When it was announced last March that the Tokyo Olympics would have to be postponed, all the athletes came to terms with it, with a mixture of relief & disappointment. As the deadly COVID-19 virus raged and strangled the world, there was no other choice but to put off the powerful flame which symbolizes the virtue of the modern sporting extravaganza.
Fast forward to today, we are just a mere few weeks away from the start of Tokyo Olympics. The athletes are busy adding the final touches to their preparations, in the hope of bringing home an elusive medal.
As far as India is concerned, one of the most agonizing questions they usually ask themselves every four years (Well, five this time around) is this:
Why is India not a sporting powerhouse yet, especially at the Olympics?
Having heard multiple theories of weak infrastructure, lesser financial support and so forth over the years, it is a given that India is still miles away from achieving that feat. Since 2008, there has been a renewed sense of optimism and, this year, the expectations are higher than ever.
As the countdown clock ticks away, let us see which athletes are the best bets in the strong Indian contingent, boarding for Tokyo.
#10 Deepika Kumari & Atanu Das/Tarundeep Rai/Pravin Jadhav (Archery: Mixed Recurve)
Archery has been one discipline that has generated a lot of hype in the run-up to London & Rio and, this edition remains no different. Atanu Das, Deepika Kumari, Pravin Jadhav & Tarundeep Rai will represent India in Tokyo. The team for mixed recurve will be on the grounds of the performance by these archers in the individual qualification rounds.
After two disappointing outings, the onus is on Deepika Kumari, the Golden Girl of Indian Archery. She will need to handle the nerves to near perfection this time and silence all her critics, once and for all, with a podium finish in Tokyo.
Atanu Das has finally announced his arrival with a renewed vigor to his game and mentality and will look to improve upon his ninth-place finish in Rio. Two-time Olympian Tarundeep Rai will be hanging up his bow and arrow after Tokyo & a medal this time would be a fitting end to an illustrious 24-year career. The 24-year old Pravin Jadhav, who topped the table during the selection trials in March, will be making his Olympic debut.
Being the only female archer, Deepika is assured of her participation in the event & would be hoping to pair up with Atanu Das.
What makes the duo a possible medal contender in the mixed recure is their systematic approach to their gameplay after the disappointments at Rio. They have sought help from experts in dealing with the mental side of the game. Both of them have also been working on developing the perfect mindset & handling their thought processes with purpose.
The scientific routine seems to be working well for them, as they bagged gold medals in the individual category at the World Cup Stage 1 in Guatemala in April. They topped that up with a gold in the Mixed Recurve event at the World Cup Stage 3 in Paris.
Biggest Hurdle: Team South Korea
Koreans claimed all the four gold medals in Rio & have a whopping total of 39 archery Olympics medals (23 Gold Medals).
They have a star-studded team, spearheaded by the reigning Women’s World Champion Kang Chae Young, 2012 London Men’s Individual Gold Medallist Oh Jin-hyek & the current men’s Olympic record holder Kim Woo-jin.
The South Koreans skipped all three stages of the World Cup this time due to travel restrictions and, that could cause a severe dent in their preparations for the games.
#9 Elavenil Valarivan & Divyansh Singh Panwar (Shooting: 10 m Air Rifle Mixed Team)
Shooting will be India’s biggest bet in Tokyo and like archery, the introduction of the mixed team event in shooting can be a blessing in disguise. The 10 m air rifle mixed team event will be an exciting one, with the pairing of women’s World No.1 Elavenil Valarivan & men’s World No.2 Divyansh Panwar touted as favorites to win the event.
Elavenil Valarivan & Divyansh Panwar will be heading to Tokyo on the back of their triumph at the ISSF World Cup in March. But inexperience at the highest level might count against them, with Elavenil having shown signs of ineptitude under pressure.
Biggest Hurdle: Eszter Meszaros & Istvan Peni, Hungary
Hungary's Eszter Meszaros & Istvan Peni will be one of the dark horses in Tokyo and will look to capitalize on their momentum, having won the recent ISSF World Cup in Osijek.
#8 Amit Panghal (Boxing: Men’s 52 kg)
Amit Panghal, the 25-year-old world No.1 pugilist in the Men’s 52 kg category, is widely expected to punch above his weight as he spearheads the strong Indian Boxing Contingent. He hasn’t looked back since winning the 2017 National Championship in the 48 kg category in his debut.
When AIBA scrapped 48 kg from the Olympics, Panghal shifted to the flyweight category (52 kg). He became the first Indian Male Boxer to breach the semi-final barrier and win a silver medal at the AIBA World Boxing Championships in 2019.
The 5’2 Panghal’s game against aggressive compatriots has been about taking his time, controlling the distance and waiting for the perfect opening to counter-attack. He has been working on his power game and footwork since his defeat in the 2019 World Championship final. He will most likely be more aggressive and offensive this time, especially against heavyweights like Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.
Biggest Hurdle: Shakhobidin Zoirov, Uzbekistan
Zoirov is the reigning World & Olympic Champion and has recorded two straight wins against Panghal, making the rivalry one to watch out for in Tokyo. After his success at Rio, Zoirov spent some time in professional boxing, which has sharpened his game, making him more formidable with his quick and crisp combinations and well-timed clinches.