The contingent will have many talented names for the continental showpiece.
Several former Indian Olympians have remarked that the upcoming Tokyo Olympics could turn out to be the greatest-ever event for India. It is not hard to see why. While most of the big names have secured their ticket in their respective sports disciplines, the country will also have representatives in lesser-known sports such as Fencing and Equestrian. This increases the likelihood of a stellar Olympic campaign.
Here’s a look at India’s biggest medal prospects for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics.
10. Mirabai Chanu
The 26-year-old is expected to be one of the brightest sparks for India in the forthcoming Olympics. The weightlifter’s major breakthrough came in the 2014 Commonwealth Games, where she won a silver medal.
Mirabai Chanu went an extra mile by clinching the gold medal in the next edition of the Commonwealth Games and the World Championships prior to that. Chanu’s impressive performance continued after a bronze finish in the Asian Weightlifting Championships in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
Participating in her first international competition in more than a year, she created a new national record and more importantly broke the clean and jerk world record.
Currently ranked World No. 2 in the 49kg category, the 26-year-old will be India’s sole participant in weightlifting. Chanu will be hoping that she can deliver more exploits on the grandest stage of them all.
9. Neeraj Chopra
He is the hottest medal prospect in the country right now. Neeraj Chopra will be one of two Indian javelin throwers in action in Tokyo. Chopra shot to fame after clinching gold medals at the 2018 Asian Games and the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Since then, the javelin thrower has grown in leaps and bounds over the last couple of years.
The Indian athlete had clinched his Olympics quota at an event in Potchefstroom, South Africa in January 2020. The 23-year-old recently came up with the best effort of 83.18m to win the Javelin event at the Meeting Cidade de Lisboa in Portugal. Chopra will also be participating in competitions in Finland and Karlstad, Sweden to stay in shape ahead of the Games.
The reigning Asian and Commonwealth Games champion is in a confident mood ahead of his maiden Olympics appearance. The Javelin thrower will be hoping that he can do wonders on the track and end the country’s long wait for an Olympic medal in athletics.
8. Vinesh Phogat
Wrestling will be an event that the whole of India will be keeping close tabs on. Vinesh Phogat will be one of the eight Indian wrestlers on the flight to the Tokyo Olympics. After suffering a career-threatening injury, she became the first Indian female wrestler to win a gold at the Asian Games.
The two-time Commonwealth Games gold medalist also claimed her first-ever Asian Wrestling Championships title in Almaty, Kazakhstan in April. She defeated Meng Hsieh 6-0 in the final to pocket her first-ever gold medal in the continental meet. Last week, the 26-year-old bagged yet another gold medal at the Poland Open to further underline her abilities. The entire nation will be praying with bated breath when Phogat takes centre stage in women’s freestyle 53kg category at the Olympic Games.
7. Deepika Kumari
11 years on from her double Commonwealth Games triumph in New Delhi, Deepika Kumari continues to be the face of Indian archery. She had equaled the women’s recurve world record in 2016 and has been impressive ever since. The current World No. 1 rewrote the history books by becoming the first Indian to win three individual women’s recurve gold medals at the Archery World Cup in Guatemala City in April.
Kumari had earlier recorded victories in the individual women’s recurve event at Antalya, Turkey in 2012 and Salt Lake City, United States in 2018. The 27-year-old defeated Mackenzie Brown in a shoot-off in the final. That clearly showed her improved mental resolve. In Rio 2016, Kumari had suffered a disappointing last 16 exit. This time around, the Ranchi girl is a completely different prospect and will be aiming to capture India’s first-ever Olympic medal in archery.
6. PV Sindhu
She is India’s leading light in Badminton. The current World No. 7 will have a lot of expectations on her shoulders, especially after compatriots Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth’s failure to qualify for the Olympics.
The 25-year-old has suffered demoralising defeats at the Swiss Open and All England Open finals in 2021. However, she will be boosted by the fact that her long-time rival Carolina Marin of Spain has pulled out of the Olympics due to a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee. It might be the trigger that spurs her to perform even better to secure the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics.
5. Indian Men’s Hockey Team
The Indian men’s hockey team have been going through a resurgence in the past couple of years. They are currently ranked fourth in the world and will be hoping to end a 41-year drought for an Olympic medal. The team looks well placed to reclaim the golden days of Indian Hockey after a painful wait.
