Will India finally reach the elusive double-digit mark?
Raj Kishore Mishra, former joint secretary at the sports ministry, for one, is willing to stick his neck out on the possibility.
IMAGE: The Olympics stadium in Tokyo. Photograph: Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters
It might sound puerile when, once every four years, sports scribes and sports administrators sit down to guesstimate the number of medals India would win at the greatest of all sporting events.
Yet, given the country’s measly medal haul of 23 (Gold 6, Silver 5 and Bronze 12) since Independence, the excitement is understandable.
Compare this with China. After boycotting the Summer Games between 1956-1980, the Middle Kingdom announced its arrival on the world stage in spectacular fashion, winning a jaw-dropping 32 medals, including 15 Golds.
As against this, India’s best performance thus far has been 6 medals at the London Olympics (2 Silvers and 4 Bronzes).
Agreed, we have had our own moments under the sun in a journey that began in 1900 under colonial rule.
The uninterrupted golds in hockey from 1928 Amsterdam to 1956 Melbourne, including the one in 1936 at Berlin under the very nose of the German chancellor when the great Dhyan Chand dazzled the hockey world with his artistry and wizardry; the first individual medal, a bronze, won by wrestler K D Jadhav at Helsinki 1952; the Flying Sikh, Milkha Singh’s iconic sprint in the 400 metres at Rome 1960 which didn’t fetch a medal but won a million hearts and a similar feat by P T Usha at Los Angeles 1984; the first ever medal by a woman athlete, a bronze by weightlifter Karnam Malleswari at Sydney 2000 and, finally, the first ever individual gold by shooter Abhinav Bindra at Beijing 2008.
Sadly, these feats have been very few and far between for a billion plus people craving for more.
Against this backdrop, how do the country’s expectations stack up for the much-delayed show at Tokyo, being held under the shadow of a pandemic?
IMAGE: 2016 Olympics silver medalist P V Sindhu has been a formidable force in the badminton world. Photograph: David Ramos/Getty Images
As on date, 115 sportspersons, including 32 for men’s and women’s hockey, have made the cut for Tokyo.
This number is likely to go up further after the International Tennis Federation releases the final list for men’s doubles and the exact rankings of a few other athletes are made known on the basis of which they would make the cut, albeit without meeting the qualification standards.
The disciplines in which the Indians would figure include archery (4), athletics (23), badminton (4), boxing (9), equestrian (1), fencing (1), golf (2), gymnastics (1), hockey (32), judo (1), rowing (2), sailing (4), shooting (15), swimming (2), table tennis (4), weightlifting (1), wrestling (7) and tennis (2).
While each one of the above would try to give off his/her best, most sadly would end up making the numbers.
Still, given the investment made towards training and exposure of our sportspersons and their recent performances, it won’t be off the mark to say this would be India’s best-ever Olympics.
Our best bet for multiple medals would be the 15-member shooting team, now competing in the Shooting World Cup at Osijek, Croatia.
While each one them is capable of hitting the bull’s eye, a lot is expected of the young brigade led by Saurabh Chaudhary, Manu Bhaker, Divyansh Singh Panwar and Elavenil Valarivan.
Not only are they expected to shine in their individual events but also in team and mixed team competition — the first two in 10m Air Pistol and the latter in 10m Air Rifle.
In fact, it would be no surprise if the team with its fine blend of experience (read Sanjeev Rajput, Abhishek Verma, Rahi Sarnobat, Apoorvi Chandela et all) and youth exceeds the total medals tally of 6 at the London Olympics.
IMAGE: Hopes are high from Mirabai Chanu in weightlifing. Photograph: SAI Media/Twitter
Boxing and wrestling should figure next in the medal sweepstakes.
World Number One Amit Panghal in the 52 kg remains the best bet for a gold while on the distaff side, legendary Mary Kom would like to sign off her illustrious career with a second Olympic medal.
In wrestling, Bajrang Punia (65kg) and Vinesh Phogat (53kg), both ranked number 1 in the world currently, should fancy their chances for the yellow metal.
In weightlifting, Mirabai Chanu (49kg) is expected to leave behind her Rio disappointment and go for gold.
Chanu who recently created a world record in the clean and jerk would, however, have to add at least 5kgs extra in the snatch to ward off the challenge from her Chinese rivals.
Similarly, in badminton, P V Sindhu would seek to convert the colour of her Rio medal to yellow.
In men’s doubles, they may be rank outsiders, but it’s not beyond the dynamic duo of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty to cause a couple of upsets to be on the podium.
In hockey, medals have dried up since the gold at Moscow in 1980.
The men’s game, though, has witnessed a resurgence in recent times and the team is no longer an outlier.
Ranked fourth, it should aim at reaching the semi-finals first after which anything is possible in a knock-out situation.
Star archer and now reinstated as world number one, Deepika Kumari has often failed on the big stage.
However, after her sterling performance in the ongoing Paris World Cup-Stage 3, she can finally be expected to hold her nerves and bring home the elusive Olympic medal.
With hubby, Atanu Das, the duo also stands a good chance of fetching a medal in the mixed team event.
IMAGE: Amit Panghal, the World No 1 boxer in the 52 kg category. Photograph: BFI/Twitter
In athletics, the blue riband of the Olympics, nothing seemed to have changed since the near misses by Milkha Singh and P T Usha, but suddenly, there’s excitement in the air.
And the man to have caused it is long-haired and 23 years old Neeraj Chopra whose national record of 88.07 metres in the javelin has brought him within sniffing distance of a podium finish.
To add to the sense of optimism is burly Tajinder Pal Singh Toor who recently created an Asian record in the shot put with a mighty heave of 21.49 metres, a feat that would have fetched him a bronze at Rio.
So, will India finally reach the elusive double-digit mark? This writer, for one, is willing to stick his neck out on the bet.
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com