With uncertainty looming over it for most of 2020 and early 2021 and myriads of hurdles all along the way, the road to Tokyo 2020 has certainly not been smooth. However, after being rescheduled as a result of the global pandemic and delayed by almost a year, the world’s biggest sporting extravaganza is finally set to turn into reality. The stage is set and the preparations are done. From July 23 to August 8, 2021, thousands of top athletes from over 200 countries will compete for sporting glory in the biggest multi-sport event on earth.
The Indian contingent too, have revved up their preparations and would be hoping to secure their best medal haul, in this edition. So far, India has bagged the maximum medals in the 2012 London Olympics by winning two silver and four bronze medals. In the history of the Olympic Games, India has won a total of 28 medals which comprises 9 gold, 7 silver and 12 bronze medals. Hockey has been the most successful sport (11 medals), followed by Wrestling (5 medals) and Shooting (4 medals).
While every Olympics is physically and mentally challenging, Tokyo 2020 will be particularly daunting and will test the character of every athlete. It is not easy to prepare for an event of this magnitude, at a time when the world is going through such adversities. Adapting to the changing situations will be the key. Despite these complications, going into the Olympics, the current contingent will be India’s best bet at the mega event so far. While reaching double digits in the medal tally is not entirely impossible, we evaluate India’s best prospects at Tokyo 2020.
There will be huge expectations from the shooting contingent, going by their recent performances. While a strong Indian shooting squad will be going to Tokyo, however, all eyes will be on the performances of Manu Bhaker and Saurabh Chaudhary. Both 19-year-olds and multiple gold medal winners at the World Cup, their team in the 10m Air Pistol Mixed Team event will be India’s biggest gold medal hope. They first became a team in 2019 and have performed brilliantly together since then. Earlier this year, the pair had bagged a gold at the ISSF World Cup held in New Delhi and a silver at the ISSF World Cup Osijek. Saurabh will also be a key medal hope in the men’s 10m air pistol event. Manu Bhaker will also compete in the women’s 25m pistol and 10m air pistol events. Apart from them, other key contenders in shooting would be Abhishek Verma, who is world No. 1 in men’s 10m air pistol and Elavenil Valarivan in women’s 10m air rifle. So, there is plenty of fire in the squad for sure but only time will tell, who holds on to their nerves and comes out victorious at the biggest stage.
6-time world champion and former Olympic medalist MC Mary Kom will lead the charge and will be a key contender in the Women’s 51 kg category. This may turn out to be her last Olympics and the champion boxer will want to prove a point and change the colour of her previous Olympic medal, this time around.
Apart from her, experienced campaigners Vikas Krishan (Men’s, 69kg) and Amit Panghal (Men’s, 52kg) will be serious contenders for a medal. Amit, who is also an Asian Games gold medalist will be entering the Olympics as the World No. 1 in his category. He is also the first Indian male boxer to win a silver at the AIBA World Boxing Championships. As for Vikas Krishan, this will be the 3rd Olympics for the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games champion boxer and he is one of India’s top contenders. India has previously won two boxing medals at the Olympics and with the 9 member strong contingent, an increase in the medal tally should not be surprising.
Apart from MC Mary Kom, 26-year-old Saikhom Mirabai Chanu is another big medal hopeful from the Northeastern state of Manipur. There are high chances of a podium finish in the Women’s 49 kg category, however, the horrors of her 2016 Olympics performance might haunt her and it will be all about keeping it calm. She has, however, performed well since then and has gone on to win gold medals at the World Championships and Commonwealth Games. Her event is on the inaugural day of the Olympics and a medal can boost up the morale of the entire Indian contingent.
India will be sending a very strong wrestling contingent to Tokyo. With 5 wrestling medals in the history of the games, it has always been seen as an important sport. In the last decade, India has made huge progress in wrestling and have gone on to every Olympics with a realistic chance of at least a medal and it will be no different, this time around.
Bajrang Punia will compete in the men’s freestyle 65kg category and will lead the Olympic campaign for India. Asian Games and Commonwealth Games gold medalist Punia had recently come out victorious at the Matteo Pellicone Ranking Series, earlier this year. Prominently focused on adding the missing Olympic medal in his cabinet, Punia went to Russia for the final leg of his training, to wrestle with the best in the business, thereby leaving no stone unturned.
Apart from him, Vinesh Phogat in the Women’s Freestyle 53 kg category will also be a key medal contender. She had previously participated in the 2016 Rio Olympics as well and was confident of winning a medal. But, a serious injury forced her out from the quarter-finals, resulting in heartbreak. She has recovered since then and has gone on to win gold medals in both the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games and will be key to India’s chances in wrestling. Brijbhushan Sharan Singh, Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) President, is very optimistic and is hoping for nothing less than 4 medals.
While 28 medals in the Olympics so far cannot be termed as impressive, however, there has been a rapid rise in interest in Olympic sports in India. Infrastructures have improved and with the growing focus on sports and fitness, there is no reason why India cannot improve. Every 4 years, at least for a brief period, the focus shifts from cricket and everybody cheers for the Olympic medal hopefuls. We breach the double-digit barrier or not, we hope new superstars emerge from Tokyo who continue to guide and inspire the country.