Coached by Graham Reid and led by Manpreet Singh, the team has transformed into a well-drilled unit in recent times. The experienced names like Manpreet and PR Sreejesh will be ably supported by a host of exciting youngsters in the squad.
The ongoing pandemic means that the team will have limited opportunities to test themselves. However, they have tackled some of the best teams ahead of the Olympics. A tour of Europe resulted in a headline 6-1 victory over Germany on their own turf.
This was followed by a commendable six-game run against Olympic champions Argentina in Buenos Aires. Two friendly victories were picked up, alongside a draw and a narrow loss. The FIH Pro League matches saw India pick up two victories – one in a penalty shootout and the other in regulation time. Thus, the Men in Blue will be in a confident mood ahead of the commencement of their Tokyo Olympics journey in late July.
4. Manu Bhaker
Shooting is India’s biggest medal hope at the Tokyo Olympics. As such, much of the buzz regarding the Indian shooting contingent has been about Manu Bhaker. The teenage sensation will be the only Indian shooter participating in three events in Tokyo. She is a part of the mixed team, as well as the 10m and 25m individual women’s air pistol. 10m air pistol is definitely her forte, with all her major honours coming in it.
Bhaker is a nine-time gold medallist in ISSF World Cups, along with two more gold medals in the Asian Shooting Championships and a 2018 Commonwealth Games gold. It’s hard to believe that she is just 19-years-old! She also claimed a gold medal at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Anything close to that in her maiden Olympics in Tokyo would etch her name forever into the history books.
3. Amit Panghal
The 25-year-old boxer is one of India’s biggest medal prospects. At the Asian Boxing Championships in May 2021, Amit Panghal lived up to his reputation. He defeated Enkhmandakh Kharkhuu of Mongolia 3-2 in the quarters. This was followed by a commanding display against Kazakhstan’s Saken Bibossinov to reach the final.
Panghal’s opponent in the summit clash was reigning Olympic and World champion Shakhobidin Zoirov of Uzbekistan. He would go on to suffer a heartbreaking 2-3 split decision loss when it seemed he had done enough to clinch victory. The Indian Boxing contingent lodged an official protest against the verdict, but it turned out to be an unsuccessful one. This was Panghal’s third successive loss to Zoirov. The Uzbek boxer has become a nemesis for the Indian.
However, in the Olympics, things could turn out to be very different. The defeat has given the Indian boxer another opportunity to work on his flaws. It might turn out to be a blessing in disguise for Amit Panghal in Tokyo.
2. Bajrang Punia
The 27-year-old will be one of India’s brightest medal prospects in the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. Punia will take part in the men’s freestyle 65kg category in his first-ever Olympics campaign in Tokyo. He is one of eight Indian wrestlers, who will travel to the Japanese capital hoping to bring back glory to the nation.
Punia has made rapid strides in recent years. He has won gold medals at the 2018 Asian Games as well as in two Asian Championships. Earlier in 2021, he had claimed the silver medal in the Asian Wrestling Championships at Almaty, Kazakhstan. The wrestler, who has received the prestigious Padma Shri and Arjuna Award, is currently in Makhachkala, Russia where he is gearing up for the biggest tournament in his career.
India’s chances of a medal or two in wrestling are high and Bajrang Punia will be one of the most eye-catching grapplers in Tokyo. Punia, who hails from Haryana’s Jhajjar district, will be hoping that his maiden campaign bears fruit and he returns home as the toast of an entire nation.
1. Saurabh Chaudhary
The current World No. 2 in the 10m men’s air pistol, Saurabh Chaudhary has made progress in leaps and bounds in recent years. He is 12-years younger to fellow countryman and World No. 1 Abhishek Verma. This clearly shows the progress he has made despite his young age. His achievements at such a tender age are noteworthy.
Eight gold medals at ISSF World Cups, coupled with gold medals in the 2018 Youth Olympic Games and the 2018 Asian Games clearly proves his mettle. Chaudhary will be in a buoyant mood after winning gold in the ISSF World Cup in New Delhi earlier in 2021.
The only Indian shooter to win gold medals in ISSF World Cup, ISSF World Championship, Youth Olympic Games, Asian Games and Asian Air Gun Championship – Chaudhary will be hoping to now add the biggest prize of them all.
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