Tokyo Olympics, Athletics: Indian contenders in track and field, their prospects

Here is a brief profile and form guide of all the 26 Indian athletes who have qualified for the Tokyo Olympics.

Nerraj Chopra is a man on a mission to make the podium at the Tokyo Olympics.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Neeraj Chopra, javelin

Ranking (World Athletics' 2021 rankings): 4

Form guide 2021: Broke his own National record with a 88.07m throw early in the season at the Indian Grand Prix in Patiala in March. Gold in Federation Cup (87.80m), City of Lisbon (Portugal, 83.18m), Karstad GP (Sweden, 80.96m), and bronze in Kuortane Games (World Athletics Continental Tour event, Finland, 86.79m where World No. 1 Johannes Vetter won gold with 93.59m).

Main rivals: 2017 World champion Germany's Johannes Vetter (personal best 97.76m, season best 96.29m) who has been consistently throwing over 90m this year, Poland's Marcin Krukowski (PB & SB 89.55m), 2012 London Olympics champion and 2016 Rio Olympics bronze medallist Trinidad & Tobago's Keshorn Walcott (PB 90.16m, SB 89.12m), Latvia's 2014 under-20 World champion Gatis Cakss (PB & SB 87.57m).

Neeraj Chopra, the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games champion, is the brightest prospect to win independent India's first-ever Olympic medal in athletics in Tokyo. The 23-year-old, from Khandra Village in Haryana's Panipat district, who won the 2016 under-20 World title with a junior world record, has lived up to expectations so far and Tokyo will offer him his best chance to win an Olympic medal.

Chopra failed to qualify for the last Olympics as he suffered a shoulder sprain, but weeks after the qualifications doors closed for Rio 2016, he won the under-20 World championship gold with a world record. He failed to make the final at the 2017 London Worlds and missed the 2019 Doha Worlds after a shoulder surgery, and will be very hungry for success in Tokyo.

Vetter, who is also yet to win an Olympic medal, has had a series of 90-plus throws this year and will be the big favourite for the gold. If Chopra strikes form, he could even win a silver at Tokyo. The global pandemic has also changed the scene in a big way. Olympic champion Thomas Rohler has pulled out with a back injury, while Rio silver medallist Julius Yego appears to be in poor form with throws of 67m and 75m in the only two competitions he did this year. Grenada's Anderson Peters, the 2019 World champion, also has not been in great form this season, while Estonia's World silver medallist Magnus Kirt has pulled out of Tokyo with a leg injury. So, the fight for the silver and bronze could be very tight.

 

Shivpal Singh, javelin

Indian javelin thrower Shivpal Singh qualified for his maiden Olympic Games in Tokyo by breaching the qualification mark at an event in South Africa.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

 

Ranking: 27

Form guide 2021: Shivpal won the 2019 Asian championship silver with a personal best 86.23m in Doha and qualified for Tokyo with 85.47m in South Africa in March 2020, but his performance has dipped this year. He was second, behind Neeraj, with 81.63m in his season-opening Indian GP-3, but slumped to 77.31m in the inter-State Nationals in Patiala in June. He explained later that he had been suffering from a liver problem for nearly a month.

Rivals: Chopra's rivals will be Shivpal's too.

The 26-year-old from Chandauli Village, near Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh (UP), has been very inconsistent. Even in his last major, the 2019 Doha Worlds, he could manage 78.97m – one of his poorest throws that year – and failed to enter the final. But if he does return to 85 or 86m form, he could make it to the final.

 

M. Sreeshankar, long jump

Sreeshankar jumped 8.26m at the Senior Federation Cup and earned himself a berth at the Tokyo Olympics.   -  FILE PHOTO/APP

 

Ranking: 13

Form guide 2021: Bettered his own National record with an 8.26m effort at the Federation Cup in Patiala in March that helped him to qualify for Tokyo. Incidentally, all his five legal jumps were above 8m that day. There was a dip in his performance in the next meet, the Indian GP-4 where he could manage 7.74m. The hot and unhelpful conditions in Patiala forced him to pull out of the inter-State Nationals.

Rivals: Greek Miltaidis Tentoglou (SB 8.60m), JuVaughn Harrison (8.47m), defending Olympic champion Jeff Henderson (8.39m), World champion Tajay Gayle (8.29), Cuban Juan Miguel Echevarria (8.38) will be among top competitors. Incidentaly, JuVaughn Harrison has also qualified in the high jump and will be the first American man since Jim Thorpe in 1912 to compete in both events at the same Olympics.

The most exciting prospect in Indian athletics after javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra, Sreeshankar has it in him to enter the final and also pull off a big surprise. A former World junior No. 1, the 22-year-old from Palakkad in Kerala, who has his dad S. Murali as coach, had a bad 2018, when he had to undergo appendicitis surgery, but now he appears to be in the form of his life.

