Create
Notifications
Get the free App now
Favorites Edit
Advertisement

Best Olympics ever for India? Here is the full list of medal prospects at Tokyo 2021

  • With 74 Indian athletes having secured Tokyo berths, we look at 17 names that have the potential to go all the way and win a medal.
  • India's medal prospects for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
EXPERT COLUMNIST
Feature
Modified 24 Mar 2020, 18:36 IST

From Left to right: Amit Panghal, Vinesh Phogat, Mary Kom, and Neeraj Chopra
From Left to right: Amit Panghal, Vinesh Phogat, Mary Kom, and Neeraj Chopra

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently declared the coronavirus an official worldwide ‘pandemic’, casting a shadow over the Tokyo Olympics 2020. But in a press conference last week, the International Olympic Council (IOC) confirmed that as of now they are committed to holding the sporting extravaganza as scheduled, between 24 July and 9 August.

Despite the suspension and postponement of several qualifying events - including the ones with heavy Indian involvement such as the Asian Wrestling Qualifiers in Bishkek - as many as 74 athletes from the country have secured a spot at Tokyo.

India’s largest contingent till date is the total of 117 qualified athletes across 15 sports at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. The perennial Olympics underachievers look poised to cross that mark this year, considering that a large number of qualification tournaments could still theoretically be held over the next couple of months.

The current 74-person contingent boasts of eight individual athletes ranked in the world's top 3 in their respective disciplines. That has raised hopes of India surpassing their Rio 2016 medal haul of two medals; many believe a better finish at Tokyo 2020 is almost guaranteed.

On that note, here we look at 17 athletes from the contingent who are best-placed to win a medal at the grandest stage of them all.

Note: This is not a final list as India stand a chance to potentially qualify for more sports such as badminton, wrestling and weightlifting over the coming months.


1. Manu Bhaker / Saurabh Chaudhary (10m pistol mixed team)

Expected finish: Top 3

Manu Bhaker (L) and Saurabh Chaudhary (R)
Manu Bhaker (L) and Saurabh Chaudhary (R)

The newly introduced mixed team 10m pistol event was India’s strongest shooting discipline in the 2019 calendar year. The nation finished on top of the ISSF World Cup charts with 21 gold medals, almost double of second-placed China (11 gold medals).

Advertisement

The teenage duo of Manu Bhaker and Saurabh Chaudhary amassed as many as four gold medals across five World Cup events. The only tournament that they didn’t win gold in together was the one at Putian (China), where they participated with different partners.

Bhaker went on to secure gold in the final World Cup event with Russia’s Artem Chernousov, and Chaudhary settled for silver with Greek stalwart Anna Korakaki.

That means India won gold in every mixed team 10m Air pistol World Cup event, underlining their credentials as the strongest competitor in this relatively new format. Which also means anything less than a podium finish in the discipline will be a disappointment.

Bhaker and Chaudhary's main obstacle to the gold medal will be the challenge of the Chinese duo of Pang Wei and Jiang Ranxin, who amassed two World Cup silver medals and one bronze in 2019.


2. Divyansh Singh Panwar / Anjum Moudgil (10m air rifle mixed team)

Expected finish: Top 3

Divyansh Singh Panwar and Anjum Moudgil
Divyansh Singh Panwar and Anjum Moudgil

Similar to their pistol compatriots, top-ranked Indian 10m air rifle shooters Divyansh Singh Panwar and Anjum Moudgil finished the 2019 calendar year as the strongest mixed team World Cup pair. The duo amassed two gold medals in the Beijing and Munich ISSF World Cup events and settled for bronze in Rio, losing out to the other Indian pair of Deepak Kumar and Apurvi Chandela.

World No. 2 in the individual 10m men’s air rifle category, Panwar also went on to win gold with Croatian partner Snjezana Pejcic in the final World Cup event in Putian. As per sources close to Sportskeeda, the Indian duo are set to be paired together for the mixed team event in Tokyo.

Indian national air rifle shooting coach Deepak Kumar Dubey told Sportskeeda:

"The mixed team event is something our shooters have prioritised since it was introduced in the World Cup. We got instant success and I think all of us realized this format can get us gold at Tokyo. So we put a specific practice regime in place alternating our shooters on a regular basis, so at any given point they can shoot together."

