Feature

How the likes of Sushil Kumar and Saina Nehwal can still make Tokyo 2020

The months leading up to Tokyo 2020 are lined up with several Olympic qualifiers. It provides an opportunity for Indian sportspersons to book their Tokyo tickets.

By Naveen Peter ·

After missing competitive activities for months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Indian sportspersons will resume their quest to compete at Tokyo 2020 at the various Olympic qualification events scheduled in the coming months.

While some of the superstar athletes like Bajrang Punia, Neeraj Chopra, MC Mary Kom, Vinesh Phogat and the hockey teams have already sealed their places, others will look to punch their passes with some top-quality performances building up to the Games.

Here’s a look at how Indian athletes can pave their way to Tokyo 2020.

Archery: Final qualification tournament

While the Indian men’s recurve team and Deepika Kumari (in the women’s individual event) won quota places for the Olympics a year ago, the Indian women’s recurve team will look to join the contingent with a fine show at the final qualification tournament in Paris.

Indian archer Deepika Kumari won a quota place in the women’s individual category at the Asian qualifying event last year.

The Paris event, which will be held between June 18-21, offers three quota places in the team event. The likes of Bombayla Devi, Madhu Vedwan and Deepika Kumari will be keen to ensure India fields the maximum number of athletes in archery for the Tokyo Games this year.

Athletics: Domestic meets and Asian Athletics Championships

So far, India’s track and field contingent for the Tokyo Olympics comprises Neeraj Chopra, Shivpal Singh (both javelin throw), Avinash Sable (3000m steeplechase), KT Irfan, Bhawna Jat (both race walking) and the 4x400m mixed relay team.

But with a number of domestic and international meets lined up in the coming months, the Indian athletes will be keen to qualify at the earliest and shift their focus to the Olympics.

The domestic season will begin with the first Indian Grand Prix on February 12 with the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) ensuring all the top meets for the year are held before the qualification window for the Games shut.

Apart from the four Grand Prix events, the Federation Cup will be held from March 10-13 while the Inter-State Championships will begin on June 25 and wrap up on June 29, the last day for qualifying for the Olympics.

Meanwhile, the Asian Athletics Championships is slated for May 20-23, but it remains to be seen if the event will go ahead as planned with Hangzhou, China being the host city.

Badminton: 15 events on the BWF calendar

Unlike many of the Olympic disciplines, badminton opts for a world ranking-based qualification process for the quadrennial extravaganza. 

A total of 38 shuttlers make the singles event while 16 pairs are allowed for a doubles event.

In the singles, while top 16 on the Badminton World Federation (BWF) world ranking charts are assured of participation (maximum of two athletes per nation), the rest are accommodated based on their ranking, with just one athlete allowed per nation.

Indian badminton ace PV Sindhu is yet to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.

In the doubles segment, the top eight pairs are guaranteed Olympic participation (maximum of two pairs per nation) while the remaining slots are filled following the similar principle as is the case with the singles events.

So far, while world champion PV Sindhu and B Sai Praneeth look certain to compete at the Games, the likes of Saina Nehwal, Srikanth Kidambi and HS Prannoy will have to up their ante when the qualification phase resumes on March 2 with the Swiss Open

A total of 15 events will be available ahead of the Games, where Indian badminton players can participate and earn ranking points.

The India Open Super 500 event on May 11 will be the final competition before the Olympic qualification ends for the shuttlers.

Boxing: World Olympic Qualifiers

While most of the big guns in the Indian boxing team qualified for the Olympics at the Asian Olympic Boxing Qualifiers in March last year, Gaurav Solanki (57kg), Sachin Kumar (81kg), Naman Tanwar (91kg) and Sakshi Chaudhary (57kg) will stake their claim for a place at the Tokyo Games at the World Olympic Qualifiers in June.

Gymnastics: FIG Artistic Gymnastics World Cup

Though the pandemic-included break proved to be a blessing in disguise for an injured Dipa Karmakar, India’s leading gymnast now faces a difficult task if she has to make it to the Tokyo Games later this year.

With qualification through the FIG Artistic Gymnastics World Cup series her only realistic hope, the 27-year-old Dipa Karmakar will have to come with an inspired show at the Doha event from March 10-13.

Indian gymnast Dipa Karmakar used 2020 to recuperate from her injury. 

