Mumbai: The 127-member Indian contingent will enter the Tokyo Olympic Games with soaring expectations of returning with their best medal haul ever even as the pandemic plays havoc with their preparations.
The Games are being held in an environment of fear with athletes having to constantly monitor their health yet focus on the task at hand as Covid-19 cases rise in the Games Village.
With India sending a record number of athletes to the Games, the expectations are huge this time around.
Over the years, the country has had a dismal record at the quadrennial showpiece, as proved by a haul of 28 medals — nine gold, seven silver, and 12 bronze medals in over 100 years of participation in the mega event.
After the glory days of hockey, which produced eight gold medals, one silver, and two bronze from 1928 to 1980 (barring 1976), Abhinav Bindra provided a huge boost to India’s aspiration by winning a historic individual gold in 10m air rifle in 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Four years later, India had its best medal haul in London: India bagged six medals — two silver medals through shooter Vijay Kumar and Sushil Kumar and four bronzes — boxer MC Mary Kom (women’s flyweight), shuttler Saina Nehwal (women’s singles), wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt (men’s freestyle 60kg) and shooter Gagan Narang (men’s 10m air rifle).
However, the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro proved a disaster as India could manage only two medals — a silver by shuttler PV Sindhu and bronze by wrestler Sakshi Malik (women’s freestyle 58kg).
This time in Tokyo, the Indian Olympic Association and the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports are expecting a double-digit medal haul. The government has put in a lot of funds and efforts through the Target Olympic Podium Scheme by arranging infrastructure, equipment, foreign expert coaching and training, and exposure trips for all those whose who had qualified for the Olympics — even during the pandemic.
And the Indian sportspersons have also raised hopes through their superb performances in international competitions after the Rio Olympics.
That, says MM Somaya, member of the 1980 Moscow Olympic gold medalist team, is the main reason for the high expectations.
Just like in 2016, the shooters carry the bulk of the medal hopes as at least 10 from the 15-member squad have done exceptionally well in international competitions in the last few years. Pistol shooters Saurabh Chaudhary, Manu Bhaker, Rahi Sarnobat, rifle shooters Dviyansh Singh Panwar, Anjum Moudgil, and the mixed team pairs are among the top medal contenders for India.
Boxer Amit Panghal, the world no 1, is a clear favorite in the men’s flyweight while Vikas Krishan and Satish Kumar are other hopefuls. In the women’s section, multiple-time World Champion MC Mary Kom will be hoping to add to her bronze medal from London.
Wrestler Vinesh Phogat and Bajrang Punia are among the contenders in their respective weight categories.
The men’s hockey team is also being considered a medal prospect thanks to its high ranking and strong performance in the FIH Pro League.