Woman steeplechaser Lalita Babar carries the fervent hopes of the sports fans to finally open India’s medal tally on day 10 of the Rio Olympics in Rio de Janeiro on Monday.
It has been a disastrous outing, barring a few notable exceptions like pint-sized gymnast Dipa Karmakar, for the 100-plus Indian contingent which is now looking up to the Maharashtra woman Lalita to find the elusive medal and create history as the first from the country to climb the podium in athletics.
Be that as it may, it’s not going to be an easy task to achieve for the girl from a village in Satara, who clipped nearly seven seconds off compatriot Sudha Singh’s national mark when qualifying for the final here through the heats.
Lalita’s feat, the first time that a track athlete from the country has made it to the final in 32 years, has been among the very few bright spots for India in the Games which has seen most of its competitors falling way short of expectations.
Also due to step into the athletics arena on Monday are Renjith Maheshwary (men’s triple jump), Srabani Nanda (women’s 200m) and Seema Punia (women’s discus).
Wrestlers start their action in the Greco Roman style with Ravinder Khatri taking part in the 85 kg while lone surviving boxing hope, Vikas Krishan, will strive to progress to the semi finals and a sure medal in the men’s 75 kg class.
Day nine ended with diminutive gymnast Dipa missing the vault bronze medal by a whisker despite putting on a brave performance in her first Olympic final that saw her finish fourth.
The girl from the north eastern state of Tripura, who has not had the sort of help most other Indians had received in the run-up to the Games, ended up just outside the medal bracket with 15.066 points after putting on a superb display in the eight-woman vault final.
It came as the final redeeming act on a day of unmitigated disaster when shuttler Saina Nehwal, the men’s hockey team and tennis pair of Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna crashed out.
Dipa’s superb show in a sport that is not popular in the country lit up the gloomy day which started with the the exit of London Games bronze medal winner Saina.
Saina, who was carrying a knee injury into the quadrennial sports spectacle, lost 18-21 19-21 to lower ranked rival Maria Ulitina from Ukraine to make a shock exit.
Two other shuttlers, K Srikanth and P V Sindhu, atoned somewhat for Saina’s exit by reaching the pre-quarterfinals from their respective groups in men’s and women’s singles.
Both would be seen in action later on Monday.
But more disappointment was in store for the contingent when mixed doubles medal hopes — Bopanna and Sania — lost in the bronze medal play-off in straight sets to the Czech pair of Radek Stepanek and Lucie Hradceka.
To add insult to injury, the men’s hockey squad, which had qualified for the knock-out phase after 36 years, was bundled out of the competition by Belgium which inflicted a 3-1 defeat.
The shooters continued to misfire as rifle shooters Gagan Narang and Chain Singh failed to make the final of the 50m 3-position event, finishing a lowly 23rd and 33rd respectively, to end the country’s dismal campaign.
Women marathoners O P Jaisha and Kavita Raut were also out of depth and finished way behind in 89th and 120th spots clocking unimpressive time of 2 hours, 47 minutes, 19 seconds and 2:59:29 respectively.
Boxer Manoj Kumar lost 0-3 to Uzbek rival Fazliddin Gaibnazarov in the light welter (64kg) pre-quarterfinal bout.
Also performing poorly were the golf duo of SSP Chawrasia and Anirban Lahiri who finished way down the pecking order in the tied 50th and tied 57th respectively.
Lahiri carded one-over 72 in the fourth and last round yesterday to finish at 10-over 294 while Chawrasia carded seven-over 78 to finish at a total of five-over 289.