu of China to contend with in her category, making it a seemingly tall order. But her composure and ability to remain unruffled by pressure could see Mehuli spring a surprise.
Nikhat Zareen (Women’s 51kg boxing)
Nikhat has risen to supremacy in the past two years in the flyweight category, successfully defending her World Championships title in New Delhi this year.
The fact that she has also added two Strandja Memorial titles and a CWG gold to her collection underlines her global dominance. She would love to annex an Asian Games gold too, not only to be crowned the de facto continental champion, but also book her spot in the Paris Olympics.
Ojas Pravin Deotale, Abhishek Verma and Prathamesh Samadhan Jawkar: Archery (Compound archery men’s team)
Though the format doesn’t figure in the Olympics, compound archery has been a happy hunting ground for India of late, resulting in medals and world champions galore.
In addition to senior pros like Asiad gold medallist Abhishek, youngsters like Ojas and Prathamesh have emerged to bring laurels to the country at the world stage. Chinese Taipei and the ever-formidable Korea will be the biggest threats to them, but given the Indians’ recent form, expecting a first-place finish won’t be entirely fanciful.
Women's hockey team
Ranked seventh in the world, the Indian women are currently the highest billed in Asia, but not by much. Japan, China and Korea follow at the 10th, 11th and 12th positions, respectively, making the competition stiffer for them than their male counterparts.
Nevertheless, the Savita Punia led and Janneke Schopmann-mentored side will fancy their chances to go one better than the silver they secured in Jakarta, and confirm their third consecutive Olympics appearance in the process.
Vidit Gujrathi, Arjun Erigaisi, R Praggnanandhaa, D Gukesh and Pentala Harikrishna (men’s chess team)
Chess returns to the Asian Games after a 13-year-long absence. But with performances from Indian athletes at an all-time high, the timing couldn’t be better for them.
The young brigade of Gukesh, Praggnanandhaa and Arjun are the flavour of the country with their awe-inspiring displays against the titans of the game, and the global chess fraternity too is sitting up to take notice. India’s own legend Viswanathan Anand has said that he could not have asked for a “better team than what we have”, which augurs well for the group.
Barring upsets, standing in the way of the Indian men and gold will be China, led by reigning world champion Ding Liren, and if recent encounters are anything to go by, the match-up promises to be a cracking contest.