The country has, over the years, struggled to find a host of medal-winning athletes for the Olympic Games. Owing to a series of dismal campaigns at the biggest stage, India deployed the necessary incentives to be able to nurture young talent into future stars. The results are, however, hard to overlook. India saw a watershed performance at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where Abhinav Bindra became the first Indian to pocket an individual Olympic gold and wrestler Sushil Kumar and boxer Vijender Singh bagged bronze respectively.
Only four years later, a large 83-member contingent from India was seen competing in the London Olympics, while having set a new benchmark for the country with an impressive haul of six medals. With expectations at a peak, India slumped to winning only two medals at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Wrestler Sakshi Malik and shuttler P V Sindhu salvaged India's pride by winning a bronze and silver respectively.
Unlike the last edition of the Olympics, the contingent looks better prepared and appears to be on track for a much-improved showing. While a handful of these athletes have staged enthralling performances in the past whether they have won the medal or not, they have come to find themselves navigating uncharted waters into an uncertain future. The reason? It can vary because stories and careers differ.
Curtains on gymnast Dipa’s Tokyo ambition?
The queen of Indian gymnastics, Dipa Karmakar missed out on a medal at the Olympic Games in 2016, finishing fourth in a packed field of competitors. She went on to become the star of Indian gymnastics and the people were keen to see what would come next. But Dipa and her coach had bigger problems to deal with. One that would seal the fate on whether she could continue her journey in gymnastics, let alone participating in the Olympics this year.
The pocket dynamo showed that her performance was not just a flash-in-the-pan as she came mighty close to winning a bronze in the vault, only to lose out after becoming just the fifth woman to successfully land the Produnova, also known as the vault of death.
Following the Games, Dipa tore a ligament in her knee that required surgery. None would have blamed her for retiring and taking a break from the sport. But Dipa was relentless. She worked in the shadows, made a surprise comeback for the Asian Games the very next year, following which she competed at the Turkey World Cup, winning the gold medal on vault!
At a young age, Dipa was able to withstand immense pressure, carrying the dreams of a country on her shoulders. What is it about us human beings that allow us to display such extraordinary courage and performance under the most challenging conditions?
Other than the personal heartbreak of narrowly missing out on an Olympic contingent, the biggest drawback is that it would set her up to be terribly paced on her next Olympic attempt. Dipa’s rapid rise in Rio was grimly followed by a string of injuries. The absence of injury could have been the key difference-maker regarding her 2020 Olympic prospects. The lack of injuries could have resulted in Dipa rising up the ladder even faster and further make a case for her inclusion in the 2024 Olympics.
For Olympic Qualification in individual apparatus, one had to earn quotas from the FIG Artistic Gymnastics World Cup Series 2018-2020, including one World Cup in 2018, four in 2019, and three in 2020. Dipa could participate in only two world cups -- one in 2018 and 2019, with which she stands at 9th position (36 points). It is not sure if injury woes will allow her to participate in the next three World Cups in February and March. Even if she doesn't participate, she will be eyeing for an Olympics Quota from the 2020 Asian Championships in May, where two quotas will be on offer in vault. Injury uncertainty keeps her at edge now and it is unsure whether she will be participating at all.
Are lights going dim for Olympic bronze medallist Saina?
Ace shuttler Saina Nehwal shot herself into the Indian sporting parlance earning India its third medal at the 2012 London Olympics by winning the country's maiden medal from badminton after China's Xin Wang retired hurt from the bronze medal play-off in the women's singles event.
Fast forward to 2020. The former World No.1 shuttler is struggling to regain her form. Since her historic feat, her career has seen a steady decline. Gone are the days when Saina’s lone aggression and intensity alone wilted her opponents on the court.
Having won only the Indonesia Masters tournament in 2019, a troubling concoction of first-round exits and critical injuries have been grappling her career recently. Not the one to fret over disappointments and defeats, merely qualifying for the Olympics will not be a tough nut to crack considering her apparent decline in form.
With April 26 being the cut-off date for Olympic qualification, a lot is at stake for Saina in the coming few months. Ranked 22 in Olympic rankings, Saina has played a total of 16 tournaments last year, out of which she has suffered seven first-round losses, one second-round loss and she either has advanced to the quarters or beyond it only six times. While ensuring to make the final cut for Tokyo, staying injury-free is equally crucial for her qualification dreams at the moment.
Will Hima be able to qualify?
With fans hoping for a change in fortune for Indian track and field events, the 20-year-old sprinter Hima Das has been touted the next generation superstar. The country has been chanting her name ever since she sprinted into the hearts of countless Indians with a breakthrough gold-medal performance at the IAAF World U20 Championships 2018 in Tampere, Finland.
She became immensely popular during July-August last year owing to a string of gold medal wins that edged the Indian media on to refer her as the golden girl. The internet practically broke over the success rate of the Dhing Express as she bagged five gold medals in a span of 19 days. However, one has to remember the consecutive medals she won were lower-ranked events of IAAF.
Her 400m record of 50.79s falls within the entry requirement standard and if she could replicate such a performance this year, a ticket to Tokyo would all but be guaranteed.
Currently ranked 132nd in the IAAF World Rankings for 400m event, one could virtually not see her qualify on the basis of rankings, where 48 slots are up for grabs for the 400m Women’s race at Tokyo 2020.
Besides, there existing every reason to be delighted with the performances turned in by Hima, it is also important that the pressure of expectations on her don’t be fictitious. Her timings aren’t yet of the world and Olympic standards and it is in her best interests that she isn’t projected as a possible Olympic medallist in Tokyo 2020 so that she can impact her growth going forward.