Moudgil had won a silver at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in the prone position, so she knows a thing or two about performing on the big stage.

The 2018 World Championship silver medalist, who secured a Tokyo Olympics quota berth for India in the women’s 10m air rifle category, might make way for current World No. 1 Elavenil Valarivan in the individual event. However, she is still a huge asset for the country in the team events.

If Moudgil and Panwar stick together for the mixed event in Tokyo, a podium finish would be widely expected given their breakthrough 2019 season.


3. Amit Panghal (boxing)

Amit Panghal
Amit Panghal

Expected finish: Top 3

Amit Panghal is the 2018 Asian Games champion in the men’s 52kg category. He recently created waves as he reached the World No. 1 ranking ahead of the Asian Boxing Olympics Qualifiers that was held in Amman, Jordan.

The Rohtak-based pugilist defeated Philippines’ Carlo Palaam by a 4-1 margin to secure his Olympic spot at Tokyo. However, the top seed then lost to Rio Olympics bronze medalist China's Jianguan Hu 2-3 on split decision to exit the qualifier at the semifinal stage.

But that was likely just a temporary setback for Panghal, who defeated his Chinese opponent at the 2019 Asian Championship in Bangkok.

Reigning Olympics and World flyweight champion Shakhobidin Zoirov of Uzbekistan also secured his spot at Tokyo with relative ease, and will be Panghal’s biggest hurdle in the quest for a gold medal at Tokyo.

The 24-year old had lost to the Uzbek in the World Championship flyweight finals in Yekaterinburg (Russia), but is eager to go one better in Tokyo. He shared his thoughts on his preparations ahead of the Olympics.

“I’m confident in my ability to win a medal at Tokyo, I have faced my Chinese opponent before, but his strategy of fighting on the back-foot against my aggressive approach worked. During my time till the Tokyo Olympics, I will be focusing on watching and studying my opponents closely on video analysis.”

With the absence of third-place bouts and only two major hurdles - the Uzbek and the Chinese - en route to Olympic glory, India’s Panghal looks destined for at least a bronze medal in Tokyo.


4. Mary Kom (boxing)

MC Mary Kom
MC Mary Kom

Expected finish: Top 5

A name that needs no introduction, Mary Kom is a six-time World Champion and an Olympics bronze medalist (at the 2012 London Olympics). She will make a much-anticipated return in Tokyo, after failing to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Recently ranked World No. 5 (51 kg) in the Olympic Task force (OTF) rankings ahead of the Asian qualifiers, the Padma Shri awardee also secured No. 1 spot in a different weight category (48 kg) in early 2019.

The 37-year-old had to switch weight categories late last year after the light flyweight division was excluded from the Tokyo Olympics setup. Just months into her 51 kg jump, the diminutive powerhouse from Manipur won a bronze medal at the 2019 World Championship in Ulan Ude, Russia.

A comfortable 5-0 Olympics qualifier quarterfinal victory over Irish Magano of the Philippines saw Kom secure her second Olympics berth in a two-decade long career. The second seed went on to win bronze in the same tournament, highlighting her potential for a medal at Tokyo.

With 2019 World Champion Lilliya Aetbava likely not participating due to the Olympics ban on Russia, the Indian star’s main competition would be from Busenaz Cakiroglou (Turkey) and World No. 3 Park Chol Mi (North Korea).

However, with the years of experience that Kom possesses, a bronze medal seems like a distinct possibility.


5. Lovlina Borgohain (boxing)

Lovlina Borgohain (R)
Lovlina Borgohain (R)

Expected finish: Top 5

A relatively unknown entity in Indian boxing until 2016, Assam’s Lovlina Borgohain burst into the limelight after securing a bronze medal at the 2017 Asian Women’s Boxing Championship in Vietnam. A subsequent gold medal at the 2018 India Open saw her secure a welterweight spot in the Indian contingent for the 2018 Commonwealth Games, which kick-started her international career.

