Indian shuttlers all geared up for Athens

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src=' ' class='caption'> The Indian badminton contingent would surely have to pull something out of its hat if it intends to do any better than return home with the also ran tag.

Updated: February 25, 2007 10:08 IST
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New Delhi:

The Indian badminton contingent would surely have to pull something out of its hat if it intends to do any better than return home with the "also ran" tag. An 18-month qualification campaign till April 31 this year saw three players Aparna Popat, Abhinn Shyam Gupta and Nikhil Kanetkar make it to the Athens Olympic Games. The best-ever performance by an Indian in badminton, introduced in Olympics 1992, has been a place in the third round by former All England champion Pullela Gopichand at Sydney in 2000. Badminton over the years has been completely dominated by Asian powerhouses China, Korea, Thailand and Indonesia with Denmark providing the only hope to the Europeans. Tough competition This fact was also emphasised in the qualification for the Games as China took the highest number of berths, 13, for any nation followed by Korea and Thailand. The Indians, however, had to be at the mercy of other national associations for two of the three berths since only Popat got a direct entry into the Games when the first list of qualifiers was declared on May 1. Gupta, placed second in the waitlist, received a berth when a couple of players opted out while Kanetkar, who was fifth, received the invitation only when Canada decided not to send its two qualified players for the event. This also means that it will be the biggest Indian contingent after the 1992 Barcelona Games, where Vimal Kumar, Madhumita Bisht and Dipankar Bhattacharya represented the country. Bisht and Bhattacharya made it to the second round then. But in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Bhattacharya and P V V Lakshmi could not even cross the first hurdle. Even Popat, who also represented India in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, had to return disappointed losing in the first round to Kelly Morgan of Wales. Putting the past behind All this will have to be put behind when the trio takes on the world's best at the competition which begins on August 14 at the Goudi Badminton Hall. Going by their past records, they have it in them to register an upset or two which may open the doors for the improbable in the 32-player event. While Popat has maintained her place in the World's top 30, Gupta proved his giant-killing prowess when he defeated former World No. 1 Roslin Hashim of Malaysia at the German Open last year. He went on to win the Mauritius Open defeating compatriot Kanetkar, while the latter emerged triumphant at the Toulouse Open in France to win his first major international title earlier this year. (PTI)

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