Olympics 2020: Let's get realistic

Updated: Jan 06, 2020, 07:43 IST | V Krishnaswamy | Mumbai

Predictions are never easy and fraught with danger ranging from an unlucky draw to a bad day and a questionable call or refereeing, so let's hope for four to eight medals in Tokyo, where the hockey and shooting teams will be in focus.

India captain Manpreet Singh falls while running with the ball during the World Cup quarter-final against The Netherlands in Bhubaneswar on December 13, 2018. India last won the Olympic gold way back in 1980 at Moscow. Pic/ AFP
India captain Manpreet Singh falls while running with the ball during the World Cup quarter-final against The Netherlands in Bhubaneswar on December 13, 2018. India last won the Olympic gold way back in 1980 at Moscow. Pic/ AFP

If things go the way one expects, India should not only be sending its largest ever contingent to the July-August Olympic Games in Tokyo, but with a liberal dose of luck, they could also bring back a haul that could be its best ever. Yet, getting into double digits would be akin to kite-flying. India's best ever has been six at London 2012 and their next best has been three at Beijing 2008 and two at Rio 2016.

Predictions are never easy and fraught with danger — ranging from an unlucky draw to a bad day and a questionable call or refereeing. With margins of victory and defeat ever so small, even the minutest of errors — one punch less or a missed smash or a momentary lapse can be the difference between being on and off the podium.

Of the 60-odd who have already qualified for Tokyo, more than half that number comes from a game that means so much to India but is contested only for two sets of medals in all.

Still, to have both the men's and women's hockey teams in Tokyo, is a big emotional boost. The hockey players turn up in the stands for other Indian battles while the others, in turn, love getting to the hockey stadium for India's matches.

India has neither made it to the hockey podium nor the semi-finals since 1980 — that is 40 years ago — yet there is always hope. The Indian hockey players have the skill, they have the ability and the hunger and have probably had more exposure than any other discipline. A medal in hockey is bound to be sweet, maybe even sweeter than others simply because of the legacy the sport enjoys in India.

Young shooters hold promise

The discipline that has become the go-to sport for India in terms of medals has been shooting. And with 15 shooters having punched their ticket to Tokyo, and many of them incredibly young, there is an air of optimism.

They came through with flying colours at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, where the competition was stiff in the presence of the Chinese and Korean shooters. They re-emphasised their claims by winning quota places in droves thereafter.

As mentioned earlier, the margins at the global level are minuscule, more so in shooting. A single shot can be the difference between glory and disaster.

picWomen's 10m air pistol shooter Manu Bhaker waves to supporters at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in Brisbane on April 8, 2018. Pic/ Getty Images

India's 15 shooters include prodigies like Manu Bhaker (women's 10m air pistol), Saurabh Chaudhary (men's 10m air pistol) and Divyansh Singh Panwar (men's 10m air rifle) all of whom are only 17 yars old, while Aishwarya Pratap Singh Tomar (50m men's rifle 3 position, individual) is 18. Yashaswini Singh Deswal (women's 10m air pistol) and Chinki Yadav (women's 25m pistol) are 22 and Angad Veer Singh Bajwa (men's skeet) is 24.

That means they would all be great bets for 2024 too besides being in the medal race at Tokyo this year.

Others like Anjum Moudgil and Apurvi Chandela in women's 10m air rifle have adequate experience as do Sanjeev Rajput (men's 50m rifle 3 position) and Tejaswini Sawant (women's 50m rifle 3 Position).

With 15 sets of medals, distributed across 360 shooters, a number that has come down from 390 in 2016, Indians could reasonably gun for even four or five medals. Indians shooters have qualified for four of the six events in men and four of the six events for women, besides two of the three mixed events.

Hockey dreams

Placed in a pool that includes Australia, Argentina, Spain and New Zealand besides hosts Japan, the Indian men's hockey team's first goal will be to finish in the top four to get to the quarter-finals, which they should manage. Then it will be a matter of who they run into in the last eight knock-out stage.

As for the women, the Netherlands, Germany, Britain, Ireland and South Africa are in their way. Even a quarter-final will be a good achievement following which it willall depend on luck.

Neeraj is our hope

India’s Neeraj Chopra competes in the men’s javelin throw during the IAAF World U-20 Championships at the Zawisza Stadium in Bydgoszcz, Poland on July 23, 2016. PIC/GETTY IMAGESIndia's Neeraj Chopra competes in the men's javelin throw during the IAAF World U-20 Championships at the Zawisza Stadium in Bydgoszcz, Poland on July 23, 2016. Pic/ Getty Images

In athletics, assuming javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra makes the qualification and stays fit, he could have a shot at a medal, but there is no chance for others.

Wrestlers can thrive

Bajrang Punia in men's 65kg and Vinesh Phogat in women's 53kg have a reasonable chance, but don't rule out Ravi Dahiya (57kg) and Deepak Punia (86 kg).

Boxers will have to scrap

Boxing has eight men's weight categories and five for women and the berths are yet to decided, but it will certainly not be easy.

Archery has been a bogey for so long. They will need to perform way above what they have at he Olympics in the past to be put in the list of hopefuls.

Not rosy here!

There may be more Indians in tennis, table tennis, equestrian and much else but their best moments may well be wearing the India colours at Tokyo, and anything more than that will be a personal milestone. But a medal is likely out of reach.

All in all, anything between four to eight medals, with the shooters being the big hope. Anything less will be a big disappointment but anywhere close to that upper limit will be heaven.

A lot rides on PV Sindhu

PV

PV Sindhu has at times shown herself to be a big-event player, like at the World Badminton Championships, which she won in 2019. She has never really been a player, who wins a string of titles in any single season. Yet she turns up regularly at the finals in big events. But, as in the past, she will first need to put herself into the medal zone and then attempt to better the silver she earned in Rio. She was unknown then, but is a marked player now. India should have another women's singles in Saina Nehwal and in men's singles, Sai Praneeth and Kidambi Srikanth, but like Sindhu, they will all need to be more consistent, at least during the week in Tokyo.

Satwiksairaj Rankireddy, 19, and Chirag Shetty, 22, have been combining well in men's doubles, and the win in Thailand suggested they can be a force to reckon with.

The writer has covered the last seven Olympic Games from 1992 in Barcelona to 2016 in Rio, besides nine Asian Games and seven CWGs

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