World Championships to serve reality check before Tokyo Olympics?
Does all the success stories at CWG or Asiad necessarily guarantee success at the Tokyo Olympics or even at the World Championships?
Today, India is no longer a cricket-only country. In fact, the country is welcoming other sports with open hearts and with equal warmth. It is not hard to guess what has spurred on the sudden love for 'other sports' — success, of course, is the one and only mantra. The change is very evident when one sees the growth in viewership, participation, and sports-related industries that was once experienced by cricket.
However, all these come at a cost. With the rise in popularity and fan-following, the expectations have also gone up by leaps and bounds.
Whether it was Hima Das with her incredible speed, or Neeraj Chopra his golden arm, Indian athletes won several accolades all across the world. The success of Indian sportspersons at last year's Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and other continental or world meets was beyond what anyone could imagine.
But the question one needs to ask is does all these success stories necessarily guarantee success at the Tokyo Olympics or even at the World Championships?
Make it or break it September
In September, we have four senior-level World Championships, viz. the Men's Boxing World Championships, the World Wrestling Championships, the World Weightlifting Championships and the IAAF World Athletics Championships. Understandably, it is a big month for Indian sports.
The Boxing World Championships, scheduled to be held from 7th to 21st September in Yekaterinburg, Russia, will be a real test for the Indian male pugilists. Amit Panghal's form in the run up to the mega event has been almost impeccable.
Apart from Amit, Kavinder Singh Bisht and Satish Kumar are expected to do well at the tournament.
Then we have the World Wrestling Championships — will also serve as the first qualification event in the run up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics — to be held from 14 September 2019 in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.
When it comes to grapplers, India can boast of some of the biggest names. From Bajrang Punia to Vinesh Phogat, from Sushil Kumar to Sakshi Malik, each wrestler have the capability to beat anyone on their day. In fact, the general consensus is that the wrestling contingent will be the most successful among all other Indian contingents at the Tokyo Olympics.
The World Weightlifting Championships and the IAAF World Athletics Championships are also scheduled to be held later this month. With so many mega events coming up, the buzz around Indian sports is stronger than ever.
Fans, on their part, harbour sky-high expectations. They expect a Mirabai Chanu to snatch the gold medal at the Weightlifting World Championships, they expect the likes of Vinesh Phogat, Sushil Kumar, Amit Panghal among others to continue their golden run. In short, they expect another month where medals will galore.
But in reality, are we there yet?
What do the stats say?
If we go by stats and previous records, there's not much to hold on to. We have previously seen incredible medal hauls at the Commonwealth Games as well as in Asiad but at the World Championships or Olympics, India's tally has never been spectacular.
At the 2014 Commonwealth Games, India won 64 medals including 15 gold medals. Five of those medals (four silvers, one bronze) were claimed by the boxers, 13 medals (five golds, six silvers, two bronzes) were won by the wrestlers, whereas the weightlifters brought home 14 medals (three golds, five silvers, six bronzes). The athletics contingent as well did commendably as they bagged three medals (one of each colour).
This performance was followed up by another decent showing at the 2014 Asian Games where Indians bagged as many as 57 medals (11 golds). The wrestling (12 medals) and weightlifting (nine medals) contingents were quite successful yet again. The athletics contingent, as well, returned home with three medals. We also witnessed the boxers improving their haul from five to nine (three of each colour). However, when it came to the Worlds or the Olympics, the haul went down drastically.
From 2014 to 2016, Indian boxers (male and female) won a total of five medals at the World Championships and we all know what happened in Rio. The wrestlers' tally in that same period at the Worlds is even worse. Only Narsingh Yadav won a World Championship medal between 2014 to 2016 and that too was a bronze. In weightlifting and athletics, no Indian even came close to winning a medal at the Worlds in that period.
World Championships to serve reality check
Be prepared, fans of Indian Sports. The medal tally at the four World meets this month will be nowhere close to what it was at the Commonwealth Games or the Asian Games.
Realistically, among the boxers, only Amit Panghal has good odds of bagging a medal. A gold might be difficult but the Asian Championship gold medallist should bag the bronze. In wrestling, Bajrang Punia will, in all probability, bring home the gold medal while we can expect Vinesh, Pooja Dhanda and Sushil bag bronze or silver in their respective categories.
Many expect Mirabai to repeat her feat from 2017 and win the gold in Kazakhstan. But it is easier said than done. In the 49-kg category, two Chinese weightlifters, Huihua Jiang and Zhihui Hou, have entered weights of 210kg each. Mirabai, whose best lift till date is 199kg, has entered 200kg and so has Ri Song Gum of Korea. It is pretty evident just`how tough the competition will be but if she manages just to lift cleanly, she should finish on the podium.
Coming to athletics, the sport has made great strides in India in recent times. 'Golden girl' Hima Das, Neeraj Chopra, and Tejaswin Shankar have set the bar high in the last one year or so. But all three are giving the World Championships a miss this year.
In their absence, the onus falls on Mohammad Anas, Dutee Chand and Jinson Johnson to win some medals in Doha. However, the chances of that look slim. For one, even their best timings are way short when it comes to world meets.
Having said everything, there can be nothing better should September turn out to be just as good as last April and August. How the Indians perform over the next few weeks could also indicate how much we can expect at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
Gold medals at the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games always come with their caveat of the carats. Indeed, we should applaud the stars, but we should not submerge ourselves in sweeping appreciation. Instead, we should just hold on to our horses until the end of this month. We might get a harsh reality check.