It is time. It's time to finally put all the negativity in the run up to the XIX Commonwealth Games behind us and look forward to 11 days of a sporting extravaganza. It's time to shift our focus from the misadventures and goof-ups of the Organising Committee and various branches of the government to the athletes who form the very core of a sport's meet. And above all, it's time to look beyond Incredible India's Atithi Devo Bhava (Treat a guest like God) slogan and turn on the heat in the sporting arena.The Commonwealth Games, which kicked off with a grand opening ceremony on Sunday, are not only an opportunity to showcase India's economic and social progress but also announce the arrival of the hosts as an emerging sporting nation.
And for a cricket crazy nation that has fielded a record 621-member contingent at these Games, a 100 medals and a second place finish overall, can be a realistic target once the actual Games begin from Monday.
India though, are unlikely to make waves in two core events - aquatics and athletics - despite the large number of withdrawals from international stars. For that, we need to wait for another Games and, possibly, another decade. But they can more than make up the numbers in shooting, which will offer 36 gold medals, wrestling (21 gold), weightlifting (17 gold) and boxing (10 gold).
Chef de Mission Bhubneshwar Kalita expressed the same sentiment during the team's official press conference after the welcome ceremony saying, "We are fielding the largest contingent. We are aiming to finish second but we definitely don't want to finish below third."
India had finished fourth in the last two editions, behind Australia, England and Canada. Though the gap between the third and fourth teams was considerable in 2006, India lost out on the third spot in 2002 by just one gold medal, though their overall medals tally of 69 was far behind Canada's 118.However, that gold medal tally of 30 was by far the country's best performance in the Games so far and it would be interesting to see whether they can surpass that and create a new record.
The signs are promising. Since the 2006 Melbourne Games, India has made considerable progress in boxing and badminton. While the boxers are already hoping for at least three gold medals as against one in the last edition, the shuttlers are targeting two gold and the hope that the gold medal drought of 28 years will just be a distant memory.
The addition of non-core events like archery (with eight gold at stake), tennis (five) and wrestling (15 gold) could help swell India's tally.
Even England's Chef de Mission Craig Hunter admitted that India could challenge them for the number two spot. "Clearly India will be a real force to be reckoned with because of the nature of the events in the games. There are some events that the host nation has included," he told reporters when asked which country, apart from Australia, did England believe was their main competitor.
The sports ministry and various national federations have spent over two years and a lot of money to prepare athletes for these Games. For the athletes themselves, this is a chance to shine at home, in front of an expectant nation, and move these Games from being a blot on the image of "new India" to an event that inspired the world. It is time.