Back-to-back World Championship bronze medals in 2018 and 2019 saw the 22-year-old become the highest-ranked Indian women’s boxer in the Olympics qualifiers. Currently sitting at the World No. 4 position, Lovlina eased past Maftunakhon Milieva at the continental qualifiers in Amman (Jordan) to secure a Tokyo Olympics berth.

The tournament’s second seed, Lovlina would go on to lose to the reigning World Championship silver medalist Gu hong of China, 5-0. The Golaghat-based pugilist had lost to the same opponent in the 2018 World Championship semifinal.

The 69 kg welterweight category is a newly introduced one, along with the featherweight (57 kg) category. China’s Gu Hong and Chinese Taipei’s Chen Nien-chin will be Lovlina’s likeliest challengers for gold at Tokyo.

The latter had pipped Lovlina to a silver medal at the 2019 World Championships held in Bangkok, and the Indian would be keen to turn the tables come Tokyo 2020.


6. Men’s hockey team

Indian men
Indian men's hockey team

Expected finish: Top 5

The recent success of the Indian men’s hockey team has got many fans in the country thoroughly excited about their Tokyo chances.

The Men in Blue climbed to their highest FIH world ranking of 4 in March (since the inception of the world rankings in 2003), eclipsing Rio Olympics champions Argentina who dropped to the fifth spot. India registered impressive victories in the FIH Pro League last year against Netherlands, Belgium and Australia; those three countries currently occupy the top three positions in the world rankings, and are front-runners to clinch a medal at Tokyo.

Recent form bodes well for India, who are scheduled to play Germany and England in the FIH Pro League next. However, with the coronavirus outbreak at its peak, a number of countries have postponed their matches; it remains to be seen whether India’s encounter against Germany in Berlin takes place in late April.

Last week, Indian national team coach Graham Reid assured the fans that the team's preparations are going on in full swing. He said:

"We are focusing fully on continuing our Tokyo Olympic preparation with the same intensity as we did before the virus outbreak."

The men’s and women’s national hockey teams will be practising at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) facility in Bengaluru, where all precautions against the pandemic are being taken.


7. Saurabh Chaudhary (10m men's air pistol individual)

Saurabh Chaudhary
Saurabh Chaudhary

Expected finish: Top 3

A product of NRAI’s successful junior program initiated in 2012, Saurabh Chaudhary enters the Tokyo 2020 Olympics as India’s brightest teenage medal prospect. At just 17 years of age, the Kalina-born shooter has amassed as many as six senior World Cup titles, one junior World Championship title, one Asian Games medal, One Youth Olympics title and two Junior World Cup gold medals.

Currently ranked 4th in the ISSF 10m men’s air pistol rankings, Chaudhary had a stellar first full senior calendar year where he won seven golds, two silvers and one bronze.

With the participation of World No. 1 Artem Chernousov under a cloud due to Russia’s Olympics ban, Chaudhary is in prime position to win at least a bronze at the Summer Games. His likely opponents in the final medal race will be compatriot and World No. 2 Abhishek Verma, and 2008 Beijing Olympics gold medalist Wei Pang of China.

Indian national pistol coach Jaspal Rana told Sportskeeda:

"The success of Saurabh's tremendous growth is partly because of NRAI's junior program and our President Raninder Singh. Previously, we used to attend one off junior tournaments, but at just 15 years of age Saurabh attended all junior World Cup events, which gave him the confidence to break multiple junior level records."

Chaudhary broke the world record in this category twice last year - first in the New Delhi World Cup edition (245.0), and then in Munich (246.3). He also broke his own junior world record in the process.

However, the record was again broken at the Asian Championship in Doha, where North Korea’s Kim Song Guuk registered a stunning 246.5 points. Kim remains an outside contender for the medal spots, but Chaudhary would be confident of his own chances given that the North Korean failed to secure a podium position in any of the 2019 World Cup events.


8. Abhishek Verma (10m men's air pistol individual)

Abhishek Verma (R)
Abhishek Verma (R)

Expected finish: Top 3

A lawyer-turned-hobby-shooter-turned-professional, Abhishek Verma’s journey from a novice to a World Cup winner has been nothing short of Bollywood material. Having won two gold medals in 2019, the 30-year-old’s rivalry with Saurabh Chaudhary has the potential to give India its first-ever 1-2 finish in Olympics history.

