The rescheduled Tokyo 2020 Olympics will start from July 23 onwards. A total of 127 athletes, consisting of two alternate players and a reserve goalkeeper in the men’s and women’s hockey squads will be representing India. Interestingly, India will participate in 18 sporting categories. Like every Olympic year, there is always a buzz catering to how many medals Indians will win at the Games.
The 2012 London Olympics turned out to be the most satisfying event for India as the nation bagged six medals – two silver and four bronze. The Rio Olympics in 2016 was in contrast a disappointing campaign for India as the nation managed just two medals.
Ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, the mood amongst former athletes and fans seems to be positive, with many backing India to come back with a handful of medals. From two medals in 2016 to a handful in 2020 seems rather wishful thinking. However, looking at the trajectory, performances, and disciplines, here we decode the realistic possibilities of India’s medal hopefuls.
A total of nine Indian boxers will be participating at the Tokyo Games and like the last couple of Olympics, the expectations this time around takes the center stage once again. In boxing, veteran women’s ace and former Olympic medallist Mary Kom is a hopeful and then there is Amit Panghal.
Mary is set to take part in the 51kg category. The Manipuri legend, who is a six-time world champion, will be keen to bow out with a fight. A winner of 19 medals for India, Mary has produced her best at the biggest events. Notably, Mary had sealed a ticket to Tokyo at the Asian Olympic qualifying event in Amman. Experience will be key for Mary as she looks to outwit her opponents.
Meanwhile, Panghal will be seen competing in the 52kg category. The in-form boxer is ranked number one and is the top seed in his category. A winner of six medals for India at major tournaments, this is a massive platform for Panghal to showcase his credentials in what will be his maiden Games. Having worked on a few issues in his game, Panghal is India’s best bet.
With no Saina Nehwal, Kidambi Srikanth, and HS Prannoy to name a few players, India’s badminton contingent looks thin. Four players are set to take part in this discipline in Tokyo. Rio Games finalist PV Sindhu, men’s singles rising talent Sai Praneeth, and the men’s doubles duo of Satswiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty are the four participants.
Sindhu is the one who can give India joy at the Games although it won’t be easy sailing. Despite the absence of Carolina Marin, the sixth seed isn’t a favourite for the top prize. The women’s singles have produced an open field with several top contenders in the mix. If Sindhu can overcome two of her greatest roadblocks Akane Yamaguchi and Tai Tzu Ying, a finals spot is there for the taking.
India have won 11 medals in hockey at the Games. India’s last medal at the Olympics in hockey came in 1980. Since then, India’s dominance at the global event went awry. In Rio, the men’s hockey team lost in the quarter-finals and this time around the men’s team is being backed to get hold of an elusive medal. 31 years are a long time and India’s hockey team has a severe challenge to overcome.
Placed in Pool A which comprises New Zealand, Australia, Spain, Japan, and Argentina, the task in hand for India will be enormous. And then in the knockout stages, teams like Netherlands, Germany, Belgium or Great Britain could be on the offering.
Since 2018, the Indian men’s hockey team has seen a stark improvement and it’s the defensive work blended with high pressing that has worked well. India men’s team has an outside chance of progressing to the quarters and then it’s anybody’s game,
In wrestling, seven Indian athletes will be participating in Tokyo. With four medals in wrestling, coming across the last three Olympic events, the expectations this time will be high once again. In wrestling, Indians can win two medals at the Tokyo Olympics.
In the 53-kg freestyle wrestling category, Vinesh Phogat is being backed to perform well. She is the number one seed and therefore the belief is high. However, Phogat will face a severe challenge in the form of Sofia Mattson, Pang Qianyu, Jacarra Winchester, and Mayu Mukaida, who are all hopefuls in bagging a medal.
Phogat has bagged 13 medals across the World Championships, Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, and the Asian Championships.
In the men’s section, Bajrang Punia has derived high hopes. The champion wrestler will take part in the 65-kg category. Bajrang is seeded second behind Russia’s Gadhzimurad Rashidov and the latter will be his biggest threat. Also in the mix for Bajrang is Japan’s Takuto Otoguro. Given that Bajrang has the pedigree and substance in his tank, a medal could be there for the taking.
India will be fielding a 15-member shooting contingent at the Tokyo Olympics. In the 2004 Athens Olympics, India saw Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore win a medal which kickstarted the success the nation found from thereon. Abhinav Bindra, Vijay Kumar, and Gagan Narang won medals across different events in the next two Games. After firing blanks in Rio, India will be keen to get on the podium this time around.
With the mixed team event in 10m AIR Pistol being introduced at the Games, India have named Manu Bhaker and Saurabh Chaudhary for the same. These two promising shooters have dominated the mixed team event since 2019, winning multiple World Cup golds, including the one in New Delhi this year.
Both Bhaker and Saurabh are also expected to do well in the respective men’s and women’s 10m Air Pistol events. If these two can seal the deal, India can expect at least three medals from shooting. The 19-year-old Bhaker has won 14 gold medals and 4 silver for India at major tournaments.
However, there is an outside chance for the 30-year-old Rahi Sarnobat finding herself on the podium (Women’s 25m Air Rifle). Sarnobat has done well across ISSF World Cups, CWG, and the Asian Games.