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Tokyo 2020

Better or Worse? A look at India's prospect in each sport at Tokyo Olympics, compared to Rio 2016

Indians are expected to participate in 18 sports at the Tokyo Olympics, compared to 15 in the Rio Games. We analyse India's prospects at Tokyo compared to what we saw in the Rio Olympics.

Vinesh Phogat and PV Sindhu
Who can still win medals for India at the Tokyo Olympics?

Md Imtiaz

Updated: 21 July 2021 9:00 AM GMT

One hundred! The Indian contingent for Tokyo Olympics has already reached the three-figure number. With several other events lined up globally, more contestants are expected to qualify for the Games. If for a moment believe in the words of Indian Olympic Association (IOA) Chief Narinder Batra, India would be able to send its largest-ever contingent of 135 athletes to Tokyo - a jump from 117 in the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Indians are expected to participate in 18 sports at the Tokyo Olympics, compared to 15 in the Rio Games. Here we try to analyse how the prospect of the Indian athletes in every sport look at Tokyo compared to what we saw in the Rio Olympics.


Deepika Kumari

Indian archers were left to count the losses after a second successive disastrous Olympic campaign which threw the sport itself into disarray in a thoroughly forgettable campaign at Rio Olympics 2016. The poor show by the archers was one of the big blows to India's hit-and-miss overall campaign in Rio. The most prominent medal hopefuls were the women's team of Deepika Kumari, Laishram Bombayla Devi, and debutant Laxmirani Majhi, but they bowed out in the quarterfinals, losing to eventual silver-medallists, Russia.

Deepika, Bombayla, and the sole male member, Atanu Das, signed off in the last 16 stages in the individual section. The 24-year-old Das impressed the most in his maiden appearance at the biggest stage by finishing fifth in the qualification round before making a round three exit.

Prospect in Tokyo: Better

While the men's team has secured the Olympic berth during the 2019 World Championships, India so far has an individual quota among women, achieved by Deepika at the Continental Qualifiers in Bangkok two years ago. Indian women's archery team, led by former world number one Deepika Kumari, reached Paris to compete in their Final Olympic Qualification event on June 20. The women's trio of Deepika, Ankita Bhakat, and Komalika Bari will have to finish in top-3. India's Atanu Das has shown promise of his renewed vigour in the men's individual category, clinching the gold medal at Archery World Cup Stage 1 in April. In the men's team event, he will be joined by the seasoned Tarundeep Rai and young gun Pravin Jadhav, who can punch above their weights to win a medal. The biggest medal prospect for India in archery, however, would be in the newly introduced mixed-team event at the Tokyo Olympics, which would see Atanu and Deepika, or Atanu and Ankita pair taking the field.


PV Sindhu

India produced its best-ever performance in badminton after PV Sindhu bagged the silver medal in the Rio Olympics 2016. It marked the rise of the nation as a powerhouse of badminton, and the feat of a young 21-year-old four years later helped set the bar even higher. India had sent a seven-member badminton team for the Tokyo Olympics, playing in four categories. No one in India knew what to expect from PV Sindhu at her maiden Olympics. So, after Saina Nehwal crashed out in the group stage, India's hope of another medal in badminton was gone. It is when Sindhu took the onus thrived amid pressure.

Prospect in Tokyo: Better

Five years down the line, India could only send a four-member badminton team to Tokyo. Amid disruptions in the world badminton calendar due to the coronavirus, reliable stars like Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth have failed to qualify for the Games. India will be fielding their shuttlers in three categories - Women's Singles, Men's Singles, and Men's doubles. If we go by the forms of our shuttlers, India's only hope in men's singles, B Sai Praneeth is ranked 13th in the world in the Race to Tokyo rankings. Sai Praneeth could only reach the quarterfinals just once in his last five outings. With the domination of Kento Momota, the Axelsens from Denmark in his category, a medal looks like a pretty unrealistic expectation from him. In the men's doubles category, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty are placed in the eighth position. They have the firepower to pull off surprises at the Tokyo Olympics, and sailing into the semifinal would mean they would be able to vie for at least the bronze medal in the category. India's biggest hope in badminton would still be rested upon PV Sindhu, who is placed seventh in the Road to Tokyo rankings. She would be expecting to change the colour of her medal from the previous Olympics. However, it could be steep competition for Sindhu to repeat her success from the World Championships 2019 and outwit her opponent in the final.


Mary Kom

India sent just three men boxers at the Rio Games in 2016. While Vikas Krishan Yadav had made it to the quarterfinals, Manoj Kumar and Shiva Thapa were eliminated in the Round of 16 and Round of 32, respectively, making it the worst campaign by India at the Olympics in the last three Games.

