India claimed 66 medals at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, the third highest tally by the country’s athletes at the quadrennial event and the second highest outside India after Manchester 2006.
Indian athletes consistently bagged medals on each day of the Games. It’s a commendable achievement that many athletes broke Games records and their personal bests. But none of this success has previously translated into medals at bigger international competitions. Despite this new-found bravado, India’s best still lags behind in many events.
To start with, Muhammed Anas Yahiya ran a blistering 400-metre final, falling just short of the podium with a timing of 45.3 seconds, a national record and his personal best. Nearly two years ago, South African Wayde Van Niekerk covered the same distance in 43.03 seconds, more than two seconds faster.
If they ran these times in a simultaneous race, Anas would be over 20 metres behind when Neikerk crosses the finish line. So though he’s the fastest Indian over this distance, he would have snagged an Olympic gold only in 1956.
This is a common story across many events at the Gold Coast. Listed below are a few examples. This doesn’t cover every event that India participated in but those that are decided by timing, weight and distance.
India claimed the silver and bronze in women’s discuss throw with Seema Punia and Navjeet Dhillon respectively. Punia thew 60.14 metres and holds the national record of 64.76.
Both were outclassed by Dani Stevens. The Australian threw the disc 68.26 metres, enough for a silver at Rio.
She was more than eight metres ahead of India’s best ever discus thrower. Punia, a formidable athlete in her own right would need to break her national record by over a metre to be in contention for an Olympic medal at Rio.
Another sport that India was alarmingly successful at the Games was weightlifting. Nine out of India’s 16 lifters won a medal. But India were able to dominate in part because of the absence of Chinese and European lifters. Their consistent success at the Commonwealth Games has never translated into Olympic glory because most of the Indian lifters are dwarfed by their foreign counterparts. India have only won a bronze at the Sydney Olympics largely in part because most can’t lift the same kind of weights.
The exception at Tokyo 2020 could come in the form of Mirabai Chanu. The Manipuri dominated the women’s 48 kg at the Commonwealth Games, lifting 26 kg more than her closest competitor. Her mark would’ve won the silver at Rio. However, there are multiple lifters globally who do lift around the same weight, but Chanu’s progression over the last four years has been nothing short of monumental.
Other Indian lifters didn’t decimate the competition like Chanu did. Most won against lifters from countries with no real weightlifting pedigree.
Like Chanu, 20-year-old Neeraj Chopra’s cannon-like arm could see him in fine company at the next big javelin event.
Chopra clinched gold with a throw of 86.47 meters, easily putting him contention for a bronze at Rio. Although he’s over 10 meters behind the world record, Chopra has a legitimate chance.
His throw was a shade under his personal best of 86.48 metres. Chopra is young enough for multiple chances at the Olympics and world championships. In all likelihood with further training and experience, he’s likely to eclipse his best and give himself a genuine chance to win at bigger events than the Commonwealth Games.