Ten Indian athletes to watch out for at Tokyo 2020
Tokyo 2020 promises to be further proof of India's growing power on the Olympic sporting stage.
With more athlete's from India expected to qualify for the Games than ever before, here is a look at some of those who could make their presence felt at the 2020 Olympics:
Vinesh Phogat had ended her 2016 Olympics campaign in Rio with an injury in the quarterfinals. However, every step of Vinesh Phogat since then has been towards gripping the elusive Olympic medal come Tokyo 2020.
Vinesh Phogat won gold medals in both the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games in 2018 in the 50kg category before she decided to shift to the 53kg category a few months later. And while many expected her to take time in adjusting to the new change, the Haryana wrestler’s form has hardly been interrupted.
She started 2019 with a bronze medal at the Asian Wrestling Championships and followed it up with gold medals at the Yasar Dogu International and Poland Open. She ended the year by becoming the first Indian wrestler to qualify for the 2020 Olympics after her bronze medal win at the 2019 World Wrestling Championships.
The 25-year-old has further cemented her status as one of India’s biggest Olympic medal hopes by starting 2020 with yet another gold medal at the recently concluded Rome Ranking Series.
Bajrang Punia had first met India’s 2012 Olympics bronze medallist and his idol Yogeshwar Dutt when he was only 14-year-old. And the wrestling ace didn’t flinch before deciding to give the 2016 Olympics a skip and not compete in the 65kg as it was Yogeshwar Dutt’s last.
Though Dutt was eliminated early in Rio, the veteran decided to repay Punia's generous gesture by offering to mentor him in his bid for an Olympic medal. The duo hasn’t looked back since, with Bajrang Punia’s gold rush starting at the 2017 Asian Wrestling Championship.
Bajrang Punia has since gone on to win gold medals at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games. He then booked his 2020 Olympic quota by clinching a silver medal at the World Wrestling Championships last year and has kept his imperious form alive with a gold medal at the recently-concluded Rome Ranking Series.
India’s most celebrated boxer is hoping to appear at the Olympic Games one last time. Claiming her fame by becoming the only Indian woman boxer to qualify for the 2012 Olympic Games, Mary Kom immortalized herself by clinching the bronze medal in London.
And though Kom was unable to qualify for the 2016 Games, her trophy cabinet has only increased over the years with the pugilist winning everything there is to win in amateur boxing. She particularly came in the limelight when she became the first boxer to win eight medals at the AIBA World Championships, thus creating history.
Mary Kom’s biggest challenge has been shifting her weight category to the 51kg as her preferred 49kg weight category isn’t in the Olympics. However, Mary Kom has ensured she is the best in that weight category from India after she got the better of her contemporary Nikhat Zareen at the BFI national trials last year to advance to the Olympic qualifiers.
Bagging her first Olympic medal, a silver, in Rio 2016 when she was only 20 years old made PV Sindhu an overnight sensation in the country.
The Hyderabad-born ensured she became a household name across the world in the last four years as she went on to achieve historic feats for India.
After leaving a mark at several big-ticket events in 2017, PV Sindhu went on to win the gold medal in the mixed team event at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and a silver medal in the women’s singles event. She repeated her singles feat at the 2018 Asian Games as well, before creating history by winning the 2019 BWF World Championships.
The 24-year-old currently sits sixth at the BWF Race to Tokyo rankings and is the best-placed Indian shuttler to win a direct qualification into the Olympics. PV Sindhu will be the best chance for Indian badminton to win a medal at the 2020 Olympics.
It was only in 2017 that Manu Bhaker first tasted success at the international level by winning the Asian Junior Championships that year, and she hasn’t looked back since.
Bhaker announced her arrival with a title-winning performance at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and had established herself as one of the best pistol shooters in the world after she won medals at the ISSF World Cup in Guadalajara, Mexico, and the 2018 Youth Olympics.
Manu Bhaker extended her sharpshooting into 2019 as well, as she went on to win as many as five ISSF World Cup gold medals and a further two more yellow metals at the Asian Shooting Championships. 2019 was also the year when the 10m air pistol shooter booked an Olympic quota in the shooting World Cup held in Munich.
