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Tokyo: India’s big bets

Kamesh Srinivasan | Updated on July 21, 2021

Best shot: Having settled for silver at Rio, PV Sindhu will strive for gold at Tokyo   -  REUTERS

As the Olympic Games kick off this week, India’s hopes are pinned on its women athletes and the shooters

It was women power to the fore that saved the blushes for India in the last Olympics in Rio in 2016.

Wrestler Sakshi Malik defied odds to clinch the bronze, the first medal for India at the fag end of the Games in Brazil, while shuttler PV Sindhu stepped it up to win the silver after a thriller of a final against Carolina Marin of Spain.

Of course, gymnast Dipa Karmakar stole the hearts of the whole country with her courageous effort in placing fourth in vault.

Sindhu has since become the world champion and has the promise to become the Olympic champion. There will be no dearth of coaches or guidance, but the guru of them all, Pullela Gopichand will be missing from the coach’s chair this time; he had guided Saina Nehwal and Sindhu to the medals in the last two Olympics.

The passage will be hard for Sindhu in the knock-out stage, especially against Tai Tzu Ying of Chinese Taipei, but Olympic medals are rarely a cakewalk even for the greatest of champions.

The London Olympics medallist Nehwal could not qualify as the pandemic forced the cancellation of some tournaments. But boxer Mary Kom, six-time world champion is out there thirsting for more after her medal in London Olympics.

Sakshi Malik was beaten in the selection trials by Sonam Malik. The contest underlined the power of Sakshi’s Olympic medal in inspiring a new generation of Indian women wrestlers. The focus, though, will be on Vinesh Phogat who was taken away in a stretcher in the Rio Olympics after her knee gave way in a tussle on the mat. As the current world No1 Phogat is keen to set the record straight.

Bajrang Punia will be the face of Indian men’s wrestling this time as he is also on top of the chart.

In its constant effort to make the Games better, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is aiming to make the Tokyo Games a landmark event in gender equality, which will further enhance India’s chances of winning medals.

Finding the mark

Can our sole Olympics gold medal winner — rifle shooter Abhinav Bindra — who brought home the top laurel from Beijing in 2008, finally get company from his shooting compatriots?

Round two: Young shooter Manu Bhaker has more than one chance to win medals in shooting thanks to the introduction of the mixed team events in air pistol and air rifle   -  PTI

 

The young shooters Manu Bhaker and Elavenil Valarivan have more than one chance to win medals in shooting thanks to the introduction of the mixed team events in air pistol and air rifle. Bhaker was dominant in winning all the international mixed gold medals in 2019. Four of them were in the World Cups with Saurabh Chaudhary. She won Asian championship gold with Abhishek Verma, and the World Cup Final gold with a Russian.

After the pandemic, Bhaker won the gold this year with Chaudhary in the Delhi World Cup, but the pair had to be content with silver in the Osijek World Cup in Croatia. Bhaker will also be shooting the individual events in air pistol and the 25-metre sports pistol in which she is world class.

Valarivan has also been World No1 in air rifle, and had won the mixed gold this season with Divyansh Singh Panwar, himself top ranked in men’s air rifle.

Apurvi Chandela was dominant in 2019, winning two World Cup gold medals with world record, and has the ability to come good in her second Olympics, after a below par fare in Rio.

Rahi Sarnobat is another shooter who has been outstanding with her command over the world in sports pistol. It will be her second Olympics after London, and the Asian Games gold medallist has the ability to win the competition hands down as she did in the World Cup in Croatia recently.

The Indian men are not far behind. Chaudhary and Verma have been on top in air pistol, sweeping the four gold medals in 2019 and sustaining their fighting fare this season. Verma will aim for the mixed medal with world No1 Yashaswini Singh Deswal.

Indian shooters start as favourites in many events, after having topped the medals table in a series of World Cups, above the Chinese, Americans, Russians and a strong bunch of European countries. There are 15 Indian shooters, competing in 20 events, providing the brightest scope for Olympic medals.

In athletics, all eyes will be on javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra who had won the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games gold to consolidate on his reputation after having shot to fame as the world junior champion.

In table tennis, Manika Batra offers hope in the mixed event with the seasoned Sharath Kamal.

Packing a punch

Boxing continues to be a bright prospect, and the likes of Amit Panghal and Vikas Krishan have it in them to build on the medal won by Vijender Singh in the Beijing Games in 2008.

There will be Deepika Kumari in archery, as a dominant force who won three gold medals in the recent World Cup in Paris. She will also be trying to win the mixed event with her husband Atanu Das.

Sania Mirza will be competing in her fourth straight Olympics, pairing this time with Ankita Raina. She will miss Rohan Bopanna in the mixed event as the men’s doubles team failed to make the cut.

Last but not the least, world champion weightlifter Mirabai Chanu, who had a world record recently, will try to erase the painful memories of “no lift’’ in Rio Olympics, to further stress the women power in Indian sports.

A lot is riding on the hockey teams, both men and women, but they will have to break through the overwhelming negativity as India has done precious little on the big stage after the gold in Moscow Olympics in 1980.

If anything, there will be a lot to look up to every day as the 127-strong Indian contingent hints at a best-ever fare, when the Games start on July 24. Even without spectators, Japan will reveal its resilience and class right from the opening ceremony, the most watched spectacle of the Games, to possibly winning its best-ever medal haul.

Published on July 21, 2021

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