A time for introspection: How India fared in week one of Tokyo 2020

How India fared across archery, boxing, fencing, gymnastics, hockey, judo, rowing, sailing, shooting, swimming, table tennis and tennis in the first week of the Tokyo Games.

Lovlina Borgohain made it to the women’s 69kg semifinals to assure India of a boxing medal.   -  PTI


Even as 23-year-old Lovlina Borgohain made it to the women’s 69kg semifinals to assure India of a boxing medal, some well-known names including the iconic M. C. Mary Kom lost in the preliminary rounds to the utter disappointment of Indian fans.

The early exit of six-time world champion and London Olympics bronze medallist Mary (women’s 51kg), worlds silver medallist Amit Panghal (52kg) and former worlds bronze medallist Vikas Krishan (69kg) adversely affected India’s medal chances in Tokyo.

Mary’s loss was shocking as the 38-year-old was on a mission to earn an Olympics gold – the only prize that was missing from her trophy cabinet. She trained hard, prepared well and won her first round against Miguliena Garcia of the Dominican Republic 4-1 before losing to Rio Olympics bronze medallist Ingrit Valencia 3-2. In the dramatic bout, in which Ingrit took the first round 4-1 and Mary won the next two 3-2, the Colombian was adjudged the winner with an overall 4-1 margin. Mary, who raised her hand in anticipation of a win, later said that she was unaware of her loss.

It was a sad end to Mary’s campaign in her second and last Olympics as the champion boxer will not be able to take part in the mega event again due to the age cap of 40 years.

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Amit Panghal, the top seed in his category who had a first-round bye, fell to Yuberjen Martinez, the Rio Olympics silver medallist in the light flyweight, 4-1. After dominating the first three minutes, Amit had no clue how to stop the Colombian who was breathlessly spraying punches.

Vikas, who picked up a shoulder injury prior to the Olympics, left his third Games a disheartened man after being tamed by Japan’s Sewon Okazawa 5-0.

Manish Kaushik (63kg), another worlds medallist, ended up on the losing side with a 4-1 verdict in a closely fought encounter with British boxer Luke McCormack. Ashish Kumar (75kg) was beaten 5-0 by Chinese Erbieke Tuoheta. Asian champion Pooja Rani lost to Olympic bronze medallist and former world champion Li Qian of China 5-0, while Satish Kumar lost 5-0 to Uzbekistan’s Bakhodir Jalolov in the quarterfinals of the men’s +91kg. Y. B. Sarangi


In yet another disappointing outing at the Olympics, the Indian archers came a cropper and returned empty-handed from Tokyo. There was no dearth of experience as Deepika Kumari and Tarundeep Rai appeared in their third Olympics, while Atanu Das competed in his second. Pravin Jadhav was the only one who made his Olympics debut. The problem began from the ranking round as the Indian archers shot below-par scores. Deepika, the lone female archer from the country to book a quota place, finished ninth with a total score of 663. The men managed even lower ranks with Jadhav (656), Das (653) and Rai (652) placing 31st, 35th and 37th, respectively.

The low rankings meant the Indians were likely to meet stronger opponents early on in the elimination phase.

Das’ second place among the Indians also meant that the well-gelled husband-wife duo of Das and Deepika could not pair for the newly introduced mixed team event. The ninth-placed Indian team went past Chinese Taipei 5-3 in the first round before falling to top-ranked South Korea 6-2.

The men’s team, which had secured a silver at the 2019 world championships and was also slotted ninth, got the better of Kazakhstan 6-2 before losing to eventual champion South Korea 6-0.

Atanu Das’ second place among the Indian archers meant that the well-gelled husband-wife duo of Das and Deepika Kumari could not pair for the newly introduced mixed team event.   -  PTI


In the individual events, Rai fought well to beat Ukrainian Oleksii Hunbin 6-4 but lost to Israeli Itay Shanny 6-5 via a shoot-off. Jadhav defeated creditably upset world No. 2 Galsan Bazarzhapov of Russia 6-0. He went down fighting 0-6 to world No. 1 Brady Ellison. Das fought hard to beat Yu-Cheng Deng of Chinese Taipei 6-4 and London Olympics gold medallist Jinhyek Oh of Korea 6-5 through a thrilling shoot-off. However, he met his match in London Olympic silver medallist and local favourite Takaharu Furukawa, losing 6-4 in the third round.