At the World Cup, only one athlete per apparatus can qualify at the event. Dipa Karmakar’s qualification chances are best in the vault, where she is currently ranked ninth.

Fencing: Asian Olympic Qualifier

If things go as per plan, Bhavani Devi could become the first Indian fencer to qualify for the Olympics later this year.

But to achieve this, the Tamil Nadu athlete will have to ensure that she either pockets the only qualifying berth at the Asian Olympic Qualifying event in Seoul, South Korea on April 15 or be among the top two in the continent in individual sabre as on April 5, 2021.

Rowing: Asian and Final Olympic Qualification Regatta

The Olympic year will also see Indian rowers make a bid for Tokyo Olympics.

While the Asian & Oceania Olympic Qualification Regatta is scheduled to be held in April at a ‘yet to be announced’ location, the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta will take place in Lucerne, Switzerland from May 16-18.

Sailing: Asian Sailing Championships

Like fencing, sailing could also see India make their debut at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Nethra Kumanan and Harshita Tomar are in with a chance to make the cut for Tokyo 2020 provided they finish among the top two at the 2021 Asian Sailing Championships in February in UAE.

Nethra Kumanan shot to fame last year when she became the first Indian woman to win a World Cup Series medal with her bronze medal finish in Miami. Meanwhile, Harshita Tomar is a bronze medallist from the 2018 Asian Games.

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Shooting: ISSF World Cup, New Delhi

Indian shooters have pocketed 15 quota places for the Olympics so far, the final number could include one more after the International Sports Shooting Federation (ISSF) appropriates the quotas based on world ranking after the ISSF World Cup in New Delhi in March.

According to the qualification system, the world ranking points earned during the qualifying period will be added to the ranking list of March 31, 2020, and the highest-ranked shooter, who has not qualified so far, will be allotted the quota.

While India have a quota in most of the categories, Anish Bhanwala could benefit from this provided he performs well in the 25m Rapid Fire Pistol.

Swimming: Various qualifying meets

As many as six Indian swimmers have clocked the Olympic Selection Time (OST) or the ‘B’ qualifying time for the Tokyo Games in their respective events. But to guarantee their participation, nothing less than the ‘A’ cut or the Olympic Qualifying Time (OQT) will suffice.

With no swimming events scheduled to be held in India, swimmers like Srihari Nataraj, Rio Olympian Sajan Prakash, Virdhawal Khade and Kushagra Rawat, among others will look at the meets in east Asia to make the Olympic grade.

If they fail to clock the ‘A’ cut, the Indian swimmers will have to hope to be invited under the universality quota.

Table tennis: Asian Olympic Qualification Tournament

Indian table tennis stars Sathiyan Gnanasekaran, Achanta Sharath Kamal and Manika Batra will look toward to the Asian Olympic Qualification meet in Bangkok later this year to seal their places in the singles event at Tokyo 2020.

The Asian event offers five berths for the Olympics. If the Indian table tennis players fail to make the cut, they will have to rely on the allocation based on world rankings to make it to the Olympic Games.

Tennis: Various ATP and WTA events

Like badminton, even tennis relies on the ATP and WTA rankings to determine the athletes for the Olympic Games. 

India’s participation at Tokyo 2020 will be determined following the rankings released on June 7. 

Weightlifting: Asian Weightlifting Championships

Weightlifting is another discipline that adheres to the world rankings for Olympic qualification. But here, the maximum number of weightlifters that a nation can field across weight divisions is determined by the number of anti-doping violations.

For Tokyo 2020, India can have up to two men and two women. But as things stand, only Mirabai Chanu in the women’s 49kg category and Jeremy Lalrinnunga in the men’s 67kg category look on course to compete at the Olympic Games.

But with the Asian Weightlifting Championships slated for April 15-25, lifters like Ajay Singh could make a case for themselves with top-quality performance. The qualification window closes on April 30.

Wrestling: Asian and World Olympic qualifiers

The coming months will be key for Indian wrestlers who are yet to win a quota place for the Olympics.

While the Asian Olympic qualifiers are slated for April 9-11, the World Olympic qualifiers will be held on April 29. All eyes will be on the likes of Sushil Kumar, Sakshi Malik, Sonam Malik and Pooja Dhanda at these meets.