Currently ranked second in the world (and likely to be the top seed at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics), Verma won a bronze medal on his international debut at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta. After completing his law degree in 2017, he took up shooting as a career that same year - and hasn't looked back since.

In just his second World Cup appearance at Beijing, Verma won the gold and secured India their fifth Tokyo Olympics 2020 quota. Both Verma and Chaudhary secured two World Cup victories each last year, showing everyone that India's shooters mean business.

Despite a splendid 2019 for both the spectacular talents, India's national pistol shooting coach Jaspal Rana remains cautious. The four-time Asian Games gold medalist spoke to Sportskeeda in an exclusive chat where he talked about the importance of mental stability:

“They have won a lot of accolades in 2019, but let's not forget, this will be both Abhishek and Saurabh’s maiden Olympic edition, whereas the others have Olympic experience. Both have the ability to break the World Record, but mental stability before the Games is most important.”
“We might miss some preparatory tournaments due to the Coronavirus pandemic, but our target remains to practice among each other to prepare for the Games with the same approach as before.”

The only thing that could hold Verma and Chaudhary back is their relative inexperience. But if they manage to deal with their big-stage jitters efficiently, India’s first-ever double podium finish could well become a reality.


9. Manu Bhaker (10m women’s air pistol individual)

Manu Bhaker
Manu Bhaker

Expected finish: Top 3

Another product of Jaspal Rana’s assembly line of Olympics pistol shooters making India proud, Manu Bhaker tasted success very early in her domestic and international career. At just 16 years of age she became the youngest Indian to ever win a senior ISSF World Cup medal (in Guadalajara), despite still competing in the junior category.

Apart from the World Cup victory, the Jhajjar-based shooter also secured Youth Olympics and Commonwealth Games gold that same year, underlining her credentials as India’s best 10m women’s air pistol shooter.

The 2019 calendar year was Bhaker's first as a full-fledged senior, and she went on to register five World Cup and two Asian Championship gold medals. A fourth-placed finish at the 2019 Munich World Cup guaranteed her spot at the sporting extravaganza in Tokyo.

The junior world record holder is currently ranked third in the world behind Serbia’s Zorana Arunovic and Greece’s Anna Korakaki. She is poised to win at least a bronze medal in the 10m event considering she has a 200-ranking point advantage over her closest competitor, Kim Minjung of South Korea.

But coach Jaspal Rana is aware of shooting’s unpredictable nature, and isn’t counting any of Bhaker's opponents out yet. He said:

“I wouldn’t use ranking points as the only yardstick. Yes, Manu on her day can beat anyone in her way as she did in 2019. But so can the two above her and the ones below her in the world ranking. The main focus will be to work on her strengths, and a gold medal won’t be too far.”

Bhaker herself has expressed a desire to shoot in the 50m air pistol event as well, along with her determination to clinch gold.

“If you ask me to choose, I will choose both; my 50m scores are also good. I would love to shoot in both individual categories. However, my focus still remains to win gold and I’m training accordingly.”

The youngest shooter in the world top 40, Bhaker will have a chance to shoot and medal in as many as three categories on her debut Olympics outing in Tokyo. That's an unprecedented feat already for an Indian athlete!


10. Divyansh Singh Panwar (10m men’s air rifle individual)

Divyansh Singh Panwar (R)
Divyansh Singh Panwar (R)

Expected finish: Top 5

The third teenager on this list, Divyansh Singh Panwar is another product of NRAI’s successful youth program.

After bursting on to the domestic scene in 2018, the Jaipur-based shooter first tasted international success at the Junior World Championship in Changwon. He won gold in the mixed team event there with Elavenil Valarivan, setting a junior world record score (498.6) in the process.

Panwar would go on to win two junior World Cup gold medals in the men’s individual and mixed team events the very same year. He then transitioned to the senior category in 2019, similar to Bhaker and Chaudhary in the pistol discipline.

In his first year as a senior international, the self-confessed PUBG Mobile fanatic won a World Cup gold medal in Putian and a silver in Beijing - which secured India their fourth Tokyo Olympics shooting berth.