Avinash Sable, 3000m steeplechase

Avinash Sable has been on a national record-spree in the last few years, which saw him enter the final at the 2019 Doha Worlds and also qualify for Tokyo.   -  Biswaranjan Rout

 

Ranking: 31

Form guide 2021: Bettered his own national record with 8:20.20s at the Federation Cup in March but skipped the inter-State Nationals in Patiala in June.

Rivals: With Olympic and World champion Conseslus Kipruto failing to make the cut at the Kenyan Olympic trials, 2019 Doha Worlds runner-up Lamecha Girma, Kenya's Abraham Kibiwot and Morocco's World No. 1 Soufiane El Bakkali are expected to finish at the top of the pack.

Sable has been on a national record-spree in the last few years, which saw him enter the final at the 2019 Doha Worlds and also qualify for Tokyo. He is expected to make the final in Tokyo, too.

 

Tajinderpal Singh Toor, shot put

Tajinder Pal Singh Toor

Tajinder Pal Singh Toor bettered his own national mark at the Indian Grand Prix-4 in Patiala in June with a 21.49m throw which saw him better the Tokyo entry standard of 21.10m with ease.   -  AP

 

Ranking: 15

Form guide 2021: The Asian Games champion bettered his own national mark at the Indian Grand Prix-4 in Patiala in June with a 21.49m throw which saw him better the Tokyo entry standard of 21.10m with ease. He touched 21.10m again at the inter-State Nationals a few days later.

Rivals: World record holder Ryan Crouser (23.37m) who is also the Olympic champion, World champion Joe Kovacs – both from the US – and New Zealand's Tomas Walsh will be the stars to watch.

The shot put was a very close event at the last Worlds. Toor should enter the final if he continues with the form he showed in the last two Indian meets.

 

M.P. Jabir, 400m hurdles

Ranking: 74

Form guide 2021: An injury virtually spoiled his year but M.P. Jabir made the Tokyo cut through the World rankings route after being rewarded for some fine performances in 2019. He competed in two meets this season and a best of 49.78s this season (his personal best 49.13s came in the 2019 Doha Asians, where he took the bronze).

Rivals: Norway's Karsten Warholm, the new world record holder and two-time World champion, American Rai Benjamin, among others.

 

Jabir, from Malappuram in Kerala, has not had a good season but if he has fully recovered from his injury he could enter the semifinal as he did at the 2019 Worlds.

 

Sandeep Kumar, 20km race walk

Ranking: 30

Form guide 2021: Sandeep clocked 1:20.16s to break K.T. Irfan's 20km national record which came in the 2012 London Olympics, where the Kerala walker finished 10th.

Rivals: China's Kaihua Wang, the 2021 World leader with 1:16.54, among others.

Sandeep holds the 20km and 50km national records but in the Asians in Nomi, Japan in 2019, he was 28th. And in 2018, he participated in the 50km event at the Asian Games in Jakarta and was disqualified.

 

K.T. Irfan, 20km race walk

Ranking: No ranking in 2021 as he did not complete the only 20km event he did this year at the race walk Nationals in Ranchi in February.

Form guide 2021: Irfan, from Malappuram in Kerala, comes with a big reputation but has not been very convincing this season – a DNF at the race walking Nationals in February. He was also made to undergo a fitness trials a few days ago.

Rivals: Sandeep's rivals are Irfan's, too.

 

Rahul Rohilla, 20km race walk

Ranking: 37

Form guide 2021: Clocked a personal best 1:20.26s while finishing runner-up at the Nationals at Ranchi in February. This helped him qualify for Tokyo.

Rivals: Sandeep's rivals are Rahul's, too.

 

The 25-year-old Armyman from Bahadurgarh in Haryana will be making his international debut at the Tokyo Olympics.

 

Gurpreet Singh, 50km race walk

Ranking: 70

Form guide 2021: Won the Nationals with a personal best 3:59.42s.

Rivals: Japan's Santoshi Maruo (3:38.42s), Hayato Katsuki (3:42.34), among others.

The Armyman from Patiala took a break from race walking because of migraine and was later deputed by the Army to serve in Congo. He returned to walking in 2019 after six years, and earlier this year became the fifth Indian to go under four hours in the 50k walk. He qualified for the Olympics on the basis of his world ranking.

 

4x400m men's relay (Team 8th fastest in the 2021 World list with 3:01.89s)

 

Amoj Jacob

Ranking: 81 (in individual 400m)

Form guide 2021: Improved stunningly with virtually every meet this season to post a personal best 45.68s in the Federation Cup this year. He is the fastest Indian quartermiler this year.