Prospect in Tokyo: Better

A total of nine boxers - five men and four women - will be participating at the Tokyo Games. India has produced some of the best boxers in the world off late, with several of them dominating the rankings. Amit Panghal is ranked World no. 1 in the 52kg category in the men's, Manish Kaushik is ranked sixth in the 64kg category. India's greatest boxer of all time, Mary Kom is ranked third in the 51kg category, Simranjit Kaur is ranked sixth in the 64kg category, Pooja Rani is ranked eighth in the 81kg category, whereas, Lovlina is ranked third in the 69kg category. Backed by a good streak of form, Indian boxers have the potential to bring multiple medals from Tokyo Olympics.

Field Hockey

Indian mens hockey team

India never tasted a medal of success in field hockey competition at the Olympics since 1980. Their outing at the Rio Olympic Games was no different. While the men's team were knocked out in the quarterfinals against Belgium, the women's team, who had qualified for Olympics for the first time in 36 years, couldn't sail beyond the group stage huddle.

Prospect in Tokyo: Better

Both the Indian teams could prove to be the dark horses of the Tokyo Olympics. The Indian men's team will have a better shot at a medal. Ranked fourth globally, the Manpreet Singh brigade has produced some astonishing performances in the last couple of years despite the disruptions caused due to the coronavirus. In their FIH Hockey World Tour outings, India has successfully outwitted all the top-ranked teams globally, including reigning Olympic Champions Argentina and World Cup winners Belgium. Therefore, India has medal-winning prospect at the Tokyo Olympics after 41 years.


Aditi Ashok

India had entered three golfers into the Olympics. Anirban Lahiri (Rank 62), Shiv Chawrasia (Rank 207), and Aditi Ashok (Rank 444) qualified directly among the top 60 players for their respective individual events based on IGF World Rankings. While Anirban and Shiv had ended their campaign with rankings below 50, Aditi managed to finish in the 41st position.

Prospect in Tokyo: Worse

Only Aditi Ashok will safely qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, as she is ranked 45th among the top 60 in Official World Golf Ranking. Another woman golfer, Tvesa Malik, is still on reserves. Similarly, no Indian men are placed among the top 60 of the Official World Golf Rankings for Tokyo. Anirban Lahiri and Udyan Mane are in reserves and can only qualify if golfers from other countries withdraw their names from the Games.


Pranati Nayak

One of the silver linings in Rio, however, was the performance of Dipa Karmakar, India's first-ever gymnast in an Olympic Game. Karmakar's stellar jumps and rhythmic body movements though couldn't earn her a medal. But India cherished her fourth-place finish and took it in stride with a big hope that this could be the moment the country needed to encourage and work on gymnastics and build future champions.

Prospect in Tokyo: Worse

Five years down the line, with a tumultuous change in the Indian sports ecosystem amid a ravaging pandemic, the assessment of India's development in gymnastics could be rated with a simple 0. A brilliant proposition of five years hasn't yield anything for gymnastics in the country. With the cancellation of series of World Cups which were part of the Olympic qualification program, again only one gymnast from India could manage to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. An athlete needs to participate in three Olympic qualifiers (World Cups) and need to achieve 90 points to qualify for the Olympics. While India's best bet Dipa Karmakar, could earn less than half of that points, Pranati Nayak, who had claimed a bronze in the vault at the Asian Artistic Gymnastics Championships in 2019, is set to compete at the Tokyo Olympics after qualifying through the continental quota. The 26-year-old from West Bengal is the second reserve behind Sri Lanka's Elpitiya Badalge Dona Milka Geh for the Asian quota and became eligible to compete from the zone following the cancellation of the 9th Senior Asian Championships, which was scheduled to be held from May 29-June 1 in Hangzhou, China, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


Saurabh Chaudhury and Manu Bhaker

After medals at the 2004, 2008, and 2012 Olympics, Indian shooting faltered at the 2016 Rio Games without a single medal. Beijing Games gold medallist Bindra's quest for a second podium finish at sport's grandest stage ended in heartbreak as he missed a medal by a whisker in a tense shoot-off in the men's 10m air rifle event. The likes of Heena Sidhu, Manavjeet Singh Sandhu, Gagan Narang, Jitu Rai, and Apurvi Chandela, among others, left the country thoroughly disappointed after they were unable to put on an impressive show.

Prospect in Tokyo: Better

Shooting is being considered as India's best bet to win medals at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Such has been their consistency that it is almost certain that the country will win medals in shooting at Tokyo; the only question is how many? Indian shooters have been producing their best performances consistently since 2018. Manu Bhaker and Saurabh Chaudhary have clinched medals at almost every ISSF World Cup and established their place in the world's top 5. India clinched 30 medals at the 2021 ISSF World Cup, New Delhi. Indian shooting team continued their stellar run even after a year gap due to COVID. Yashaswini Singh Deswal, Abhishek Verma, and Elavenil Valarivan are currently at the world rank one. They are followed by Manu Bhaker, Rahi Sarnobat, Saurabh Chaudhary, Divyansh Singh Panwar, and Aishwary Pratap Singh, who are at the world rank two.