Currently ranked second in the world behind Croatia’s Peter Gorsa, the 17-year-old Panwar will face stiff competition from the likes of China’s Yu Haonan and Slovakia’s Patrik Jany. This particular category is likely to be the most strongly contested in Tokyo, with several junior shooters having made a successful and quick transition to the senior level.

Under the watchful eyes of national air rifle coach Deepak Kumar Dubey, Panwar is being groomed to become India’s next Abinav Bindra - and possibly beyond. Dubey told Sportskeeda:

"Divyansh is another successful product of India's junior NRAI program, he was picked at a young age and given the correct exposure. He has tremendous mental fortitude at a very young age, that will see him come far in Tokyo, if he's given the quota."

11. Anjum Moudgil (10m air rifle women’s individual)

Anjum Moudgil
Anjum Moudgil

Expected finish: Top 3

The women’s 10m air rifle ISSF world rankings have as many as three Indians in the top five. World No. 2 Anjum Moudgil, World No. 1 Elavenil Valarivan and current world record holder Apurvi Chandela make this shooting category India’s most competitive one.

According to sources close to Sportskeeda, NRAI is likely to select junior double World Cup 2019 gold medalist Valarivan for the individual 10m air rifle discipline, and shift Moudgil to the 10m air rifle mixed with Divyansh Singh Panwar. However, with no official confirmation yet and no announcement expected before June, we are looking at the quota winners as the current ticket holders.

It's a selection dilemma but a good one to have for NRAI, who are spoiled for choice in a traditionally underperforming Olympics category for India. Apart from the above-mentioned trio, 2018 Youth Olympics silver medalist Mehuli Ghosh and Asian Airgun champion Shreya Agarwal are also in the running to be sent to Tokyo.

India's national air rifle coach Deepak Kumar Dubey said:

"In terms of depth, in the 10m women's air rifle event, India is spoiled for choice. There was a time where we barely had one shooter in the top 20, now we have so many in the top 5 itself.
"Be it Ela, Anjun, Apurvi, Shreya or Mehuli, anyone on their day can win a gold on Tokyo. Now it's up to NRAI to decide who will go to Tokyo, and I'm sure they will make a well-informed decision."

Currently ranked second, Moudgil secured her spot at the Tokyo Olympics as early as 2018, by winning silver at the World Championship in Changwon, South Korea.

Having made an unexpected switch from 50m Rifle 3 position to 10m Air Rifle for ‘fun’, the Chandigarh-based shooter is thriving in the new format. She still considers the prone position to be her ‘pet’ event but is focused on winning a medal in 10m air rifle - in both the mixed and individual events.


12. Deepak Punia (86 kg men’s freestyle wrestling)

Deepak Punia
Deepak Punia

Expected finish: Top 5

One of four Indian wrestlers to have secured a spot at Tokyo before the completion of the Asian Olympics qualification cycle, Deepak Punia is currently second in the United World Wrestling (UWW) 86 kg men’s freestyle rankings. The Jhajjar-based grappler qualified for Tokyo thanks to his second-placed finish at the 2019 World Championship in Nur Sultan (Kazakhstan).

Less than a year ago, Deepak was competing in a lower age category. He secured India’s first World Junior Championship gold medal in 18 years by defeating Russia’s Alik Shebzukov in Tallinn, Estonia.

That result also helped him secure a spot in the Indian senior team for the World Championship, and he grabbed the opportunity with both hands. Deepak would go on to win back-to-back bronze medals at the 2019 and 2020 Asian Wrestling Championships.

The 19-year-old attributes his recent success to the advice of compatriot and world champion Bajrang Punia, who lives 40 km away from his village. He said:

"Bajrang bhai motivates me a lot on a regular basis, he gives me a lot of advice about my technique and he’s a senior wrestler, so his inputs have helped me a lot.
"Even before my Junior Worlds gold, I spoke to him a lot about how to tackle my Russian opponent. He is one of the reasons I took up the sport and I hope to follow in his footsteps.”

The teenager’s toughest competition will be from current World No. 1 and reigning world champion Hassan Yazdanicharati of Iran. In addition, he will have to deal with 2020 Asian Championship gold medalist Shutaro Yamada, and World No. 3 Russia’s Artur Naifonov.

