Defending champions Maharashtra and runners-up Haryana will be locked in a keen tussle as the third edition of the Khelo India Youth Games begins at the Sarusarai Sports Complex here on Friday.
Maharashtra, who had cornered a grand total of 228 medals in the last edition, have fielded a 579-strong contingent and are expected to be rolling in medals this year too.
They will, however, be wary of Haryana, who have with come with a bigger, stronger team and are eager to topple them.
Haryana, the champions of the inaugural edition, boast of 682 athletes and are confident of giving Maharashtra and the other 34 States and Union Territories a run for their money.
Delhi, Number 3 in both the earlier Games, will also be keen to move up the ladder once the action gets underway.
With more than 6,500 athletes in 20 disciplines, including cycling and lawn bowls which are debuting in Khelo India, this will be the biggest talent search event in India, outnumbering the 5,925 in Pune last year.
The onset of more talent in the U-17 and U-21 age groups and the presence of scores of defending champions promises to make this edition more memorable.
With Asian Games 400m silver medallist Hima Das set to be the final torch-bearer at the opening ceremony but not competing on her home track, Jharkhand recurve archer Komolika Bari is among the biggest names competing here.
The World recurve cadet girls champion will seek to add the U-21 crown here to the U-17 gold she won in Pune last year.
Punjab’s Sangampreet Bisla, who was part of the Indian compound archery team that won the junior men’s team bronze at the World Youth Championships, is confident of retaining the title he won in Pune and is aware that he has to contend with his India team-mates Sukhbeer Singh (Punjab) and Sanjay Phadtare (Maharashtra).
India’s backstroke star Srihari Nataraj (Karnataka) will headline the swimming competition where other top-notch names like Kushagra Rawat (Delhi), Maana Patel (Gujarat) and Kenisha Gupta (Maharashtra) will ensure that the quality of performance will be on the higher side.
Karnataka are hoping that the sizable swimming squad will lead their charge to be among the top three this time.
Kerala have made their intentions clear by entering leading lights Jisna Mathew (girls Under-21 400m) and M Sreesankar (boys Under-21) long jump.
Gujarat’s Ajeet Kumar Yadav (1500m and 5000m), Karnataka sprinters VA Shashikant and AT Daneshwari as well as high jumper N Pavana and Uttar Pradesh’s Shaili Singh are among those who can deliver eye-catching performances.
There will be quite a buzz in the shooting ranges too where legend Jaspal Rana’s daughter Devanshi Rana (Delhi), who is the defending girls U-21 25m-pistol champion, the hearing-impaired Dhanush Srikant (Telangana) and skeet shooter Gurnihal Singh Garcha (Punjab) are among the top draws.
Haryana, who relied in boxing and wrestling to boost their medal haul, have 22 more athletes than the home state which is hoping to breach the top 10 this time around.
Maharashtra (579), Delhi (450), Uttar Pradesh (430), Punjab (390), Tamil Nadu (356) are the other States with more than 300 athletes each.
Dadra and Nagar Haveli have the smallest team of three athletes, a 100m sprinter and two table tennis players representing the Union Territory. Making their Khelo India debut, the Union Territory of Ladakh are the only other team with single-digit representation with two archers and five boxers.