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Superb Saina Nehwal first Indian shuttler in Olympics semis

Olympics Badminton: Superb Saina first Indian shuttler in Olympics semis
By Sarat C Das (IANS)
Thu, Aug 02, 2012 16:36:35 GMT

Superb Saina Nehwal first Indian shuttler in Olympics semis At the launch
The 22-year-old shuttler Saina Nehwal, the fourth seed, warmed the hearts of her fans with a 21-15, 22-20 win over fifth-seed former World No.1 Dane Tine Baun at the Wembley Arena, thus becoming the first Indian to cruise into the Olympics badminton semifinal.

Champion shuttler Saina Nehwal rewrote history by becoming the first Indian to cruise into the Olympics badminton semifinal and bring the country's tottering campaign back the on the rails after medal hopes shooter Ronjan Sodhi and boxer Jai Bhagwan bit the dust at the London Games on Thursday.

However, before Saina took to the court, India's date with the Olympics began with a double heartbreak Thursday as highly-rated double trap marksman Sodhi failed to make the final while pugilist Jai Bhagwan fell by the wayside in the pre-quarterfinals.

With hopes of winning shining metals from the two events dashed, the country's medal count remained stuck at one - courtesy a bronze won by Gagan Narang in the men's 10m air rifle Monday.

World No.5 Saina took only 39 minutes to pack off the 33-year-old veteran Baun, a two time winner of the All England championship, and come closer to a medal.

Saina would now face reigning World Champion and top seed Yihan Wang for a place in the final. The Chinese has a favourable record against the Indian, but Saina's superb form in the competition, where she is yet to lose a game makes one positive about her chances.

And in the event of a loss, Saina would have the chance to feature in the bronze medal play-off and bring the country its first Olympic medal from the sport.

In shooting, the 32-year-old Sodhi, considered a strong medal hope, misfired after a sound start to finish way down at the 11th spot of the qualification contest at the Royal Artillery Barracks.

The two-time World Cup champion had an excellent first round where he was the joint top-scorer with 48. However, he started dropping clays in the second and third rounds where he collected 44 and 42 points, respectively, to make an exit.

The top six shooters qualified for the final round, though defending champion Walton Eller of the US, 2008 silver medallist Francesco D'Aniello and bronze medallist Hu Binyuan also failed to make the cut.

The disappointment at the ranges spilled over to the boxing arena. Jai Bhagwan was outpunched by his Kazakh opponent Gani Zhailauov 8-16, dashing medal hopes from the event.

The Indian led 3-2 in the opening round, but seemed completely off-colour in the second which Zhailauov won by a huge 10-3 margin. Trailing by six points at the end of the second round, Bhagwan tried to put up a fight in the third but the confident Kazakh was ahead 4-2.

Now all eyes in the ring will be on Beijing Games bronze winner Vijender Singh, who takes on diminutive but stout Terrel Gausha of US in a round of 16 clash late Thursday.

On Friday, Indian track and field competitors begin their hunt for an Olympic medal that has eluded them - at times narrowly - since the country's independence, as the showpiece discipline of the quadrennial games gets going Friday.

The Games have also provided an opportunity to the Indian athletes to salvage their reputation that has been badly hit by the recent doping scandal involving six of their compatriots, including three members of the gold winning quarter miler team at the Delhi Commonwealth Games and the Guangzhou Asian Games.

India's sporting authorities have dispatched a big team of 14 athletes - eight men and six women - that is only second to the country's biggest ever track and field contingent of 24 in the 2000 Sidney Games.

Experts are considering the two discus throwers - Vikas Gowda in men and Krishna Poonia in the women's competition - as India's best bet for medals in athletics, where flying Sikh Milkha Singh and ace women's runner P.T. Usha's fourth place finishes have remained the country's best showing so far.

In 1960 Milkha clocked a world record timing but was fourth on the photo finish. In 1984, Usha was behind the bronze winner Romanian Christina Cojocaru by 1/100th of a second.

However, going down the history of Olympics, one finds Norman Pritchard as silver medal winner in the 200 m and 200m hurdles events at the 1900 Olympics in Paris. However, there is a dispute over whether he can be called an Indian participant.
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