If Deepak manages to cross even one of these hurdles, a bronze medal in his debut Olympics appearance seems distinctly possible.


13. Bajrang Punia (65kg men’s freestyle wrestling)

Bajrang Punia
Bajrang Punia

Expected finish: Top 3

India’s best bet for a wrestling medal at the Tokyo Olympics, Bajrang Punia was awarded the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award in 2019. The 26-year-old secured his spot in Tokyo by reaching the 2019 World Championship semifinals last year.

Heading into that tournament as the World No. 1 and title favourite, Bajrang was left heartbroken when he lost to Kazakhstan’s Daulet Niyazbekov despite being tied on points (9-9). As per tournament guidelines, in case of a tie, the winner is declared by the highest number of holds during the encounter - where Bajrang fell short.

Currently ranked second in men’s 65 kg UWW rankings, Bajrang's main competition will be from World No. 1 Gadzhimurad Rashidov as well as Japan’s Takuto Otoguro.

Bajrang’s growth in the year 2018 was truly meteoric. The Jhajjar-based grappler won gold at both the Asian and the Commonwealth Games that year, instilling fear among all the other wrestlers in the category. He also went on to win silver at the World Championship in Budapest, despite having little success in the 65kg category previously.

But while he won a gold medal in the 2020 Rome Ranking series, Bajrang’s recent results have raised a few question marks. At the 2020 Asian Championship in New Delhi last month Bajrang lost out to Tokyo contender and World No. 5 Takuto Otoguro (10-2) in the final, leaving Indian wrestling fans worried.

Despite the hiccups though, Bajrang continues to be Indian wrestling’s primary Olympics gold medal prospect. After podium finishes in both the previous World Championships, anything less than a medal from Tokyo will be a massive disappointment.


14. Ravi Kumar Dahiya (57 kg men’s freestyle wrestling)

Ravi Kumar Dahiya
Ravi Kumar Dahiya

Expected finish: Top 5

Coached and mentored by Dronacharya awardee Satpal Singh, Ravi Kumar Dahiya is looking to follow in the footsteps of Chhatrasal Akhada’s most famous export, Sushil Kumar. The 23-year-old secured a spot at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics by winning bronze at the 2019 World Championship in Kazakhstan.

After winning multiple gold medals at the national junior level, Dahiya’s first taste of international success came at the 2015 Junior World Championship in Salvador de Bahia, where he won silver in the 55 kg category. The Sonepat-born grappler successfully transitioned to the U-23 level by winning a silver at the Worlds in Bucharest in 2018, before finally completing a full senior season in 2019.

Currently ranked fourth in the UWW 57 kg men’s senior freestyle rankings, Dahiya dominated proceedings at the 2020 Asian Wrestling Championship. He won the final against Tajikistan’s Hikmatullo Vahidov (10-0 on technical superiority); the way he breezed past the competition is a strong indication that he is the continent’s best grappler in his weight category.

Dahiya is currently training under Murad Gaidarov in Russia. Practising against the likes of World No. 1 Zavur Uguev, Dahiya spoke about his primary focus points ahead of Tokyo 2020:

“I’m fighting with better opponents in Russia and working to improve my technique. My main aim is to win gold in Tokyo and stay injury free till that point.”

Apart from the Russian, who could compete under the IOC flag due to the Olympics ban, Dahiya's main competitors en route to Tokyo glory are likely to be Turkey’s Suleyman Atli and Serbia’s Andria Micic.

Coming off a dominant performance in New Delhi, Dahiya’s current form might just see him peak at the Tokyo Olympics.


15. Vinesh Phogat (53 kg women’s freestyle wrestling)

Vinesh Phogat
Vinesh Phogat

Expected finish: Top 3

Who can forget the emotional scenes during the 2016 Rio Olympics, where India’s Vinesh Phogat cried in pain after a freak injury ruined her medal chances? After looking destined for Olympics glory, Vinesh was forced to forfeit her 48 kg women’s freestyle quarterfinal bout against China’s Sun Yanan at 1-2 due to the dislocation of her right knee.