Deepika, who got past Karma of Bhutan 6-0, Jennifer Mucino-Fernandez of the USA 6-4 and Russian Ksenia Perova 6-5 (via a shoot-off), advanced the maximum as she made it to the quarterfinals. She lost to top-ranked San An of Korea 6-0 and could not break her Olympics jinx. Y. B. Sarangi


The Indian men’s hockey team, which hasn’t won an Olympic medal since claiming gold at the 1980 Moscow Games, advanced to the semifinals at Tokyo 2020 after defeating Great Britain 3-1 in the quarterfinals. After opening its campaign with a 3-2 victory over New Zealand, India slumped to a 7-1 thumping at the hands of world No. 1 Australia in its next match. However, the team beat the likes of Spain (3-0), Argentina (3-1) and host Japan (5-3) in subsequent games to seal second place in pool A and set up a last-eight contest with Great Britain, the third-ranked side from pool B. Drag-flickers Harmanpreet Singh (four goals) and Rupinder Pal Singh (three) were India’s main men, converting penalty corners and strokes with precision.

The women’s team, too, reached the semifinals after a 1-0 win over mighty Australia. The side reached the quarterfinals despite losing its first three encounters in Tokyo. After conceding 11 goals and scoring just two in the clashes against the Netherlands (1-5), Germany (0-2) and Great Britain (1-4), India defeated the 2018 World Cup runner-up Ireland 1-0 before edging past South Africa 4-3 in a thriller. During the latter game, forward Vandana Katariya became the first Indian woman to score a hat-trick in hockey at the Games. The Rani Rampal-led outfit had finished fourth in its group to squeeze into the last eight. Dominic Richard

The Indian women’s hockey team reached the semifinals after a 1-0 win over mighty Australia.   -  PTI



Indian rowers Arjun Lal Jat and Arvind Singh left for Tokyo Olympics with no big statements. The lightweight men’s doubles scullers and chief national coach Ismail Baig were not so naive as to ignore the fact that they would be up against a field rich in experience and exposure. Their specific objective was to improve upon the previous Olympic performances, and both Arjun and Arvind now have a reason to feel proud after settling for 11th place in the eventual standings in Tokyo in the best-ever show by Indian rowers in any Games in double sculls. The distinction of making it to the semifinals A\B for the first time and then finishing fifth in Final B at Sea Forest Waterway in Tokyo is something that should only spur the spirited duo to dream even bigger and chase their goals.

Indian rowers Arjun Lal Jat and Arvind Singh with coach Ismail Baig.   -  Special Arrangement


It was a slow start by the Indian duo in the heats clocking 16.59 seconds behind the group winners, which saw them compete in the repechage round where they finished a creditable third. Then came the praiseworthy show in the Final B to decide the final standings for positions 7-12 where Arvind and Arjun clocked 6:29.66 to finish fifth out of six pairs and clinch 11th place.

For the record, the previous best in doubles sculls was 18th place by Manjeet Singh and Sandeep Kumar at the 2012 London Olympics.

“This is the greatest day in my coaching career,” exclaimed a visibly delighted Baig. “Our first target was to finish between 10th and 14th places. This is a remarkable performance given the extremely tough draw.” V. V. Subrahmanyam


Great expectations, and deep disappointment.

That was the story of Indian shooting at the Tokyo Games. Saurabh Chaudhary, Manu Bhaker & Co. promised a lot but delivered little. The 19-year-old Chaudhary was the only one to make a final, which he did in 10m air pistol, but the Youth Olympics and Asian Games gold medallist faltered early and finished seventh. Chaudhary was poised to make the medal round in the mixed air pistol when Bhaker had two 8s on the last three shots that placed them in seventh place.

Abhishek Verma was cruising into the air pistol final when he shot 9, 9, 8 and 8 on the last four shots to crash out. It was possibly the nervousness of competing in one’s maiden Olympics, who knows? Chaudhary and Bhaker had won five gold medals and a silver in the last six World Cups. Tokyo was a harsh lesson for the Indian shooters that the Olympics is a different cup of tea and they need to brew their preparation in a much different fashion.

Elavenil Valarivan and Divyansh Singh Panwar were the world Nos. 1 in the women and men’s air rifle, respectively. But the rankings were swept away as if in a storm, as the two individually and as a team fell below par.

