India has participated in the Olympics since 1900, but never has it been represented at the Games in numbers as massive as this year.
With 121 athletes, including 54 women, heading to Rio de Janeiro, optimism about their chances at the Games abounds.
While there are some who have been there and done it all previously, there are many who have qualified from across 15 disciplines and are making their Olympic debuts.
With the Games just started, let me introduce the athletes who can leave an impression on their maiden appearance.
The 27 year old from Satara, Sportsperson of the Year at the FICCI-sports ministry’s ‘India Sports Awards 2015’, is one to look out for in the 3,000 metres steeplechase in her first Olympic Games. A current national record holder, Lalita qualified for the Rio Games following her gold medal at the Asian Championships in Wuhan last year.
Sounding cheerful over the phone, Lalita, who is training at a preparatory camp in Bengaluru, told her sights are set on a medal.
In April, Dipa Karmakar made history by becoming the first Indian woman gymnast to qualify for the Olympics.
The 22-year-old from Tripura garnered a total score of 52.698 points in the Olympic qualifying event in Rio and became the first Indian gymnast to qualify in 52 years.
Dipa’s qualification followed a string of impressive performances: She created history by becoming the first Indian woman gymnast to win a medal — a bronze — at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and then became the first Indian woman gymnast to feature in the World Championships finals last November.
Having shown great promise over the last two years, a lot of expectations rest on her young shoulders.
When the chips were down, she fought on. Unwilling to stay resigned to her fate, 20-year-old Dutee Chand beat humiliation head on to qualify for the Rio Games.
The Odisha girl was banned by the International Association of Athletics Federations for high testosterone levels — her levels were deemed higher than the limit for women sports persons.
She was also dropped from India’s 2014 Commonwealth Games contingent at the last minute after the Athletics Federation of India said that a medical condition known as hyperandrogenism (excess androgen in the body) made her ineligible to compete as a female athlete.
Last July, the Court of Arbitration for Sport cleared the sprinter by suspending the ‘hyperandrogenism’ rule.
By the time she was allowed to compete, Dutee was racing against time to book a berth for the 2016 Olympics.
At a qualifying event — the G Kosanov Memorial Meet — in Almaty, Kazakhstan, she made it, clocking 11.24 seconds in the 100 metres to win gold. The effort was also a national record.
This is first time since 1980 — when P T Usha ran the sprints — that an Indian woman will figure in the 100 metres event at the Olympics.
A seven-time winner on the Asian Tour, Anirban Lahiri is an Asian star on the greens.
The reigning Asia No 1 (world rank 62) made the cut for the Olympics after placing 20th on the International Golf Rankings released last week — ranking being the criterion for Olympic qualification. A winner of seven international titles, Lahiri enjoyed an exceptional season in 2015 with two wins on the European Tour and a phenomenal tied fifth finish at the PGA Championship, the best result for an Indian at a Major.
Last year, he made history by becoming the first Indian to be a part of the International Team at the Presidents Cup.
He was part of India’s team that won the silver medal at the 2006 Asian Games.
Hopes of another medal, of a brighter yellow hue, can be expected from the swinging sensation.
Kidambi Srikanth stunned World No 1 Lin Dan at the China Open in 2014. He has subsequently made a mark as an ever improving paddler over the last couple of years.
Taking home the Syed Modi Grand Prix title at the beginning of this year and then winning a gold medal at the South Asian Games only increased his confidence.
A semi-final berth at the Australian Open last month saw his ranking rise two places to No 11, with 52,086 points.
At Rio, much will depend on his luck with the draw and how he manages the butterfly-in-the-tummy moments.
Jitu Rai has qualified for the 10m Air Pistol and 50m Pistol events. 2014 was his breakthrough year; he won medals at the World Cup, World Championships, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games. He was also crowned World No 1 that year.
Since then he has continued in the same vein, winning the gold medal at the International Shooting Sport Federation World Cup in March.
Last month, India’s Pistol King pipped three-time Olympic champion Jongoh Jin of Korea to clinch the silver medal at the ISSF Shooting World Cup, his second World Cup medal this year.
Going by his hot streak of form, a medal at the Olympics seems within Jitu’s reach.
Let us all cheer for all the Athletes who are participating in #RIO2016