But despite that crushing heartbreak, Vinesh has fought back and how! The only Indian female wrestler to have qualified for Tokyo so far, the 25-year-old won a bronze medal at the 2019 World Championship. She also avenged her defeat to Sun Yanan at the 2018 Asian Games, winning gold in Jakarta.

Currently competing in 53 kg, Vinesh heads to Tokyo ranked third in her newly adopted weight category. She had switched to 53 in late 2018, and tasted international success only 10 months in. Vinesh then became just the fifth Indian woman to win a medal at the worlds - after sisters Geeta and Babita Phogat, Alka Tomar, and Pooja Dhanda.

She also won a bronze medal in the 53 kg category at the recently concluded Asian Wrestling Championship in New Delhi. The Bhiwani grappler’s main competition at Tokyo would be in the form of Japan’s Maya Mukaida and World No. 1 Mi Yong Pak of North Korea.

One of India's biggest medal hopes in the sport, Vinesh claims that she is in a comfortable space ahead of the Olympics, and that winning a medal will come down to her performance on the day. She said:

“I want to complete what I left back in Rio, I’m really comfortable in this weight category and I think I should be doing well in Tokyo, but you can never say as anyone can do well on the day.”

Vinesh also won gold at the 2020 Rome Ranking Series event, defeating Ecuador’s Luisa Valverde 4-0 in the finals. With such a dramatic growth trajectory in the last 14 months, she looks set for at least a bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics.


16. Apurvi Chandela (10m women’s air rifle individual)

Apurvi Chandela
Apurvi Chandela

Expected finish: Top 5

10m air rifle shooter Apurvi Chandela will be keen to put a disappointing 2016 campaign, where she finished 34th, behind her. She registered a world record score of 252.9 at the ISSF Shooting World Cup 2019 in New Delhi, to announce her return to the crème de la crème of world shooting.

The 27-year-old won as many as three World Cup gold medals in 2019, underlining her prospects for Tokyo. Similar to the 10m men’s air pistol event, India has a chance of another 1-2 finish here - with both Apurvi Chandela and Anjum Moudgil having secured a berth for India. World No. 1 Elavenil Valarivan also remains in contention to book a ticket to Tokyo.

Chandela secured the Olympics spot by finishing fourth at the 2018 World Championship in Changwon.

Apart from the other Indian participant, Chandela will face tough competition from China's Shin Ying Lin and 2019 World Cup bronze medalist Georgeta Coman of Romania - who are ranked two and three in the world respectively.

Having put the ghosts of Rio behind her, Chandela would be hoping to be part of a historic double-podium finish for India in Tokyo.


17. Neeraj Chopra (men’s javelin)

Neeraj Chopra
Neeraj Chopra

Expected finish: Top 5

Returning to international competition after two years away due to a recurring elbow injury, India’s javelin hope Neeraj Chopra registered a throw of 87.86m at the Athletics North East meeting in Potchefstroom to secure a Tokyo spot. A throw like this would have seen Chopra win a bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

With a personal best of 88.06m, the Panipat-based thrower will look to hit the 90m mark at the Tokyo Olympics.

Chopra is already ahead of the curve when compared with the winners of the 2019 Athletics World Championship. Grenada’s Anderson Peters won the gold medal there by registering a throw of 86.89m, one meter less than Chopra’s throw in Potchefstroom.

The 22-year-old is looking to compete in the IAAF Diamond League before Tokyo, to gain some much-needed international exposure. However, with the coronavirus outbreak at its peak, the event is under a huge cloud.

Rio Olympics gold medalist Thomas Rohler (93.90m) and German compatriot Johannes Vetter (94.44m) are front-runners for the gold medal in Tokyo, with both registering personal bests above 93m. Rio silver medalist Julius Yego (92.72m) and 2012 London gold winner Keshorn Walcott (90.16m) will also be in contention for a medal, with both registering 90-plus throws in the past.

However, with the field’s drop in form this past calendar year, a medal for Chopra might not be out of reach. Despite a long injury layoff, the Indian is consistently crossing the 85m mark in training - and he can only get better from here.

Published 16 Mar 2020, 14:07 IST
Advertisement
Fetching more content...