The Athletes' Village was abuzz with activity on Friday but if one were looking for Indian faces in the crowd, there was disappointment. Given the hectic pace from Saturday, the Indian players could not be blamed for keeping themselves ensconced in their rooms.
The distances are such that it leaves the athletes, officials, et al, little time to interact with the media -- or may be among themselves. National shooting coach, Sunny Thomas, whose work will start in real earnest on Saturday when the Indian marksmen start their campaign at the Aoti Shooting Centre --- an hour's drive from the Main Press Centre — sounded visibly tired after the drive back to the Village following the practice session.
"This place is so huge that I cannot even negotiate my way out without being escorted," said Thomas. But, he wouldn't want his boys to lose focus when six gold medals come up for grabs in the team and individual categories. It could well be a make-or-break day, and would set the tone for the coming fortnight.
A gold or two would put India in cruise mode and a miss could send them hurtling towards disaster. All eyes would be on the two best rifle exponents in the world — Abhinav Bindra and Gagan Narang — to deliver the first medal. Barring catching a glimpse of them alighting or getting into the team bus, one has hardly seen them interacting with the media.
Perhaps, they are following the Chinese way of keeping everything a closely guarded secret! "Everyone is doing fine. They (the shooters) didn't go for full practice today, keeping in mind the hectic days ahead," said the coach.
Jaspal Rana had set the tone at the 2006 Doha Games, but this time someone else will have to don the mantle. "I am missing Jaspal because he was instrumental in helping India bag three gold at Doha," said Thomas. The desperation could well be the offshoot of the awesome power and clout the Chinese shooters enjoy at the world stage. The Chinese kept themselves away from the prestigious World Cup Finals, which concluded in Munich on October 29, preferring to concentrate on the Asian Games.
But what could be to India's advantage is the fact they have been in the ‘loop’ for the last six months and their sterling performance at the CWG would certainly have bolstered the morale of the contingent.
While Narang, Bindra and Sanjeev Rajput would be gunning for gold in the team event, all three also stand a chance of individual medal(s) when they return for the finals at noon on Saturday. Ditto for the trio of Amanpreet Singh, Omkar Singh and Deepak Sharma, who would be competing for both individual and team medals in 50m pistol.
Suma Shirur would have her eyes set on the 10m air rifle medal (team, individual) along with world champion in 50m prone, Tejaswini Sawant and Kavitha Yadav.
The baize and badminton teams will also kick off their campaigns on Saturday. World champions in billiards and snooker many times over, Pankaj Advani and Geet Sethi, along with the women's 6-red snooker team take on their continental counterparts in what could be their last campaign at the Asiad. All indoor games are expected to be shifted from the 2014 Games to the Asian Indoor Games.
The women’s hockey team, led by Surinder Kaur, would like to put the controversy surrounding their manager, Rupa Saini, to rest, and concentrate on their opener against Malaysia, while the badminton team comprising Arvind Bhat, P. Kashyap and Guru Sai Dutt, among others will lock horns with Taiwan.