Neeraj Chopra, Bajrang Punia, shooters - India's top medal prospects in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics

Many an Indian athlete has made a strong case for a good finish in the Games this year. Here’s a look at a few of the country's brightest podium and medal prospects in the Tokyo Olympics.

From Neeraj Chopra and Deepika Kumari to Saurabh Chaudhary and Mirabai Chanu, we take a look at India's medal prospects in the upcoming Tokyo Olympics.

More than 120 members grace the contingent which is to represent India at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics later this month. India will compete in about 85 medal positions, with many an athlete making a strong case for a good finish in the Games this year. Here’s a look at the Indian athletes who are likely to manage a podium finish in Tokyo.

Weightlifting: Mirabai Chanu - Competing in the 49kg category, Chanu became the first Indian weightlifter to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics on the basis of placing second on the Absolute Ranking List issued by the International Weightlifting Federation, assisted by North Korea withdrawing from reckoning in the Olympics.

This is not her first rodeo having competed in the 2016 Rio Olympics before. However, she did not complete her event as she failed to record a single successful lift in the clean and jerk category.

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The Khel Ratna awardee recently broke the world record, by lifting 119 kg in the clean and jerk section at the Asian Championships last year, where she finished with a bronze medal. She also has gold medals in the World Championship (2017) and the 2018 Commonwealth Games and will hope to follow Karnam Malleshwari in making Olympic history for India.

READ: Tokyo Olympics: India's contingent checks in, smooth ride to Games Village

Boxing: Amit Panghal and Mary Kom – Panghal, the world no.1 pugilist in the men’s 52kg category is one of India’s most promising medal prospects. Ever since he won the National Boxing Championship in 2017, his career has been been on the rise.

Panghal shifted from the 48kg to the 52kg (flyweight) category when the International Boxing Association [AIBA] decided to remove the former weight bracket from the Olympics. In the World Boxing Championships in 2019, Panghal beat Kazakhstan's Saken Bibossinov by split decision (3-2) in the flyweight semi-final, becoming the first male Indian boxer to breach that barrier and win a silver medal in the history of the event.



He also won gold medals at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and 2020 Boxing World Cup. He is the only one among Indian boxers heading to Tokyo to be ranked number 1 in his weight class. 

Mary Kom, one of India’s flagbearers in the Olympics this year, is another medal prospect for the country. With 19 international medals to her name, including an Olympic bronze in the 2012 London Games, she comes into the Tokyo Games with a silver medal at the Asian Boxing Championship and bronze at the Boxam International Boxing tournament. Given her experience and that she has called this her final Olympics, Mary will want to bow out of the biggest stage on a high. 

READ: Tokyo Olympics: Indian shooters profile, ranking, opponents, form guide

Shooting: Given India’s recent performances on the global stage, shooting is a promising discipline for India at Tokyo.

Saurabh Chaudhary
has been promising in the run-up to the Olympics with two medals in the 10m Air Pistol Individual events in the 2021 ISSF World Cup in New Delhi and Croatia.

He has Manu Bhaker, youngest Indian to win a gold medal in the ISSF World Cup event, partnering him in the mixed event. The pair won silver in the team event in Croatia earlier this year and has enjoyed much success in the World Cups over the last few years.

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The Indian shooting contingent   -  SAI Media/ MYAS



Elavenil Valarivan and Divyansh Singh Panwar are also a pair to watch out for, given their high world rankings (#1, #2 respectively) and a gold medal in the World Cup in New Delhi this year. 


Badminton: P V Sindhu:
The Rio Olympics silver medallist will want to do one better this time in Tokyo, given her biggest competitor – Spain's Carolina Marin – has withdrawn due to injury. She won gold at the World Championships in 2019 but has struck a rough patch since. With the pandemic affecting tournaments available to prepare for Tokyo, Sindhu’s form has been a cause for concern. Sindhu, however, is a proven big match player and will hope to contribute to India’s medal tally in the Olympics.

READ: Car sold, pockets empty, judoka Shushila fights to live Tokyo Olympics dream  

Archery: Deepika Kumari, the lone female archer to make the cut for the Tokyo Olympics, is coming off a hat-trick of gold medals in the recurve events at the Archery World Cup in Paris last month. Her recent success also saw her make it to the top of the rankings for the first time since Dola Banerjee in 2012. She will also compete alongside Pravin Jadhav, Atanu Das (whom she is married to) and Tarundeep Rai in the team event. If her recent form is anything to go by, Kumari is a strong medal contender in Tokyo this year.

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Atanu Das and Deepika Kumari   -  Biswaranjan Rout

 

Athletics: Neeraj Chopra: After missing the cut for the 2016 Rio Olympics, a then 18-year-old Neeraj Chopra bounced back with a gold medal in javelin at the IAAF World under-20 athletics championship in Poland, setting a world record of 86.48m, followed by gold medals at the 2018 Asian Games and Commonwealth Games.

His Tokyo preparation took an early hit when a career-threatening elbow injury forced him out of action for most part of 2019. He returned to competition in early 2020, sealing his Tokyo 2020 quota before COVID-19 forced a global shutdown, introducing greater hassles in getting competition time.



In the run up to the Summer Games, Chopra bettered his own national record in javelin - 88.06m at the Asian Games in ‘18 - with an 88.07m throw at the Indian Grand Prix 3 in Patiala earlier this year. That one of his main competitors – Rio Olympics champion, Germany's Thomas Rohler – has withdrawn due to injury only betters his chances of finishing on the podium in Tokyo. 

Hockey: India Men: No one understands pressure quite like the India men’s hockey team, given that this side has won the nation 11 medals at the Olympics - eight golds, one silver and two bronzes. After failing to qualify for the Beijing Olympics, India finished 12th in London and 8th in 2016.

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The India men's hockey team   -  Hockey India / Twitter



Ranked number four in the world, the side has had a good run ahead of the Games. In the FIH Pro League, India beat Netherlands twice and drew 1-1 against world number one side Belgium and Australia. The last time the Olympics were held in Japan, India went home with the gold. Manpreet Singh’s boys will hope for an encore this year. This may just be India’s best chance yet to finally end a four-decade-long wait for success at the Olympics.

Wrestling: Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat: Seven wrestlers have secured a spot in the Tokyo Olympics but the brightest medal prospects in the contingent are Bajrang and Vinesh.

Bajrang secured his place in the Tokyo Olympics despite losing his semifinal bout against local favourite Daulet Niyazbekov under controversial circumstances at the World Wrestling Championships in Nur Sultan in 2019. He eventually won bronze, his second across editions in this competition. He tasted success earlier in the 2018 Asian Games and at two Asian Championships.

Tokyo is Bajrang’s maiden Olympics and he will hope to begin this chapter of his career on a winning note.

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Ravi Kumar Dahiya, Bajrang Punia, former Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju, Vinesh Phogat and Deepak Punia   -  PTI

 

Vinesh Phogat, competing in the 53 kg category, qualified for the 2020 Olympics after defeating World No. 1 Sarah Hildebrandt in the World Wrestling Championships in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan in September 2019.

Her 8-2 win in the second repechage round secured her spot at the Tokyo Games, making her the first Indian to qualify for the Tokyo Games. A 2018 Asian Games gold medallist and a two-time Commonwealth Games medallist, this is Vinesh's second Olympic stint after a disappointing run at the Rio Games in 2016.

Most recently, the 26-year-old bagged yet another gold medal at the Poland Open to strengthen her case. 

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