The 23-year-old from Delhi was a decent two-lapper too but now with his prospects of becoming a regular in the 4x400m relays, he has decided to focus on the quartermile. Some top names have not run a 400m final this year. If the relay runners are all fit, the men's team could enter the final.

 

Nanganathan Pandi

Ranking: 167 (in indivdual 400m).

Form guide 2021: Won gold at the Indian GP-1, took the silver in the Federation Cup with a personal best 46.09s.

For the 25-year-old from Ramanathapuram in Tamil Nadu, 2021 is a sort of breakthrough year. He came to the national scene after doing well in the all-India Police meet last year.

 

Arokia Rajiv

Ranking: 319 (in individual 400m)

Form guide 2021: Was third in the Federation Cup with 46.52s.

A regular in the Indian team for the relays, Rajiv – from Tiruchirappalli in Tamil Nadu – is a former Asian silver medallist and a former Asian Games bronze medallist in the individual 400m. Ran the 400m in only one meet this year, Federation Cup.

 

Muhammed Anas

Ranking: 222 (2021 world list, in individual 400m)

Form guide 2021: Anas, the national record holder with 45.21s, ran the quartermile in only one meet this year (Federation Cup) and clocked 46.26s in the semifinal, which he won. He did not start the final.

The 2017 Asian champion and the 2018 Asian Games silver medallist in the 400m, Anas in the country's most reliable runner in the relays. The 26-year-old from Kerala's Kollam District was also a crucial member of the Indian mixed relay team which won the Asian Games gold and which finished seventh in the 2019 Worlds which helped the country gain an automatic berth in the Tokyo Olympics.

 

Noah Nirmal Tom

Ranking: Not in 2021 World list in individual 400m.

Form guide 2021: Did not run a single 400m in national meets.

Stood out with his sparkling anchor leg in the 4x400m mixed relay heats of the 2019 Doha Worlds which helped India recover from the fifth spot to third and enter the final. The 26-year-old Kozhikode quartermiler's personal best, 45.75s, came in the Czech Republic in 2019 but he ran only the 4x400m relays in the national circuit.

 

WOMEN:

Dutee Chand, sprints

Ranking: 2021: 60 in 100m; None in 200m.

Form guide 2021: The 2019 World University Games 100m champion, Chand bettered her national record, clocking 11.17s in the Indian Grand-4 in Patiala in June 2021 but was nowhere close to it in other meets this season. Her next best time in the 100m was 11.44s and she clocked 11.62m in her last meet, the inter-State Nationals where she finished third behind S. Dhanalakshmi and Archana Suseendran. Chand could not make the qualification time for the Olympics and made the cut through the Road to Tokyo rankings where she was 41st in the 100m and 50th in the 200m (56 slots are available in these sprints at Tokyo). If she repeats her national record of 11.17s, she could enter the semifinal but Chand – the 2018 Asian Gamers silver medallist in both the 100 and 200m - has been far from her best at the last two majors, the 2016 Olympics and the 2019 Worlds where she failed to get past the first-round heats. And that is the worry. Incidentally, she has not run a single 200m this year.

Rivals: In a stacked field, everyone ranked above her.

The national record holder in the 100m, Dutee Chand was the fastest woman at the 2019 World University Games in Italy and was also a silver medallist in the 2018 Jakarta Asian Games in the 100 and 200m. She also ran the 100m at the 2016 Rio Olympics and was sixth in her first round 100m heats and failed to advance further. And in the 2019 Doha Worlds, she was seventh in her 100m heats.

 

Annu Rani, javelin

 

Ranking: 14

Form guide 2021: A consistent 60m thrower, Annu Rani broke the national record with 63.24m effort in March.

Rivals: Poland's Maria Andrejczyk (71.40m), Germany's Christin Hussong (69.19m), USA's Maggie Malone (66.82m).

Rani could not make the Olympic entry standard of 64m but made it through the Tokyo World rankings with an impressive 18th spot, a reward for her consistency. The first Indian javelin thrower to qualify for the final at the Worlds, in 2019 in Doha where she finished eighth, the 28-year-old from Bahadurpur village near Meerut in UP should make the final in Tokyo, too.

 

Kamalpreet Kaur, discus throw

Ranking: 6

Form guide 2021: She broke the national record twice, first in the Federation Cup in March when she became the first Indian woman to go over 65m and later in the Indian Grand Prix-4 where she bettered it to 66.59m, which carried her to the sixth spot in the World list this year.

Rivals: Dutch thrower Jorinde Van Klinken (70.22m), USA's Valarie Allman (70.01m), Cuba's World champion Yaime Perez (68.99m), and Croatia's two-time Olympic champion Sandra Perkovic (68.31m).

