While India’s campaign at the Rio Games 2016 saw athletes like PV Sindhu and Sakshi Malik rising to the challenge on the world stage, the medal tally of two was a setback from India’s best Olympic return of six medals at the London Games 2012.
India’s aim at Tokyo Olympics 2021, therefore, would be to better their medal tally from nine years back. One look at the Indian athletes who have qualified for the Tokyo Games, and it can be discerned that the nation has some serious medal contenders.
Shooting: Saurabh Chaudhary and Manu Bhaker
India’s team in the 10m Air Pistol Mixed Team event, Saurabh Chaudhary and Manu Bhaker stand most likely to win a medal at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. The duo dominated all the 2019 ISSF World Cups, where they participated as a team in New Delhi, Beijing, Munich and Rio de Janeiro - ending up winning all of them.
They continued their winning run in the 2021 Shooting World Cup in New Delhi as well, before finally settling for a silver medal in the Croatia World Cup last month. Anything less than a podium finish for the mixed team duo will be considered an upset.
Badminton: PV Sindhu
Since announcing her arrival on the world stage at the 2016 Games, when she became the first Indian shuttler to clinch a silver medal at the Olympics, PV Sindhu has gone from strength to strength.
Currently ranked seventh in the BWF world rankings, a 26-year-old PV Sindhu already has a World Championship title and World Tour Finals medal around her neck, apart from winning three BWF Superseries and six BWF Grand Prix. Seeded sixth at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics badminton tournament, Sindhu has been clubbed alongside Hong Kong's Cheung Ngan Yi and Israel's Ksenia Polikarpova in Group J of the women's singles event.
An overwhelming favourite to enter the knockout stages, Sindhu’s path will be smoother with the absence of defending Olympic champion Carolina Marin, who had to pull out of the 2021 Games owing to an injury.
Athletics (Javelin Throw): Neeraj Chopra
Yet another young athlete who has burst onto the international scene in the last few years is javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra. It was his throw of 86.28m to win the 2016 Junior World Championships that had made him a household name, and Chopra followed it with gold medals at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and Asian Games to prove his consistency.
Despite missing the entire 2019 with an elbow injury, Neeraj Chopra qualified for the Tokyo Games in the first tournament that he participated in since returning in 2020, where his throw of 87.86m sealed the deal. Chopra has followed it with a national record throw and his personal best of 88.07m at the Indian Grand Prix III last March.
While any throw beyond 86m is enough to make it to the Olympic finals, a repeat of Chopra’s personal best in Tokyo is very likely to get him a podium finish.
Wrestling: Bajrang Punia, Vinesh Phogat
The current world no.2 in UWW rankings of 65 kg category, Bajrang Punia has won everything there is to win in the sport, with an Olympic medal being the only exception. From the World U-23 Championships, the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games to Asian Championships and the World Championships, Punia has won a medal in all of them. Surprisingly, Tokyo 2020 will be his very first Olympic appearance, but the relentless wrestler is widely expected to land a medal.
Vinesh Phogat's Rio Olympics 2016 run ended with her being stretchered off the wrestling mat, and the Indian wrestler has spent all her time preparing to win a medal at the Tokyo Games ever since. In the last two years, Phogat has been in 11 competitions, winning a medal in every one of them, with the latest being a gold medal at the Poland Open wrestling tournament. Phogat comes to Tokyo on the back of gold medals in Asian Games 2018 as well as Asian Wrestling Championships 2021, and is undoubtedly one of India's biggest medal hopes from the women wrestling contingent.
Boxing: Vikas Krishan
Despite Mary Kom and Amit Panghal shoring up India's challenge from the boxing contingent, Vikas Krishan remains India's biggest Olympic medal hope. One of the only five Indian male athletes to have prior Olympic experience, Krishan has returned from professional boxing to have one last go at his Olympic dream. This will be his third attempt to win a medal at the Games for the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games gold medallist.
After finishing in the pre-quarterfinal and quarter-final in the last two Olympic editions, Krishan is expected to make the podium this time. Krishan's scintillating run at the Asian qualifiers campaign, where he had to pull out of the final to settle for a silver medal, could be a hint at things to come from him in Tokyo.
Featured Image: Twitter/ PV Sindhu