The 2018 edition of Asian Games will begin on August 18 in Jakarta, Indonesia. The 524-member Indian contingent is looking to beat the 57-medal tally it earned in the 2014 Incheon edition. Among the 524-member contingent, there will be 277 men and 247 women competing across 36 disciplines.
In recent years, India’s women athletes have made most of the headlines. For example, in the latest edition of the Commonwealth Games, out of 26 medals that India won, its women won a whopping 20. Evidently, they’ll be hoping to make a more significant mark in the forthcoming Asian Games.
Kamaljeet Sandhu, the quarter-miler from Punjab, was the first Indian female athlete to win a gold medal at the Asian Games in Bangkok during the 1970 edition. Other prominent Indian women athletes like PT Usha (four gold medals in 1986), Jyotirmoyee Sikdar (two gold medals in 1998) and Anju Bobby George (2002) have made the country proud in past editions.
Expectations are high, but here are six women who we feel have the potential of winning gold:
1) Vinesh Phogat: Less famous than her cousins—Babita and Geeta—this pocket dynamo of a wrestler will be looking to better the bronze medal she won in the women’s freestyle 48 kg category during the 2014 Incheon edition.
After a bout of poor form and a serious knee injury, she came back with a vengeance during this year’s Commonwealth Games winning the gold in women’s 50 kg freestyle wrestling event. Of course, it’s impossible to count out Olympic bronze medallist Sakshi Malik, but her unimpressive performance in the recent Commonwealth Games have raised a few doubts.
2) Mirabai Chanu: This extraordinary wrestler from Manipur Earlier broke the women’s 48 kg category Commonwealth Games record by lifting 196 kg in total. During her record-breaking spree, she lifted 86 kg in snatch and 110 kg in the clean and jerk. Chanu also won India its first gold since 1995 at the Weightlifting World Championships. The diminutive 4’11, 106 lb athlete picked up the honour thanks to an impressive 194 kg lift in the women’s 48 kg, a new national record.
3) Mary Kom: India’s most famous boxer, the mother of three children and Rajya Sabha MP is in no mood to hang up her gloves yet. She will look to repeat her gold-medal winning performance in the 2014 Incheon edition. Four years ago, she won the gold in the 51 kg category, but this time she may compete in the 45-48 g category.
Magnificent Mary goes into the Asian Games in fine form after winning the gold in this year’s Commonwealth Games (45-48 kg category). She is a five-time World Amateur Boxing champion, and the only woman boxer to have won a medal in each one of the six world championships. There is absolutely no reason to doubt her.
4) Hima Das: The 18-year-old daughter of a rice farmer in Assam created athletics history earlier this year in the Athletics Junior World Championships. Nearly 18 months after she participated in her first ever competitive inter-district meet in Sivasagar, Assam she became the first Indian woman to win gold at the 400 metre final Athletics Junior World Championships with a stunning time of 51:46 seconds.
To put this feat into context, in the 2014 Asian Games 400 metres women’s event, gold medallist Kemi Adekoya from Bahrain clocked 51.59 seconds. Expectations are sky-high for this athlete, who has endured a phenomenal rise to the top.
5) Manu Bhaker: The 16-year-old from Jhajjar in Haryana is already a major contender in the world shooting scene. In this year’s International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) World Cup, she won two gold medals (10 metre Air Pistol and 10 metre Air Pistol mixed team event), becoming the youngest ever Indian to claim the top spot. Things got better in the Commonwealth Games, where she secured the gold medal with setting a new Games record of 240.9 points.
According to this analysis by SportsKeeda, if her scores were adjusted to the 20 shots per competitor format instead of the 24 in CWG, her actual score of 201.7 would have landed her a silver in the 2014 Asian Games and a gold medal in the Rio Olympics. Little surprise that the expectations are high for the 16-year-old.
6) Saina Nehwal: It was a toss-up between her and ace shuttler PV Sindhu, but we went for the former taking into consideration recent events. The shuttler from Hisar, Haryana, has the edge after defeating Sindhu in the 2018 Commonwealth Games women’s singles final.
Regarding current world rankings, Sindhu (World number 2) stands at a good 10 places higher than Nehwal (World number 12), but her experience and better tactical nous helped her win the CWG final in straight sets (21-18, 23-21). It’s too close to call between the two, and either could win gold, but for the purposes of this list, we will go with Saina Nehwal.
An important criterion we set in this list was that there wouldn’t be more than one athlete per event. Thus, the likes PV Sindhu or Sakshi Malik have not been mentioned, even though they could easily win gold.
You may have another list of six women athletes or more who could win the gold in this year’s Asian Games and are more than welcome to post it in the comments below.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)