Indian athletes have gone through all the emotions, extreme highs and extreme lows during their respective Olympic campaigns, but one thing that stood out in common was the factor that they laid it all on the line for their country.
A specific bunch of Indian athletes stood out from the crowd, going into the tournament as underdogs and with not a lot of expectations from others to move into the later rounds. There were not many people looking at their games and expecting them to perform the way they did. But, to their credit, they showed that the lights were not too bright for them and that they could compete against the best in the world and beat them. Here are the five underdogs who shone the brightest when the pressure was on them.
1) Manika Batra
Manika's magical run at the Olympics came to a tearful end on Monday against Austria's World No.16 ranked player Sofia Pocanova. The Indian ranked 63 in the world by ITTF went into the crucial game without her coach by her side to advise her. This move proved to be costly as she could not keep up with the Austrian, who eventually went on to win 4-0 in the third round. Manika's hope for an Olympic medal might have reached a stop this year but will be renewed during the next edition in Paris, with the then 29-year old going for gold with a better experience. She showed that she had what it takes to rub shoulders with the world's best, as witnessed in her match against the 32nd ranked Margaryta Pesotska.
2) Bhavani Devi
The 27-year old Fencer from Chennai made history by being the first Indian to represent the country in Fencing at the Olympics. Bhavani Devi built on that and stunned the audience tuning in by easing past Nadia Ben Azizi with a dominant 15-3 victory, winning India's first Fencing match in the process. The Fencer was encouraged by the former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, J Jayalalithaa, who offered to cover her expenses to compete at international events, made her supporters proud by laying it all on the line and giving it her best. She turned out to be a trailblazer for future generations who would want to take up Fencing and follow in her footsteps with the dreams of being an Olympian someday.
3) Satwiksiraj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty
The world number 10 ranked pair went into the tournament all guns blazing and put up mesmerizing performances only to be ousted due to a simple yet cruel arithmetic solution. The duo finished third in their group behind the top-ranked Indonesians and the third-ranked Chinese despite being level on points and games won. Their straight-set defeat to the Indonesians cost them dearly, but their win against the 18th ranked British pair showed that they had what it took to go all the way as they went out on a high with a nearly flawless performance. This game is a good start for Paris 2024 as the Indian pair get more time to prepare and come out as the best versions of themselves to help them land on the podium. We will be seeing a lot of this duo in the future as they dominate their sport.
4) Arvind Singh and Arjun Lal
The Indian rowers made their country proud while also making history in the process by being the first Indian rowers to qualify for Semi-Finals A/B. The Indian duo had a slow start to the heats by finishing 16.59 seconds behind the group winners, which sent them to the repechage round, where they redeemed themselves and finished third. The third-placed finish helped guarantee a spot in Semi Final's A/B for the duo. They seemed outmatched in the Semi's and, their inexperience kicked in as they finished last with timing of 6:24.41. The duo is in a prime position to help India gain their best ever ranking despite not qualifying for the medal rounds. A strong finish in this year's race could help prepare them for Paris 2024 where they will have an even better chance to stand on the podium.
5) Pravin Ramesh Jadhav
Archer Pravin Jadhav left the crowd awestruck on Wednesday as he dominated world number 2, Russian, Galsan Bazarchapov in a resounding 6-0 victory. The 25-year old Maharashtrian announced his presence at the world stage with a mesmerizing performance, shooting four 10's in the nine arrows he shot to reach the last-32 of the men's individual archery round. He then went on to face world number one American, Larry Ellison who he lost 6-0 to. His performances in the Olympics not only made a land of a Billion people jump with joy, but will also give him the necessary boost required to up the ante before Paris 2024. The day that we see Jadhav on an Olympic podium does not seem too far by the account of his exploits in Tokyo.