Kamalpreet Kaur's best prior to this year's national record-breaking run was 61.04m. If she maintains this 66.59m form, she should enter the final.

 

Seema Antil-Punia, discus

Ranking: 19

Form guide 2021: Antil-Punia produced a personal best of 63.72m to make the automatic qualification standard for Tokyo but was rather inconsistent. She opened her season with 62.64m in the Federation Cup, then slipped to 58.62m in Belarus before attaining the entry standard in the inter-State Nationals.

Rivals: Kamalpreet's rivals will be Antil-Punia's, too.

Tokyo will be Antil-Punia's fourth Olympics. She missed entering the final narrowly in her first two Olympics – Athens 2004 and London 2012 – but was in poor form at Rio 2016 and was 20th overall after the qualification round with 57.58m and failed to make the final. The 37-year-old former Asian Games champion, the senior-most athlete in the Indian team, will be keen on a strong performance.

 

Priyanka Goswami, 20km race walk

Ranking: 22

Form guide 2021: Clocked 1:28.45s for a new national record at the race walk Nationals at Ranchi in February.

Rivals: China's World record holder Jiayu Yang, Liu Hong, among a host of others.

The 25-year-old from Muzaffarnagar in UP is a newcomer to international competitions and will have plenty to learn in Tokyo.

 

Bhawna Jat, 20km race walk

Ranking: 93

Form guide 2021: Clocked 1:32.59s at the race walk Nationals in Ranchi in February.

Rivals: Goswami's rivals will be her rivals, too.

Like Priyanka, Jat's international debut will be at the Tokyo Olympics and there will be plenty to soak in there.

 

Mixed 4x400m relay:

The Indian 4x400m mixed relay team finished seventh at the last Worlds in Doha (2019) and qualified for Tokyo with that performance but now some of the top names, including M.R. Poovamma, V.K. Vismaya and Jisna Mathew are missing.

Men:

Sarthak Bhambri

Ranking: 594 (in 2021 World list, individual 400m).

Form guide 2021: 47.11s while taking silver in Indian GP-2; silver in inter-State Nationals with 47.25s.

It would have been tough for Delhi's 22-year-old Sarthak Bhambri, who has a personal best of 47.11s, to catch the selectors attention two years ago. But now, with some of the country's quartermilers out of form or injured, Sarthak has a place in the Indian team for the Olympics.

Alex Antony

Ranking: 868 (2021 World list, individual 400m)

Form guide 2021: 47.50s while finishing fourth in inter-State Nationals.

The 26-year-old from Pulluvila village in Thiruvananthapuram was in the Indian team for the 2019 World Relays in Yokohama.

 

Women:

V. Revathi

V. Revathi won bronze at the inter-state Nationals with 53.71s.

 

Ranking: 395

Form guide 2021: Won bronze at the inter-State Nationals with 53.71s. Won Indian GP-4 gold with 54.28s.

The 23-year-old from Sakkimangalam in Tamil Nadu's Madurai district, Revathi lost her parents at a young age. Revathi was a decent 100 and 200m runner earlier but she was asked to try the 400m and the relays after the 2019 Doha Worlds and now, with the country's leading quartermilers M.R. Poovamma, V.K. Vismaya and Jisna Mathew either out of form or injured, she has become the country's leading woman runner in the mixed relay. A surprising turnaround indeed!

V. Subha

Ranking: 617 (2021 World list, individual 400m)

Form guide 2021: Silver in Federation Cup with season-best 54.48s; was fifth in inter-State Nationals with 54.67s.

Subha, from Tamil Nadu's Tiruchirapalli who has a personal best of 53.67s in the 400m, was a member of the Indian women's 4x400m relay team at the 2019 Doha Worlds and also ran the relay in the 2018 under-20 Worlds at Tampere, Finland.

S. Dhanalakshmi

S. Dhanalakshmi finished third with 54.27s in the AFI's 400m trials to pick the three quartermilers for the 4x400m mixed relay team for the Olympics.

 

Ranking: Not in 2021 World list as she did not run an official 400m.

Form guide 2021: Was third with 54.27s in the AFI's 400m trials to pick the three quartermilers for the 4x400m mixed relay team for the Olympics. That was Dhanalakshmi's first-ever 400m race and she made it to Indian team for the Olympics after that race. She was the fastest woman (100m champion) in the Federation Cup and the inter-State Nationals.

Surprising, the 23-year-old from Tiruchirappalli in Tamil Nadu was picked to the Indian 4x400m mixed relay team for the Tokyo Olympics after just her first 400m run in the trials held after the recent inter-State Nationals. It is certainly a dream come true for her.

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