Maybe the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) had blundered in keeping world championships silver medallist Anjum Moudgil out of the air rifle event. The selectors were swayed by mere statistics and did not understand the intrinsic value of the shooters or their ability to measure up on the big stage. Asian Games gold medallist Rahi Sarnobat perhaps peaked early at the World Cup in Osijek when she shot 591 in qualification in the 25m sports pistol and a near world record in the final to clinch the gold. In Tokyo, she shot 573. Manu shot 582 and missed the final by two points.

Saurabh Chaudhary was poised to make the medal round in the mixed air pistol when Manu Bhaker had two 8s on the last three shots that placed them in seventh place.   -  Getty Images


Moudgil shot 1167 in the women’s rifle three-positions event and missed the final by four points. She was in an unenviable position. After her Olympic air rifle quota at the world championships, she was not able to shoot in the three-positions event in the regular team as others were given a chance to win an Olympic quota. Moudgil was stranded in no-man’s land for Tokyo. As if the problems were not enough, Bhaker’s pistol, which broke down during competition, led to a no-holds-barred social media fight between coach Ronak Pandit in Tokyo and coach Jaspal Rana back home. After the government had spent hundreds of crores for preparations, it was a crime not to have a second pistol in working condition and ready to fire.

For the perplexed president of the NRAI, it was a mystery as to why there was a repeat of the blank salvo fired at the Rio Games by the Indian contingent. Skeet shooters Angad Vir Singh Bajwa and Mairaj Ahmad Khan followed a different format of preparation, but they too were unable to make the final in a highly competitive event that demanded near perfect accuracy. There was to be no dramatic twist to the Indian script as the young Aishwary Pratap Singh Tomar shot 1167 and placed 21st in the men’s 50m rifle three-positions event, while the seasoned Sanjeev Rajput — competing in his third Olympics — shot 1157 for the 32nd spot.

For sure, the Indian shooters were world-beaters on their day. Physically they were in Japan, but mentally they chose to go on a mass holiday during the Tokyo Olympics. It is an art to peak at the Olympics. Indian shooting did not have the expertise or the experience to achieve the same. Kamesh Srinivasan


India had three swimmers in the fray in Tokyo, but none was able to impress, failing at the first hurdle itself. The trio of Sajan Prakash and Srihari Nataraj, among the men, and Maana Patel, who by gaining a berth via the universality quota became the first Indian female swimmer to qualify for the Olympics, could hardly match their personal bests before making early exits.

Sajan Prakash, who had raised Indian hopes by securing A qualification entry for the Games, like in Rio five years ago, fared poorly in both the men’s 100m and 200m butterfly. In the 100m, the Kerala swimmer was second in his heats with a time of 53.45 but could only attain the 46th position overall before bowing out. In the 200m, the 27-year-old again came up second in his heat in 1:57.22, but was ranked only 24th. Srihari Nataraj, the 20-year-old from Bengaluru, like Sajan, made sure of a first-time appearance at the Games by meeting the A qualification standard, timing 53.77 at a meet in Rome. However, at the Tokyo aquatics centre, he was unable to match this and was only a poor fifth in his heats with 54.31. This left him in the 26th position overall, with only 16 spots available for the semifinals. Ahmedabad’s Maana will for sure be remembered as the first Indian woman swimmer to qualify for the Olympics. The 20-year-old was unable to match expectations as she could time only 1:05.20 (against a personal best of 1:03.77) in the 100m backstroke while finishing second in her heats, ranking 39th overall. A. Vinod

Sajan Prakash, who had raised Indian hopes by securing A qualification entry for the Games, like in Rio five years ago, fared poorly in both the men’s 100m and 200m butterfly.   -  Getty Images



India’s first-ever Olympic fencer C. A. Bhavani Devi did well to reach the women’s sabre second round, losing to the fourth-seeded Manon Brunet of France. Though the Indian showed her tricks in the second period, she was no match for the 25-year-old Frenchwoman. Bhavani had defeated Tunisia’s Ben Azizi Nadia in the first round. K. Keerthivasan


Pranati Nayak, the lone Indian gymnast at the Games, failed to make the cut for the final. The 26-year-old’s total score read 42.565 over the four categories: floor exercise, vault, uneven bars and balance beam. Nayak finished in the bottom half in all the events. She scored 10.633 in the floor exercise with a difficulty of 4.400 and execution of 6.233, before producing a score of 13.466 in the vault with a difficulty of 5.000 and execution of 8.466. K. Keerthivasan


Judoka Sushila Devi lost her round-of-32 contest to Eva Csernoviczki in the 48kg category. Though Sushila fought hard against the Hungarian, a bronze medallist at the 2012 London Olympics, it was always going to be a huge challenge for the Indian. Sushila was the only Indian judoka at the Games. K. Keerthivasan


