Everyone who had any sort of stake in Indian sport went through the emotional wringer that was Rio 2016. Largest contingent. Star competitors. Exciting talent. Surely London 2012 had to be bettered?
It wasn’t to be. Days and nights (or rather nights and days) of heartbreaks was in waiting for the first week and more, and it was not till towards the back-end that we witnessed the memorable triumphs of Sakshi Malik and PV Sindhu to put India on the medal table.
Now, ahead of Tokyo 2020, in 2021, the hopes are not dissimilar to the pre-Rio days and perhaps rightly so too. Once again, it’s the record contingent. And once again there is plenty of exciting talent to root for. Will the result be better than Rio, or more importantly, London?
From shooting to wrestling, an overview of India’s schedule at the Olympic Games
Full list of Indian athletes at the Olympic Games and events they are participating in
Here’s a quick look at the medal prospects:
The only *Rio 2016 medallist in action for India at Tokyo, also happens to be now the reigning world champion. PV Sindhu is a big tournament player and in the absence of the reigning champion Carolina Marin, the 2016 silver medallist starts as an automatic favourite. But the women’s singles field in badminton is so full of talent, so full of big-match players... and it would take a brave person to bet on what the podium would look like. That said, Sindhu will feature in that discussion for sure even if she starts only as the sixth seed.
Tokyo 2020, India’s badminton draw analysis: Sindhu has tricky knockout tests, uphill tasks for rest
Vinesh Phogat & Bajrang Punia
For Vinesh, the Rio story was more heartbreaking than any other Indian athlete perhaps. After all the hardwork to get there, she suffered a painful injury to exit early. And since then, she has been on this road to redemption, earning plenty of silverware along the way. In what competition she has been in 2021, she has clinched gold and that’s seen her be the top seed for Tokyo. The Japanese contingent will have to be seen as favourites in women’s wrestling in most categories but Vinesh will be right up there too.
Similar too is the case with Bajrang. He has been a serial medal winner in the international competitions over the Olympic cycle and as the second seed, he is in the mix big time.
Ravi Kumar Dahiya and Deepak Punia are solid darkhorses for podium finishes too, in an event where a surprise or two can never be ruled out.
Vinesh Phogat earns top billing for Tokyo 2020; Bajrang Punia, Deepak Punia seeded second
Shooters led by Saurabh Chaudhary
Rio was a reality check for Indian sport, but it was the starkest for shooters. But the hopes, if anything, have only increased for Tokyo given how the shooters have performed at the world stage in this Olympic cycle. And led by, as crazy as it sounds, by the 19-year-old Saurabh Chaudhary, the shooters will look to return to the podium once again after doing so Athens, Beijing and London. The addition of mixed team events looks set to be a boost for the talented Indian squad.
Indian shooting preview: A talent-filled squad capable of some special results
Star Indian weightlifter Mirabai Chanu, and the only athlete in the event from India, has emerged as a strong contender in the women’s 49kg category. Former World Champion, and bronze medallist at the recent Asian Championships, Chanu has the pedigree and what could be considered good recent form ahead of Tokyo and she will be eager to make amends for the disappointing show at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Mirabai Chanu: Carrying the weight of expectations ahead of Tokyo Olympics with a sense of calm
Men’s hockey team
Well, surely the wait has to end at some point? It’s gone on long enough for everyone who has had anything to do with Indian hockey at any point of time in their lives. For a country that is still the most successful in the event in terms of titles, to not have won a medal since the gold at 1980 Moscow is a reason for heartburn for years and years now. Ahead of Tokyo, however, there is good reason to be hopeful. More than just an emotional yearning, things that matter — form, talent, pedigree, technical nous — are pointing to a good campaign for the men in blue.
Men’s hockey preview: Manpreet Singh’s young and upbeat India look to end medal wait
Having earned a record number of quota, the boxers would also be looking to right the wrongs of Rio (who isn’t?). It is impossible to account for the unpredictability of scoring in a sport like boxing and sometimes fans are left wondering even after witnessing a bout as to what the outcome would be until it is actually announced. So prediction is especially fraught with risks here. However, in Amit Panghal’s metronomic international event consistency and Mary Kom’s legendary pedigree at the big stage, there are two genuine medal hopes for India, without accounting for the promise the rest of the squad holds.
Indian boxing preview: Can biggest-ever Olympics squad return with best-ever medal haul?
Nothing is certain in sport and especially so in an event like the Olympics, and a year like 2021, but it’s fair to say that the rest of the field in men’s javelin throw is competing for silver and beyond if Germany’s Johannes Vetter turns up with anything remotely close to his best. The world champion has been in searing form in 2021, throwing beyond 90 (and calling it the new normal) with alarming regularity. And if he is yet to peak as most top athletes are, then he is an overwhelming favourite to gold.
But the rest of the field is fairly close and that’s where the Indian interest lies. In the absence of defending champion Thomas Roehler, Neeraj Chopra will look to come up with something close to his best and he’d have the chance to create history. It’s going to be tough, but not impossible by any means.
2021's season leaders in men's javelin
|96.29||Johannes VETTER||GER||Stadion Śląski, Chorzów (POL)||29 MAY 2021|
|89.55||Marcin KRUKOWSKI||POL||Paavo Nurmi Stadium, Turku (FIN)||08 JUN 2021|
|89.12||Keshorn WALCOTT||TTO||Kuortaneen keskusurheilukenttä, Kuortane (FIN)||26 JUN 2021|
|88.07||Neeraj CHOPRA||IND||Patiala (IND)||05 MAR 2021|
|87.57||Gatis ČAKŠS||LAT||Leichtathletikarena, Eisenstadt (AUT)||09 JUN 2021|
Deepika Kumari / Atanu Das
A couple of disclaimers. Deepika Kumari’s stunning start to the 2021 season in the world cup circuit has come in the absence of Koreans who have not toured due to the pandemic. And the Koreans are the absolute favourites when it comes to archery. And, she has been here before: seen as the medal favourite, in good form before the Olympics, and it didn’t later quite work out.
