Can Tokyo Olympics be our best? Here’s a look at India’s prospects

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The Olympics, the greatest multisport event on earth, is on schedule after it got deferred for a year due to the pandemic. This is good news for every sports lover. The better news is India is likely to sending its biggest contingent ever to Tokyo with expectations to cross the double digit on medal count for the first time in history. The fervor is palpable as the quadrennial summer games is now less than a month to go, with Tokyo throwing open the games village to the media despite protests of its citizens fearing rising number of corona positive cases post as thousands of athletes and officials will congregate for the mega show.

World’s leading entertainment and sports data company Gracenote, based on its statistical model, projected India to grab as many as 17 medals at the 32
nd Olympiad, and finish at the top 20 in medal tally for the first time since Independence! This, if happens, would be by far the greatest show by a country which has merely won 28 medals since her first appearance at the 1900 Paris Olympics. India’s best show so far was in London 2012 when likes of the legendary MC Mary Kom and Saina Nehwal bagged a total of 6 medals including two silvers. By conservative expectations too, a double digit Olympic medals from Tokyo looks probable going by India’s recent performances in the fields of boxing, shooting and wrestling. Let’s keep the finger crossed. For the records, Gracenote had predicted five medals for India at Rio Olympics 2016, while India had to content with just a silver and a bronze.

First Day First Show

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Will it be a dream beginning of the Olympics campaign for India? World number one in Women’s 10m Air Rifle, Elavenil Valarivan, who has been in sublime form this year, will begin the campaign for India in the morning of July 24. Along with her will be veteran Apurvi Chandela, who holds the current world record in the finals. In 10m Air Pistol, teenage sensation Saurabh Chaudhary (world no 2) and world no 1 Abhishek Verma will vie for medals on the first day itself.

The diminutive Mirabai Chanu, who set the world record in clean and jerk as recent as in April with a lift of 119 kg to win the bronze at Asian Weightlifting Championships, is likely to stand tall in 49 kg weight class. China’s Hou Zhihui is the favourite in this event but withdrawal of North Korea is likely to make the road to podium easier for Chanu, who would be looking to erase the shocking Rio memory five years back where she failed to record a valid lift in clean and jerk.

The star archer duo of Deepika Kumari and Atanu Das, who tied the knot in 2020 amid the pandemic, will be the first couple to represent the country in the Olympics and are capable of making it to the podium, if they hold their nerves. The mixed team event is also on the first day after the inaugural ceremony on July 23. It will be Kumari’s third successive Olympics and the second for Das.

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Shooting

Shooting has emerged as India’s strongest suit with the country winning as many as 43 gold, 21 silver and 17 bronze medals at the ISSF World Cups since 2017. India is sending a record 15 shooters to Tokyo while 11 will make their Olympics debut. India’s young guns have shown a lot promise. Divyansh Singh Panwar and Yashaswini Singh Deswal, the top shooters in terms of ranking in the respective 10m Air Pistol and 10m Air Rifle events will be looking to make their Olympic debut most memorable by finishing off with medal. They have the ability to do so, for sure, if recent performance is anything to go by. Teenager Manu Bhaker, who has had a formidable run ever since she made it to the senior level, will be gunning for glory in as many as three events. The introduction of the mixed team events in 10m Rifle and Pistol will be an added advantage for India with two Indian teams will be participating in each of the mixed events. In skeet, Angad Vir Singh Bajwa holds the world record of 60/60 in the finals, but India’s success is limited in this event on big platforms. But, there is always a first, as they say. Gracenote projected India’s shooting contingent to grab eight medals but in a precision sport like what is it, anything can happen on the D-day.

Can Boxers Punch Above their Weight?

A nine-member boxing contingent is the strongest team India has ever had in Olympics. India’s best medal prospect in boxing, Amit Panghal is ranked number one in men’s 52 kg in the latest AIBA world rankings. The World Championships silver medalist will face a stiff challenge from Rio Olympic winner and world champion Shakhobidin Zoirov of Uzbekistan. Panghal lost two finals against Zoirov – the world championship final in 2019 and Asian Boxing Championship in 2021 and would be eager to amend it. At Asian Championship, he lost narrowly in 2-3 verdict but many believed Panghal boxed better than Zoirov that day.

Six-time world champion and world number three in women’s 51 kg, Mary Kom will be fighting for her second Olympic medal. The 38-year old mother of three has proved that nothing is impossible by winning a silver at Asian Championships in April, losing only to the two-time world champion Kazakhstan’s Nazym Kyzaibay, who is 11 years younger to her.

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World Championship bronze winner Lovlina Borgohain is too ranked third in 69 kg weight category. Simranjit Kaur and Manish Kaushik, ranked sixth in their respective weight classes, are also capable of punching above their weight.

Wrestling

Four of the seven Indian grapplers going to Tokyo are seeded for next month’s event. Golden girl Vinesh Phogat, who won all the four championships she played in 2021, is the top seed in 53 kg, while Bajrang Punia and Deepak Punia are second seed in their respective 65 kg and 86 kg. Ravi Kumar Dahiya are fourth seed in 57 kg. All four are serious medal contenders while it would a major upset if Phogat and Bajrang Punia do not make it to the podium. Two-time World Champion Mayu Mukaida from Japan could be Phogat’s main challenger while Bajrang has to find a way to beat his nemesis Takuto Otoguro. Also, don’t be surprised if young Anshu Malik and Sonam Malik, both teenage sensation in wrestling, stage some upsets on the mat.

Badminton

Can India’s number one shuttler Pusarla V Sindhu get to the podium for the second time? To be sure, she needs to be at the top of her game to beat her closest rivals. Defending champion Carolina Marin’s absence due to an injury will not make Sindhu’s quest for another medal any less tough. All the top shutters in race to Tokyo rankings are capable of winning a medal. While Sindhu has a 6-4 head-to-head record against the Chinese’s number one Chen Yu Fei, her record against the crafty Tai Tzu Ying is pretty dismal with she winning just 5 of 18 encounters. Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon also has 6-4 record against Sindhu. The Indian is however better placed against Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara and Akane Yamaguchi, but both will have an advantage of playing before the home crowd, if authorities allow spectators at the venue.

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Hockey

If India is to regain its past glory in Hockey, it has to be in Tokyo. Ranked fourth in the world, Indian men have had some solid performances against top teams in the run up to the Olympics. Going by ranking, the men in blue with a good mix of veterans such as Manpreet Singh, Rupinder Pal Singh, PR Sreejesh and Birendra Lakra along with 10 debutants should at least earn a place in the semi-finals. India’s women’s team led by Rani Rampal can be dark horse too.

Athletics

Flying Sikh Milkha Singh had an unfulfilled dream. He wanted to see someone winning an Olympic medal from track and field. Javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra has a reasonable chance of doing it in Tokyo if he can throw the javelin beyond 90m, breaching his personal best of 88.07. Although it’s late in the day, he is now training and competing overseas as he was longing for ahead of the Tokyo event. While Chopra is the best bet from India for a medal, one can also expect a decent show from long jumper M Sreeshankar and discus thrower Kamalpreet Kaur, who has just created a flutter by hurling the discus 66.59m at the Indian Grand Prix 4, even better than Vikas Gowda’s national record making throw of 66.28m in 2002 in the men’s category.

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