For the first time, India sent four sailors in three categories in sailing. Though nothing big was expected from either Vishnu Saravanan (laser standard), Nethra Kumanan (laser radial) or the pair of Varun Thakkar and K. C. Ganapathy (men’s 49er), Vishnu did surprise everyone with a wonderful third-place finish in the ninth race. While Vishnu finished a creditable 20th overall among 35 fleets, Nethra disappointed, finishing 35th (among 44 fleets). The Varun-Ganapathy combine too didn’t fare any better, ending 17th among 19 fleets. K. Keerthivasan


On paper, this was surely the best outing for India at the Games — as stressed by A. Sharath Kamal himself to Sportstar. But was it an extraordinary outing as such?

Well, that’s debatable. Controversies aside, it wasn’t actually the most successful outing in terms of progressing in the draw, especially in the men’s. The week started with Sharath and Manika Batra pairing up against the Chinese Taipei’s Lin Yun-ju and Cheng I-ching in the mixed-doubles round of 16. However, India’s “remote medal hope,” as was touted by Sharath after they qualified in March, went up in flames. Thankfully, the drubbing had no effect on either of India’s ace paddlers in their main event.

G. Sathiyan faltered against a lowly ranked opponent from Hong Kong in the second round on his Olympic debut.   -  Getty Images


While Sharath made it to the round of 32 for the second time in four Olympic outings, it was creditable to see him first pull off a win over Tiago Apolonia in the second round before asking questions of Ma Long before exiting.

G. Sathiyan’s was the most disappointing campaign as the defending national champion faltered against a lowly ranked opponent from Hong Kong in the second round on his Olympic debut. The other debutant, Sutirtha Mukherjee, surprisingly, won her first-round match against Sweden’s Linda Bergstrom before bowling out to a 42-year-old from Portugal. But the biggest talking point of the tournament was the other female paddler who remained in the headlines on and off the table. Batra, the Commonwealth Games champion, stunned 20th seed Margaryta Pesotska of Ukraine in the second round before exiting against 10th seed Sofia Polcanova of Austria in the round of 32. With no Asian opponent in her quarter, it was Batra’s best chance to become the first Indian to enter the singles pre-quarterfinals, but she couldn’t make use ofi t.

Beyond that, Batra remained in the news for her request to be accompanied by her personal coach. While her coach was allowed to travel, since he wasn’t granted access for competition area, it resulted in Batra playing her singles matches without anyone in the coach’s chair.

While the federation alleged that she refused to have national coach Soumyadeep Roy by the courtside during her matches, Batra told Sportstar that she had had a candid discussion with Roy. However, her action and comments may attract punitive action by the federation. Unfortunately, the Tokyo table tennis campaign may be remembered for this unwanted episode rather than Indian paddlers’ exploits on the table. Amol Karhadkar


Much wasn’t expected of the Indian tennis players and predictably they returned empty-handed. In Sania Mirza, the nation did have a former world No. 1 and winner of six Major doubles titles, but in Sumit Nagal and Ankita Raina, it had two players outside the top 100 and with very negligible top-level experience.

It showed in the case of Nagal especially. The 23-year-old, making a late entry into the draw following a string of pullouts, did beat 2018 Asian Games gold medallist Denis Istomin to become the first Indian to win a singles match at the Olympics since Leander Paes in 1996. But the way world no. 2 Daniil Medvedev played him off the park in the second round reminded him of the gulf in quality.

Ankita Raina, who has had many firsts in the last two years, gave a decent account of herself, but Sania Mirza was rusty, having played just four women’s doubles matches across four tournaments coming into the competition.   -  Reuters


Raina, who has had many firsts in the last two years, gave a decent account of herself, but Mirza was rusty, having played just four women’s doubles matches across four tournaments coming into the competition. In the 6-0, 6-7 (0), [8-10] women’s doubles first-round defeat to Ukraine’s Nadiia Kichenok and Lyudmyla Kichenok, Mirza lost her serve at 5-3 in the second set, after which the match turned on its head.

The tennis fraternity didn’t cover itself in glory off the court too, as a few senior pros, Rohan Bopanna included, and the All India Tennis Association engaged in a needless slanging match over entries to the Games. One hopes that the stakeholders invest their energies in uplifting the standards of the sport in India, which have plumbed to hitherto unseen depths. N. Sudarshan

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