Table Tennis

Manika Batra and G Sathiyan

Four Indian paddlers had entered the Rio Olympics in 2016. However, none could cross the first-round huddles in the two categories of men's singles and women's singles.

Prospect in Tokyo: Better

India will again field four players - Sharath kamal, Sathiyan Gnanasekharan, Manika Batra, and Sutirtha Mukherjee at the Tokyo Olympics in three categories. The Indian table tennis team saw a resurgence of power after finishing with gold medals at the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games in 2018. While all the four shuttlers will still face stiff competition in their individual Round of play. The mixed doubles pair of Sharath and Manika holds a mere chance to pull above their weight and seek a podium finish for the first time at the Olympics.


Sania Mirza

It was a tragic tennis event for India in Rio. Leander Paes, playing in his seventh Olympics, and Bopanna lost in the first round of the men's doubles. Sania Mirza and Prarthana Thombare were defeated in the second round of the women's doubles. However, the most painful sight was to see Sania and Bopanna missing the bronze medal by a whisker. The pair lost the tennis mixed doubles bronze medal play-off, going down 6-1, 7-5 to Lucie Hradecka and Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic in just 71 minutes.

Prospect in Tokyo: Worse

With just a month left, India will have to wait to know if a men's doubles team from the country will compete at the Tokyo Olympics since Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan's qualification, who have a low combined ranking of 113, would depend on the number of entries from other nations.

The top-10 players have the privilege to select a partner of their choice as per the ITF rules, but Bopanna is ranked 38 and left-handed Sharan is placed as low as 75 after the fresh rankings were issued on Monday following the conclusion of the French Open. As of now, only Sania Mirza is assured of a place in the women's doubles as she will use her protected ranking to enter the Games, she was ranked nine before she took maternity leave and has decided to compete with Ankita Raina. There is a possibility that Ankita may enter the women's singles draw, getting one of the six Continental places. The two finalists at the Asian Games were to be given Tokyo Olympics places, but since China's singles champion Wang Qiang (38) and runner-up Zhang Shuai (36) may get direct entry courtesy their high ranks, bronze medallist Ankita could be given the Continental place.


Mirabai Chanu

India's weightlifting campaign at the Rio Olympics ended in disappointment, with Sathish Kumar Sivalingam finishing fourth in the men's 77kg event Group B category in Rio de Janeiro.

National record holder Sivalingam lifted 148kg in snatch and 181kg in clean and jerk for a total of 329kg to finish fourth in the six-lifter competition. The other Indian lifter, Saikhom Mirabai Chanu had failed to even lift her entry weight of 104kg in clean and jerk to end her 48kg category event as DNF (Did Not Finish).

Prospect in Tokyo: Better

At 26, Mirabai Chanu will be the only Indian representation in the sport at the Tokyo Olympics. However, the Indian is expected to be seeded second in Tokyo with a total of 4,13,36,172 points in the Women's 49kg weight division. With 4,92,64,422 points, China's Hou Zhihui will be the top seed at the Olympics. With North Korea withdrawing from the Olympics, it is likely to be a two-way race between Chanu and the lifter representing China in the 49kg category. Though a silver medal at Tokyo lies in the card for Chanu, she is determined to do better than traditional powerhouse China and claim the top spot.


Vinesh Phogat

Out of seven wrestlers representing India in Rio, only one won the medal – Sakshi. While Sakshi emerged as the dark horse for the country, London Olympics bronze medallist Yogeshwar Dutt suffered a shock defeat in the opening round. Apart from Yogeshwar, Sandeep Tomar (57kg) and Gredo-roman wrestlers Ravinder Khatri (85kg) and Hardeep Singh (98kg) were the names in the Men's category who failed to reach the quarterfinals of their respective events. In the women's freestyle category, apart from bronze medallist Sakshi, Babita Kumari (53 kg) and Vinesh Phogat (48 kg) represented India. Vinesh lost to China's Yanan Sun in the quarterfinal stage after a freak injury cost her the match. The 21-year-old Indian was taken off on a stretcher.

Prospect in Tokyo: Better

India will still have a shot at history when the Indian wrestling team of seven members goes to Tokyo Olympics. On the one hand, Bajrang Punia is going to be the apple of India's eye in the Olympics; on the other hand, Vinesh Phogat is raring again to go and add the coveted Olympic medal to her name. Vinesh participated in four tournaments this year and has bagged gold medals in all of them. Bajrang is ranked world no. 2 in his own category of 65kg. Ravi is ranked no. 4, Deepak also ranks no. 2 in his category. Vinesh is ranked second in her division. Sonam Malik, who defeated Sakshi in all the occasions they have met, could prove to be a dark horse in Tokyo.

India will field athletes in Equestrian, Fencing, and Sailing disciplines, which they had missed out on during the Rio Olympics. Besides, in both Judo and Rowing, India would be fielding an equal number of athletes in Tokyo as had gone to Rio 2016. After the final list of qualified players is made, the prospect for Athletics will be added to this list.

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