India is sending its largest-ever contingent to an Olympics, but more than the quantity it’s the quality that strikes you. With so much happening and the opening ceremony of Tokyo 2020 just a couple of days away, it’s easy to get lost in a sea of headlines. Come what may, though, ESPN India recommends you keep an eye on these storylines over the next 17 days:
PV Sindhu’s hunt for GOATness
Only one Indian has ever won two individual Olympic medals post independence. PV Sindhu will be looking to be the second.
She walks into Tokyo ranked 7 in the world, and while there are about 8 athletes who are in with a shout at the podium, Sindhu’s big-game mentality might just give her the edge. Especially since the person who denied her gold in Rio won’t be there — Carolina Marin is out with a ruptured ACL.
A medal here and her status as Indian badminton’s (and arguably Indian sport’s) GOAT will be confirmed.
Sindhu’s first match is on July 25 at 7:10 am IST approx
The shooting stars gun for glory
There’s nothing fleeting about the quality of India’s shooting stars. The contingent of 15 – India’s largest-ever – is packed with medal-winning potential. From India’s oldest-ever female Olympic debutant in 41-year-old Tejaswini Sawant to 18-year-old world no. 2 Divyansh Singh Panwar, the team is class throughout. Watch out, especially, for 19-year-old phenoms Manu Bhaker and Saurabh Chaudhary in the mixed 10m air pistol event.
Shooting starts 24 July. Mixed pistol final is on July 27 (qualification starts at 5:30 am IST)
Neeraj Chopra aims to fill a century-old void
The last time India won a medal in track and field, it wasn’t even an independent nation: Calcutta-born British-Indian Norman Pritchard won two silver medals in the 1900 Paris Olympics (200m and 200m hurdles). Milkha Singh came within a tenth of a second off a bronze in 1960, and PT Usha came even closer – a hundredth of a second off bronze – but that’s as close as any Indian has gotten.
A track medal looks as elusive as ever, but a medal in the field might just be a possibility.
Neeraj Chopra — Indian athletics’ poster boy — is the Asian record holder in the javelin and if the stars align he could find himself on the podium. It’s a tough field, though, (forget the competition-on-hand, Johannes Vetter is chasing a 25-year-old world record) and Chopra will need to be at his absolute best.
Javelin qualification on 4 August at 5:35 am IST; final on August 7 at 4:30 pm IST
Twin quests for redemption
There is no such thing as an Olympic medal certainty… but Mirabai Chanu is as close to one as India has. If Chanu lifts the kind of weight she has in the recent past, she’ll medal – only one competitor in Tokyo has lifted more than her personal best ever. Sounds simple, right?
Chanu knows it’s anything but. In the Rio Olympics of 2016, Chanu was a favourite to finish on the podium, but she couldn’t complete a snatch lift and crashed out of the competition. This time, armed with a clean and jerk world record and a cleaner snatch technique, she’s looking for redemption.
Weightlifting women’s 49kg on July 24, 6.20 am IST
As is Vinesh Phogat.
Vinesh had looked in the form of her life in Rio and had eased her way into the quarters, where… she tore her ACL mid-bout. It was a career-threatening injury that she has worked ever so hard to come back from and she is wrestling better than ever before. The mental fortitude she has shown since Rio is commendable, and she is the top seed going into Tokyo. Vinesh will now be looking to return from Japan as Phogat #1.
Wrestling women’s 53 kg freestyle starts August 5
Bajrang Punia’s relentless pursuit of dominance
Bajrang Punia is as terrifying an opponent as you could hope for on a wrestling mat – his technique’s good, he comes at you with an intensity that can be off-putting, he can go on forever, and his last-minute attacks are almost unstoppable. You know what’s coming, and there’s still nothing you can do about it. Punia will be looking to add to India’s rich medal haul in wrestling (relatively) and is a favourite in the men’s 65kg division.
Wrestling men’s 65 kg freestyle starts August 6
Amit Panghal looks to float and sting his way to history
It’s been 13 years since Vijender Singh won bronze in Beijing, and Amit Panghal is India’s best bet for a men’s boxing medal since. He’s in prime form – top seed in his division – and has changed his game over the past few years to become a risk-taking attack-first entertainer with a judge-pleasing style. The first Indian male to win silver at a world championships (in 2019, India had won five bronzes before) will now be looking to become the first Indian boxer to make it to an Olympic boxing final.
Boxing men’s 52 kg flyweight starts July 26
In diversity, there’s success
This Indian contingent also has its fair share of firsts – the first Olympic fencer (CA Bhavani Devi), the first woman sailor (Nethra Kumanam), and the first swimmers to race in the A classification (Sajan Prakash and Srihari Nataraj).
India will also be sending just it’s second female gymnast to the Olympics in Pranati Nayak and their first athlete in equestrian in two decades in the form of Fouaad Mirza.
Beyond the unprecedented medal-winning potential of the squad, it’s this sheer variety of sports that the country is sending athletes in that makes this such an exciting Olympic Games for a fan of Indian sport.
Bhavani’s sabre first round starts July 26, 5.30 am IST
Nethra’s laser radial individual event starts July 25, 8.30 am IST
Sajan’s 200m butterfly heats start July 26, 4.00 pm IST approx
Srihari’s 100m backstroke heats start July 25, 4.45 pm IST approx
Pranati’s all-around gymnastics start July 25, 6.30 am IST
Fouaad’s eventing session 1 starts July 30, 5.00 am IST
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