The 17-year-old has also sounded confident about performing well in the 25m air pistol event at the 2020 Olympics, offering India a further shot at glory.
No conversation about the Indian hockey women’s team is complete without a mention of Rani Rampal.
The inspirational skipper led India to their second-consecutive Olympics, scoring the crucial goal against the USA eves in the final qualifier match after their mid-leg capitulation in the early stages.
Rani Rampal is more than an able leader, having taken the country to victory in the 2017 Women’s Asia Cup and a silver in the 2018 Asian Games. The 25-year old was also recently awarded the ‘World Games Athlete of the Year’ for 2019.
The Indian hockey women’s team unfortunately finished with the wooden spoon at Rio 2016, seemingly overwhelmed by the occasion. The only way now is upwards and Rani Rampal is bound to be the difference-maker if the team is to perform better this time around.
After a thoroughly impressive comeback to confirm his participation at the 2020 Olympics, javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra will undoubtedly be one of the country’s foremost medal hopes at the Games.
The 22-year-old first came into the limelight in 2016 with gold at the South Asian Games and IAAF World U20 Championships, the latter making him India’s first world champion.
More success has followed since then, winning golds at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and Asian Games.
An elbow injury last year set him back a bit but the youngster has already shown he is capable of throwing a distance that could capture Olympic gold.
Saikhom Mirabai Chanu
Like Vinesh Phogat, Saikhom Mirabai Chanu also had to return from the 2016 Rio Olympics with a heavy heart after the Manipur-born failed to finish the clean & jerk event in her preferred 48kg category.
However, she has been in imperious form since then, as she won the gold medal at the 2017 World Weightlifting Championships held in the USA, where she lifted a competition record 194 kg in total. It was followed by yet another gold medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games where she lifted a total of 196 kg, breaking the CWG record for the weight category and creating her personal best lift in the process.
She ended the 2018 Asian Games with her best ever lift of 199 kg although she still missed on the bronze medal. The 2019 World Weightlifting Championships also saw Mirabai Chanu finishing fourth despite lifting a staggering total of 201 kg, which was her personal best and a national record in the 49kg category.
The 25-year-old has grown from strength to strength since her 2016 Olympics exit and India’s legendary weightlifter Karnam Malleswari, who had won the country’s first Olympic medal in weightlifting back in 2000, has backed Mirabai Chanu to bring a medal for the country.
Amit Panghal has been an exceptional athlete since the day he decided to take up the sport. The 24-year-old had won the gold medal in his debut appearance at the National Boxing Championships in 2017 before managing a bronze at the Asian Amateur Boxing Championships the same year.
After his inexperience saw Amit Panghal losing to Uzbekistan’s Hasanboy Dusmatov in the quarterfinal of the 2017 AIBA World Boxing Championships, Amit Panghal came back stronger in 2018 by winning gold at the Strandzha Cup and Asian Games and a silver at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in the light flyweight category (48kg).
Last year saw Amit Panghal become the first Indian boxer to win a silver medal at the AIBA World Boxing Championships after he lost to Uzbekistan’s Shakhobidin Zoirov in the final.
Though shifting to a new weight category of 52kg will be a challenge for the boxing star after AIBA dropped his preferred 48kg from the Olympic programme, Amit Panghal is widely expected to punch above his weight.
Indian tennis fans’ joy knew no bounds after Sania Mirza revealed that she was eyeing the 2020 Olympics. Losing in the bronze medal match at Rio 2016, alongside compatriot Rohan Bopanna, the Indian woman tennis star contemplated that she had played her last Olympics, but things have changed since then.
The disheartening exit at Rio 2016 was followed by a topsy-turvy 2017 that ended with Sania Mirza sustaining a knee injury during the China Open that kept her out for months. That, along with her pregnancy announced in February 2018, saw the six-time Grand slam winner take a two-year hiatus from the game.
However, Sania Mirza found out she wasn’t as rusty as she was expecting to be as she came back to the court alongside Ukraine’s Nadiia Kichenok to win the Hobart International.