There is palpable tension, but the COVID-hit Olympic Games, which is starting here on Friday, could prove to be a watershed for the biggest-ever Indian contingent with shooters, boxers and wrestlers expected to lead an unparalleled medal rush.
The Games was postponed by a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which hasn’t slowed down much despite the advent of multiple vaccines. The fear of the virus is omnipresent in Tokyo, which is playing host to thousands of athletes, their support staff and officials while logging over 1,000 daily COVID-19 cases.
Only a tiny bunch of them are Games-related, but the count has been enough to ensure that fear remains a constant in the event.
The India men’s hockey team is in good form, having done well in recent international tours
IOC wants to look at the bright side
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is trying its best to focus on hope though and wants everyone else to do the same. Its musings will have resonance in one country at least. India has just 28 Olympic medals to its credit since making a debut in 1900. The tally features just one individual gold medal that Abhinav Bindra picked up in 2008 in Beijing.
The Indian public is more optimistic than before of what its 120 athletes – 68 men and 52 women – in Tokyo would achieve. The expectations are of a first-ever double-digit figure in the medals tally, surpassing the best haul of six achieved at the 2012 London Olympics.
The Indian shooting contingent is expected to return with a rich haul of medals
Top contenders for podium finish
The foremost among the contenders are 15 shooters. A 19-year-old Manu Bhaker, a 20-year-old Elavenil Valarivan, an 18-year-old Divyansh Singh Panwar, and a 20-year-old Aishwary Pratap Singh Tomar are some names from whom medal hopes are sky high.
The jumbo shooting contingent is on one side. On the other is a lone warrior – Mirabai Chanu (49kg) in weightlifting. The 26-year-old has come a long way since failing to record a single legitimate lift at the Rio Olympics. Another bunch to watch out for is the archery team, led by World No.1 Deepika Kumari.
The boxers are another set of contenders with World No.1 Amit Panghal (52kg), MC Mary Kom (51kg) and Vikas Krishan (69kg) being the strongest medal hopes.
There are seven wrestlers and it would be viewed as nothing short of a debacle if Bajrang Punia (65kg) and Vinesh Phogat (53kg) don’t end up on the podium. The two hockey teams are also going in with loads of optimism after decent outings in the international tours.
There is some excitement surrounding the paddlers too with the mixed team of Sharath Kamal Achanta and Manika Batra being given a shot at a medal. In athletics, javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra’s spear could end the agony of near misses.
World badminton champion PV Sindhu is looking good for a second Olympic medal, an achievement that would cement her place among the all-time greats of Indian sports. Veteran Sania Mirza spearheads the tennis challenge in her fourth Olympic appearance. She will be seen in the women’s doubles event alongside Ankita Raina.
India’s rise in recent years
India will have representation in fencing (CA Bhavani Devi) and equestrian (Fouaad Mirza) for the first time. It is also for the first time that two swimmers – Sajan Prakash and Srihari Nataraj – made the Olympic cut with ‘A’ qualification marks.
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