Feature

Five Indian athletes who could be set for an Olympic swansong at Tokyo 2020

A look at five stars who could play their last Olympics

By Samrat Chakraborty ·

India has had its share of sporting heroes over the years, those who have brought laurels for the country at the highest levels including the Olympics - the most prestigious stage in the world of sports.

The likes of Abhinav Bindra, Sushil Kumar, PV Sindhu, Leander Paes, MC Mary Kom, Saina Nehwal, KD Jadhav, Karnam Malleswari, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore and many more. The list goes on.

There have been others who have fallen agonisingly short like PT Usha, Milkha Singh, Joydeep Karmakar, Dipa Karmakar etc.

There have also been athletes who have represented India with distinction without achieving glory at the Olympics.

With Tokyo 2020 approaching fast, India’s best are focused completely on performing at their best. However, for many, it could be the last Olympics they get to take part in. One final shot at glory!

Let’s take a look at five such exemplary athletes who could be set for their Olympic swansong at Tokyo later this year.

Leander Paes with his bronze medal at Atlanta 1996

Leander Paes

The record-breaking Leander Paes has served India with distinction throughout a brilliant career. The tennis legend, set to turn 48 this year, is targeting a record eighth straight Olympic appearance if he makes it to Tokyo this year.

Paes, who won the bronze medal in singles at Atlanta 1996, is the only Indian to have competed in seven Olympics. He has represented India in every Olympics since Barcelona 1992.

Paes, who has won eight doubles and ten mixed doubles Grand Slam titles, wants to bring his playing career to a close after the Tokyo Olympics.

He has yet to play competitively since March 2020 and will look towards the upcoming Australian Open to sharpen his skills for Tokyo, provided he manages to qualify.

“After this long break, I feel happy. I have no doubt in my mind that physically, mentally and emotionally, I would be ready for Tokyo,” Paes stated earlier this month.

Mary Kom celebrates quarter final win

MC Mary Kom

Mary Kom is an inspirational name in the Indian boxing circles. The Manipuri pugilist has many records to her name and has been India’s pride in a long career. She is the only female boxer to have become the World Amateur Boxing champion six times and is the only boxer (male or female) to have won eight World Championship medals. 

However, she also found success in the Olympics when she won bronze for India at London 2012 in the flyweight category. 

All this in between giving birth to two kids. ‘Magnificent Mary’ is the first amateur athlete to win the Padma Bhushan in India. 

Though Mary Kom did not qualify for Rio 2016, she has booked her ticket for Tokyo in the 51kg category. Even though it should be her last Olympic appearance, not many would bet against the 37-year-old surprising everyone with a final hurrah.

Sushil Kumar celebrates his 2010 Commonwealth Games gold medal in Delhi

Sushil Kumar

Sushil Kumar is probably one of the greatest Olympians from India in recent times. Having won a bronze at Beijing 2008 (66kg freestyle wrestling) and a silver at London 2012, Sushil is the only Indian to have won two individual Olympic medals since the country’s Independence in 1947.

The three-time Commonwealth Games gold medallist has now switched to the 74kg category and will be looking to seal a spot in Tokyo. His last major appearance was at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia. 

Sushil is currently working on getting fit for the upcoming Olympic qualifiers and has opted to miss the Wrestling Nationals as well. 

“My primary focus is on qualifying for the Olympics and only then will I plan about other things,” he had told the Olympic Channel in a chat earlier this year. 

If he makes it, the 37-year-old will have another chance to bring home a third Olympic medal for the country before he calls time on an illustrious career.

Achanta Sharath Kamal could play his final Olympics at Tokyo. Photo: ITTF

Achanta Sharath Kamal

Veteran paddler Achanta Sharath Kamal has been the de facto leader of the Indian table tennis teams for more than a decade. 

The four-time Commonwealth Games gold medallist could also be set for his final Olympics if he manages to make it to Tokyo 2020. 

Even at the age of 38, Sharath Kamal continues to be the top-ranked Indian paddler. He has represented India at three Olympics now - Athens 2004, Beijing 2008 and Rio 2016. 

Sharath Kamal is currently set to travel to Germany and play in the Bundesliga with his club Borussia Dusseldorf as he looks to step up his preparations for the Olympics qualifiers.

Archer Tarundeep Rai has represented India at the 2004 Athens and the 2012 London Games

Tarundeep Rai

Veteran Indian archer Tarundeep Rai will also, in all likelihood, be featuring in his final Olympics in Tokyo. 

The 36-year-old from Sikkim has represented India at Athens 2004 and London 2012 before. He finished 43rd in the men's individual archery event in 2004. In 2008, he was placed at the 31st spot in the men's individual archery ranking while his team finished 12th in the recurve event.

This time around, though, Rai is determined to land a medal before he bids adieu to his career. 

The Namchi-based archer is one of four Indians to have booked their berth for Tokyo Olympics in the recurve individual event. He will also team up with Atanu Das and Pravin Jadhav to compete in the team event. 

"After these 24 years, I need to win an Olympic medal. At the same time, the country deserves it. This 24-year journey will only be complete when I win a medal at the Tokyo Games next year. I’ve sacrificed a lot personally just to play this sport for the country." Tarundeep Rai told Firstpost earlier this month.