Tokyo Olympics 2020: India’s first major step at global sports domination
Olympics is the pinnacle of multi-sports events, where athletes from all around the globe take part across sporting disciplines to bring laurels to their nation. With a population of 1.3 billion and counting, India’s success stories at the Olympics have been slightly disappointing.
The pre-Independence era of Indian Olympics history reflects how the Indian hockey team remained unscathed and with literally no competition, pocketed all the gold medals in all the editions when they were at their best.
However, after partition, India faced stiff competition from Pakistan and European nations like the Netherlands and Germany. Lack of modern infrastructure had its toll on budding Indian hockey players, who never lacked skill but could not match the speed and fitness levels of their European counterparts and as a result, the Indian team has returned without a medal in hockey since the 1980 Moscow Olympics.
Other than hockey, India have pocketed only one individual Olympic gold medal viz sports shooter Abhinav Bindra, who won the top honour from the 10m air rifle event at the 2008 Olympics.
India's best haul of medals at the Olympics came during 2012 London Olympics, where the country finished with a total of 6 medals (2 silver and 4 bronze) and when everyone thought that this will kick start India’s global domination in sports, 2016 Rio Olympics proved to be rather disastrous with all the major medal hopes faltering at the big stage.
The Indian shooting contingent returned without a medal for first time since Rajvardhan Singh Rathore's silver medal from 2004 Athens Olympics. All the controversies surrounding Wrestling contingent (The Narsingh-Sushil saga) and the Boxing federation (or the lack of it) didn’t help either.
In short, it was an unwanted low after the high of 2012 Olympics.
The Rise of India as a sports nation after 2016
Since the 2016 Olympics, what has changed for India? Why is the country touted to be a force to reckon with in sports like shooting, wrestling and (to an extent) boxing at the 2020 Olympics?
The simple answer is the rearguard action that many federations especially the National Rifle Association of India (The shooting federation) took after the debacle of 2016 Olympics.
Olympics, as we all know is a multi-sport extravaganza that happens once in four years. However, the strength of any contingent in any sport is judged by the fact that how well they have fared in the Olympic cycle (The four years between the last and next Olympics) in the lead up to that particular Olympics.
And people who follow shooting have seen how India has grown from strength to strength from 2017 to 2019. The last year especially, was a real stamp of authority in the lead up to Tokyo, when India proved to be the best team at the (2019) World Cup series, beating power horse teams like China, US and Russia to top the medal tally chart with 21 gold medals across World Cups.
The heartening thing in all these victories was to see the growth of shooters like Saurabh Chaudhary, Manu Bhaker who would have been in their primary schools in the previous Olympic cycle (’12-’16) became world beaters while experienced campaigners like Apurvi Chandela and Sanjeev Rajput held on to their fort well.
Overall, Shooting remains the mainstay if India are to have a rich medal haul come the Tokyo Olympics 2020.
In combat sports
Also, over the last Olympic cycle we have witnessed a significant upward trend in the number of individual brilliant performers across various combat sports, especially wrestling and boxing.
Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat have been a mainstay as far as wrestling is concerned. The former especially has made 65 kg category his own and is the only Indian to win a medal three times at the World Championships.
In Boxing, Amit Panghal has had the better of the reigning Olympic champion Hasanboy Dusmatov on multiple occasions starting from 2018 Asian games and with a World Championship (2019) silver medal under his belt, he too has a brilliant chance to hit big at the Tokyo Olympics 2020. Padma Vibushan Mary Kom has impressed and holds the key for India
In various other sports
Javelin Thrower Neeraj Chopra has become a household name. 2019 season was full of injury struggles for the big man but he has come out of the scare like a real champion and qualified for the Olympics with a big hurl of 87.86 meters just a few days back in Potchefstroom.
Weightlifter Mirabai Chanu too has made giant strides this Olympic cycle and those who have followed her journey closely know that she has a sure shot opportunity to medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics given she stays away from injuries and keeps her focus right. Our shuttlers have witnessed a lots of ups and downs in this cycle but you can never really write-off the likes of PV Sindhu come big stage like the Olympics.
Overall, we can safely say that at prima facie, the number of medal prospects in this Olympic cycle has increased manifolds over the last cycle but the thing that needs to be seen is that how many of these medal prospects translate into medals and if most of them manage to hold their nerves at the big stage, we can safely say that the Tokyo 2020 Olympics will be India’s first major step towards global sports domination.
Published 03 Feb 2020, 19:06 IST