Will the Tokyo Olympics medals inspire new Indian champions from different sports?
Tasting success in a mixed variety of sports at the Tokyo Olympics, India's future ahead shows promise with a fresh set of champions-in-the-making.
The armchair critics always seem to judge the state of Indian sport with the number of medals won. The perennial question is always how many medals are predicted, how did we live up to the medal estimates. However, sports administrators all over the country need to analyze sport in a much different manner which needs to look much deeper into each sport.
While most seemed to rejoice with our medal haul, personally the most heartening factor of this Olympic Games is how well we performed in the non-mainstream disciplines. While we have the usual conversations that always seem to revolve around shooting, boxing, wrestling, and archery let's take a look at the not-so-usual suspects and more importantly then make some way-too-early predictions for the future.
If India is ever to move up in the medal table we would need to be able to deliver in a wide array of disciplines. We cannot only focus on the above but have to see where the other avenues of growth could be and continue to develop those sports. While the gold medal did surely come from a sport where we had absolutely no history of success, enough has been said about that.
My bright spots were the sports where we put on a really good showing were golf, table tennis, fencing, and weightlifting. While there was a history-making silver in weightlifting the reason I have included this sport, is because I do believe that Mirabai's medal will inspire a new generation to take up this sport which is really a niche sport with an extremely acquired taste.
Medals as a catalyst for new champions
Could this weightlifting medal be the catalyst for the next generation of youngsters similar to the effect of Sushil's bronze in 2008 Beijing on wrestling, or what Abhinav's gold had on shooting? Or on a macro level could this medal popularize weightlifting in the northeast similar to what Mary Kom did in boxing? It could be an interesting study. Weightlifting is by all accounts a small sport. While participation features a number of country's athletes; the medal hopefuls are just a handful.
What I mean is you don't need the depth of lots and lots of people participating to achieve success. We seem to have a decent pipeline in weightlifting. Jeremy Lalrinnunga seems to be the next hot prospect. Again coming from Mizoram he is a Youth Olympic Gold medalist and would definitely be coming into his own in Paris. Other than that we have a not-so-famous (yet) Bindiya Rani who is pretty much a Mirabai 2.0. She comes from a similar background, hails from the same town and same club as Mirabai.
Aditi Ashok, who was a phenom in Rio, solidified her standing as a super golfer in Tokyo. She came within one putt of a medal but the way she carried herself around the course for a pressure cooker of a final round definitely showed she definitely could go all the way. While she may be the talk of Tokyo from the Indian golfing perspective, she is definitely not alone.
There are of course a plethora of golfers both men and women who have been making strides on the Asian Tour, but there is a slew of golfers doing very well. While Anirban Lahiri leads the way for the men, Shubhankar Sharma and Udhayan Mane keep him good company as well. On the women's front, there are a bunch of golfers, all in their 20's like Tvesa Malik, Diksha Dagar who have been winning on the LPGA women's tour and putting up consistent performances. There is no doubt that golf is crowded with immense competition and the only key to cracking the way to the summit can only be achieved by gaining depth that would translate to medals in the future.
The other sport in which we had respectable results was Table Tennis and while most of the squad was older with Manika Batra, Sharath Kamal, and Sathiyan Gnanasekaran as the pathbreakers there seems to be a whole host of young paddlers now breaking into the limelight. Manav Thakkar definitely seems to be one to watch out for, he was the U-21 World Number 1 and it would be heartening to see if he can replicate that in the seniors. Other than Manav, we just saw Archana Kamath and Sreeja Akula break out at the recently concluded Asian Championships where India won its first medals in 45 years.
As I had mentioned earlier, if we are to be moving up the leaderboard in the medal tally we would need to focus on sports with multiple medals on offer. An interesting one to watch is cycling. Back in 2019, we had our Junior cyclists (L. Ronaldo Singh, Jemsh Singh, and Y Rojit Singh) who won gold at the world championships for the first time in history. While they failed to qualify for Tokyo, that same team would now be coming of age and maturing as senior cyclists, and some medals at next year's Games could be the start of making a mark in cycling.
With next year being a sporting bonanza for all us sports lovers, it's safe to say we have a lot of new names coming onto the list of people to follow.