Mirabai Chanu to Fouaad Mirza: Indian athletes going solo at Tokyo 2020
Apart from the large-numbered contingents of shooting, wrestling and boxing, where India have high chances of clinching an Olympic medal, the nation will also see a handful of athletes who will compete as the nation’s sole representative in their respective disciplines.
Here are five athletes who remain India’s only hope of an Olympic medal in their respective sports.
Fouaad Mirza - Equestrian
India will see an Olympics representative at the Equestrian for the first time in 20 years when Fouaad Mirza competes in the discipline. Prior to this, India have had only two athletes qualifying for the Olympics in Equestrian - Imtiaz Anees at the Sydney Games 2020 and Late Wing Commander IJ Lamba at the Atlanta Games 1996.
Mirza was also one of the earliest Indian athletes to seal a berth in the Tokyo Olympics, when he topped the individual event category group at the South East Asia and Oceanic qualifiers in November 2019. The double Asian Games medallist, however, only made an official entry into Tokyo Games in January 2020, after the International Federation for Equestrian Sports (FEI) released all results from January 1, 2019, to December 31.
Fouaad Mirza, who became the first Indian to win Asian Games individual medal in equestrian since 1982 in 2018, has announced that he will be using his horse Dajara 4 at the Tokyo Games.
Bhavani Devi - Fencing
Bhavani Devi will be the first-ever Indian fencer to compete at the Olympics after she booked her place through the Adjusted Official Ranking (AOR) method at the Budapest Sabre World Cup. The 27-year-old from Tamil Nadu is currently ranked 42nd in the world, with her career-best ranking being 36th, which she achieved in 2016-17.
Bhavani Devi's most recent medal came at the 2019 Tournoi Satellite Fencing Championship, where she had clinched a silver medal. She has also won silver medals at the 2012 Commonwealth Championship and 2014 Asian Championship as well.
Pranati Nayak - Gymnastics
After Dipa Karmakar had become an overnight sensation with her Produnova vault at the Rio 2016 Olympics, India will have to do without her for the Tokyo Games after she failed to recover in time from an injury. However, India is looking at a new potential hero in artistic gymnast Pranati Nayak.
The second-ever Indian woman gymnast to compete at the Olympics, Pranati Nayak was the second reserve after Sri Lanka’s Milka Gehani for the Asian quota. She was reallocated an Olympic quota by the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) based on her 2019 Asian Championships performances after numerous Olympic qualifiers were cancelled or postponed owing to the pandemic.
Nayak had won a bronze medal in the vault at the 2019 Asian Artistic Gymnastics Championships, which took place in Mongolia.
Sushila Devi Likmabam - Judo
It was only in July 2021 that Sushila Devi Likmabam became the first Indian judoka to book a berth at the Tokyo 20202 Olympics. She will compete in the women’s extra-lightweight (48kg) category.
Ranked 46th in the world, Sushila Devi Likmabam is one of only two highest-ranked Asians placed outside the top 18 on the Olympic Game Quota (OGQ) rankings and she got her Olympic spot through the continental quota system.
An experienced judoka, Sushila Devi became a household name after winning the silver medal in the 2014 Commonwealth Games. She followed that with silver medals at the 2018 and 2019 Asian Open Championship and a gold medal at the 2019 Commonwealth Judo Championships.
Mirabai Chanu - Weightlifting
India’s biggest medal hope for a sole representative at the Tokyo Olympics is weightlifter Mirabai Chanu. Though Chanu got an Olympic berth only after North Korea's withdrawal from the Summer Games, which lifted her ranking from fourth to second, her talent remains undisputed.
It was Mirabai Chanu’s bronze medal at the 2020 Asian Championships, where she had created a world record in clean and jerk, that won her a ticket to Tokyo. The 26-year-old Manipuri athlete was chosen on the basis of her place on IWF’s Absolute Ranking list in the 49kg category.
Since returning empty-handed from the Rio Games after failing to lift in all her three attempts, Mirabai Chanu has won gold medals in the 2017 World Championships and 2018 Commonwealth Games, and a bronze at the 2020 Asian Championships.
Featured Image: Instagram/ Fouaad Mirza