These are the Nepali athletes to watch at the South Asian GamesWith Nepal hosting the regional sporting extravaganza, these national athletes are expected to make the most of home advantage.
Indra Bahadur Shrestha | Judo
The 20-year-old started judo at the age of 10 at the Prisoners Assistance Mission, an organisation that takes care of prisoners and their children. Shrestha, who recently returned after three-week training in Japan, will be competing at Under-66kg in the men’s category. He was the bronze medalist at the previous edition of the Games in India in 2016. Hopes are pinned high on him as he claimed a gold medal in the South Asian Judo Championship in 2018 in Kathmandu.
Prerana Koirala | Tennis
Prerana Koirala has not lost a single domestic tournament since May last year. The 16-year-old has recently returned after six-month training from Alexander Waske Tennis University in Ahmedabad, India. Though India and Pakistan are strong sides in the game, hopes are pinned on Koirala to break medal drought on the South Asian Games. “We are very much hopeful that the international medal duck will end in the Games,” said coach Surya Bhusan Bajracharya.
Kamal Bahadur Adhikari | Weightlifting
When it comes to weightlifting, Adhikari has reached heights no Nepali has yet. The 42-year-old lifter, who won the country’s first and only weightlifting gold at the 2006 South Asian Games in Colombo, is set to contest at the 73kg category, likely to be his last international participation. A dominant figure in Nepali men’s weightlifting, Adhikari has won bronze medals in the Asian Inter-club Weightlifting Championships and the Asian Cup Weightlifting Championships, both of which were held in South Korea in 2017. A year later, Adhikari claimed two bronze medals in the third Fajr Cup in Iran, where Nepal finished second in the 12-nation competition.
Nabita Shrestha | Table Tennis
Bold on and off the table tennis board, Shrestha is the eight-time national table tennis champion whose list of accolades is unparalleled in the sport’s history in the country. Shrestha is set to contest at the singles, doubles, mixed doubles and team event categories at the Games. She will be teaming up with Elina Maharjan in doubles and Santoo Shrestha in mixed doubles categories. Shrestha identifies India as the strongest side but is determined to play at her best to do the nation proud.
Manita Shrestha Pradhan | Judo
Shrestha Pradhan became the first Nepali woman judoka to win a bout in the Asian Judo Championships in Hong Kong two years ago. Nepal head-coach Birendra Ranjit identifies her as the top contender for gold at the Games. “Her level of dedication during the training sessions in Nepal and abroad has filled us with aspirations of the top podium finish. Now that she has adequate experience at the international stage as well, we are certain that she will make us proud,” he said. She will contest at Under-57kg in the women’s category at the Games.
Gaurika Singh | Swimming
The youngest athlete at the Rio Olympics, 2016, Gaurika Singh had won three bronze and one silver medal at the 12th edition of the regional sporting spectacle in Guwahati. Singh, who stole the limelight by winning 12 gold medals at the 8th National Games earlier this year while setting six national records, is all set to feature at 12 events at the SAG. “We expect Singh to win more medals this time as the Games is being held at home. We are hopeful of gold medals from her,” said Shankar Karki, Nepal head-coach.
Bir Bahadur Mahara | Taekwondo
Having marginally missed out on a gold medal at the 12th regional event, Mahara has left no stone unturned to better his achievement at home. Mahara will be competing at the Under-68kg category at the Games. Nepal coach Deepak Bista identifies Mahara’s attacking prowess as his strength and says he can come on top if he focuses on his blocking.
Rajib Pudasaini | Karate
Pudasaini has won three consecutive gold medals at the South Asian Karate Championships since 2016. He will be vying in the men’s 60kg division. His gold medal haul in the South Asian Championships last month in Dhaka has added to his confidence ahead Games. “He is tall and hardworking player. His ability at kick sets him apart from the rest of the players. We are very much hopeful of winning gold from him,” said karate coach Kushal Shrestha.
Prince Dahal | Badminton
16-year-old Dahal is one of the brightest prospects in Nepali badminton. He is competing in the men’s doubles pairing with Praful Maharjan, and in the team event. The left-hander so far has won almost all the national-level age-group tournaments while also being a thorn in the eyes of many senior national players in the open category. National team coach Sudip Yonjan sees him as Nepal's No. 1 in future.
Juni Rai | Wushu
Rai is out to erase the painful memory of the 12th South Asian Games in 2016, when she lost the sanshou title bout to an Indian opponent. Rai will compete in the 56kg division when Nepal hosts the sub-continent sports meet. “As the 56kg category was not included in the last Games, I had to compete above my division,” said the athlete from Ilam. “I am working really hard to finally realise my dream. I have also now matured as a player than what I was in 2016.”
Sukra Bahadur Rai | Golf
Rai became only the third golfer to clinch the pro title as an amateur when he lifted the Surya Nepal Eastern Open in December last year. Rai also won the 28th Bhutan Open Amateur Golf Championship held in Thimphu in October. He is set to participate at the individual and team events at the Games. As Rai knows the courses in the city well, golf officials expect him to reap the benefits of the home advantage at the Games.
Sushmita Nepal | Shooting
18-year-old Nepal got into shooting only three years ago. Despite her young age and relatively little experience, she has gone on to become one of the brightest prospects in the sport. She has represented Nepal at multiple international tournaments, including the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia. Gold winner at the Eighth National Games in Nepalgunj, Nepal is contesting at the 10-metre air rifle at the regional sporting extravaganza. Nepal holds a national record to her name as she had bettered the previous mark set by Sneha Rajya Laxmi Rana during the event in Nepalgunj.
Anu Adhikari | Karate
Adhikari is among one of the most experienced players in the national squad. The silver medalists of the 2010 Games in Dhaka has been in the national squad for the last 10 years. She lost in the bronze medal clash in the Asian Games in Indonesia last year. But coach Kushal Shrestha is hopeful of a tough show from Adhikari in the Games. “She is good at punches and counter punches and her fitness level is better than others,” said Shrestha.