But that apart, it is heartening to see how Deepika has been performing on the international circuit season after season and her record three gold medals in Paris last month sets her up nicely for Tokyo. She is now the world No 1 too but on the occasions she’s spoken about dealing with the pressure, she’s exuded a sense of calm. Either in the women’s individual or the debut mixed team event, where she will likely shoot with partner on-and-off-the-range Atanu Das, she will begin as one of the favourites for a podium finish.
How India’s Deepika Kumari claimed a historic hat-trick of golds at Archery World Cup Stage 3
Here are the predictions from Scroll.in’s sports team:
Ashish Magotra (10):
The consistency of India’s athletes has gone up and they have got a lot of exposure over the last four years. Preparations haven’t been ideal due to the pandemic and that makes predictions fraught with danger. The lack of tournaments means it is difficult to truly gauge what the condition of the world’s best athletes is. Still, we have seen enough to hope that Tokyo will be nothing like Rio 2016 and better than London 2012.
Bajrang and Vinesh (2) have found a way to finish on the podium almost every time they have competed, Deepika’s (1) consistency is encouraging as is Saurabh’s calm and Sarnobat’s quiet confidence in shooting (2). In the past, Sindhu has stepped up in the bigger tournaments (1) while Panghal has been among the best boxer’s in his weight category for a while now (1). Chanu would get a boost with the withdrawal of North Korea (1). Neeraj Chopra (1) may struggle to match Johannes Vetter in the javelin throw but he will stand a very good chance of getting on the podium. And finally, the men’s hockey team.
Aditya Chaturvedi (7):
Heading into the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, India will take confidence from the fact that they have known the names of their biggest medal hopes for a couple of years now. Which is to say some of their top athletes have been delivering consistent performances in the biggest competitions.
While India will indeed be hopeful of bagging their best-ever medal haul in Tokyo, the pressure of the Olympics is a different beast altogether. That, along with the difficulties in training and competing due to the Covid-19 pandemic, will lead to a stern test for every athlete. Shooting and wrestling are the disciplines in which India will be confident of winning medals, with boxing, archery, javelin, weightlifting and badminton providing hope as well.
Shooting: Rahi Sarnobat and Saurabh Chaudhary
Wrestling: Vinesh Phogat and Bajrang Punia
Boxing: Amit Panghal
Archery: Deepika Kumari
Weightlifting: Mirabai Chanu
Kaushal Shukla (7-10):
Even for the most cautious of predictors, it will be hard not to see India recording its best-ever performance at the Olympics. While performances at previous world championships and other meets have counted for little at the Olympics in the past, India’s new batch of athletes have been quite consistent over the last five years.
The pandemic has made it even harder to predict but I expect a minimum of seven to a maximum of ten medals for India.
Deepika Kumari - Archery
Amit Panghal - Boxing
Saurabh Chaudhary - Shooting
Rahi Sarnobat - Shooting
Mirabai Chanu - Weightlifting
Bajrang Punia - Wrestling
Vinesh Phogat - Wrestling
If the Indians have not suffered much due to the pandemic then I probably see another medal each in women’s boxing (Mary Kom or Lovlina), wrestling (Deepak Punia or Ravi Dahiya) and another one in shooting. I feel there will be at least one gold, most probably in shooting.
Vinayakk Mohanarangan (8):
Caught between being glowingly optimistic and cautiously conservative in order to avoid the heartbreaks endured during Rio, the basic prediction here is that India will better their London 2012 haul. A total of eight medals with the wait for a gold medal finally ending after 2008 is where I’ve settled on.
The gold medal should come from shooting, with Saurabh Chaudhary involved in it in some capacity. There should be one more shooting medal as well at the very least. In Bajrang and Vinesh, two wrestling medals are worth rooting for. Men’s hockey team to end their four-decade wait, even if gold is unlikely. Boxing, unpredictable for its scoring, should still see one medal at least among Mary Kom, Panghal, Borgohain and Yadav. And hopefully, it all starts with Chanu emulating Karnam Malleswari or going even better. (If Sindhu turns up her in big tournament form, and Deepik/Atanu can hold their nerve in knockout mode, one can dream about reaching the double-digit mark).
Zenia D’Cunha (6-7):
Anyone who has witnessed Indian hopes swivel from London 2012 to Rio 2016 will be wary of of predicting a big Olympic performance again. Having said that, it’s also hard to not have high hopes from Tokyo 2020 given how much Indian sport has progressed at the highest level in the last four-five years.
A middle ground would be to predict the number and sports, without naming names. Shooting, boxing, wrestling once again will be the area of focus with the top players who have put in consistent performance throughout the Olympic cycle looking set to peak. Hockey and weightlifting are likely to be repeat medal contenders too.
Conservative estimate: 6-7 medals, which essentially means bettering the London record. Had the 2020 season not been lost to the pandemic, this count would have been even higher. For the elusive gold, watch out for shooting mixed team, a North Korea-less field for Mirabai Chanu and Vinesh Phogat playing a full campaign.
Clarifications: The article originally said Sindhu was the only Olympic medallist in action for India. That has now been corrected. Sindhu and MC Mary Kom are the two Olympic medallists in Tokyo for the Indian contingent.