Tokyo 2020: Who are India’s strongest medal prospects at the Olympics?

0
69


The 2020 Tokyo Olympics will feature India’s biggest, and arguably their strongest contingent ever at the Games. While the shooters are expected to bring in the most number of medals, there are strong contenders across many other disciplines. Here are our picks:

1. Saurabh Chaudhary

Event: 10m Air Pistol Individual

Date: July 24

Positives

Chaudhary has been incredibly consistent over the past two years — medalling in all but one competition he’s taken part in. He’s finished on the podium in each of the five World Cups he’s taken part in — winning two golds (New Delhi 2019, Munich 2019), one silver (New Delhi 2021), and two bronzes (Rio de Janeiro 2019, Osijek 2021). What stands out for the 19-year-old is that he’s always made the finals comfortably — even his lowest score in qualification since making his senior debut has been 581 (at Osijek 2021), which would likely be enough to make the final in Tokyo.

Recent record

Choudhary’s most recent competition was the World Cup in Osijek, Croatia. Although he struggled (by his standards) in qualification, he still shot a score of 581, which would have qualified him in fourth place at the Rio Olympics. He eventually finished with a bronze.

Weakness

There’s no obvious weakness. Perhaps the only factor that could work against him would be his inexperience in the biggest stage — Choudhary has never taken part in a World Championship.

Key opponents

Iran’s Javad Fouroughi has become a strong contender for a medal in Tokyo. He is in top form, having beaten Choudhary in both the World Cups (New Delhi and Osijek) the two have competed in this year.

China’s Wei Pang, three-time Olympic finalist and two-time Olympic medallist, has also not competed in any international tournament recently but is among the medal contenders in Tokyo.


2. Saurabh Chaudhary and Manu Bhaker

Event: 10m Air Pistol Mixed Team

Date: July 27

Positives

Even more dominant than Chaudhary in the individual 10m pistol event is his pairing with Manu Bhaker in the mixed team event. The pair has competed together six times in World Cups and finished on the podium each time, winning five of the competitions outright. Most mixed teams competing at the World Cup usually have one shooter who is far stronger than the other. Both Chaudhary and Bhaker are incredibly strong shooters capable of winning the individual competitions outright themselves.

Recent record

By their high standards, Chaudhary and Bhaker suffered an upset of sorts in their most recent tournament — the World Cup in Osijek. They *only* won a silver, losing to the Russian pair of Artem Chernousov and Vitalina Batsarashkina.

Weakness

Both shooters are strong individually but they will be competing under immense pressure in their first Olympics. Bhaker has sometimes struggled under pressure and a lot might depend on how Chaudhary shoulders the extra burden.

Key opponents

The Russian pair of Artem Chernousov and Vitalina Batsarashkina, who handed the Indians their first defeat at the Osijek World Cup, will be the key threats in Tokyo.


3. Divyansh Panwar and Elavenil Valarivan

Event: 10m Air Rifle Mixed Team

Date: July 27

Positives

Although they have only paired together twice — in the 2021 New Delhi World Cup, where they won gold, and at this year’s Osijek World Cup, where they finished in sixth place — Elavenil Valarivan and Divyansh Panwar are among India’s best hopes for a rifle medal. The two are the best Indian individual shooters in the 10m air rifle category at present and are currently ranked World No. 1 in their individual disciplines. Panwar has plenty of experience on the podium over the past two years — winning two World Cup gold medals and a World Cup bronze in partnership with Anjum Moudgil in 2019.

Recent record

Although they won gold in a depleted field at the New Delhi World Cup, Panwar and Valarivan faltered at the Osijek World Cup, where they were eliminated in the second stage of qualification (QF) after uncharacteristically low scores by Panwar.

Weakness

Although both are ranked high, their recent form has been indifferent. Valarivan has often struggled in big events. Although she was averaging 631 over the last two years, she shot a subpar 626.7 and 625.3 in the individual events at home at the 2021 and 2019 New Delhi World Cups. Panwar, one of India’s best-rated rifle shooters, might find himself having to shoulder a higher proportion of the burden.

Key opponents

The Hungarian pair of Istivan Peni and Eszter Meszaros have been in strong form in recent months, counting among their wins a gold medal at Osijek. While Peni has regularly placed on the podium over the last two years, he’s found an excellent partner in the 19-year-old Meszaros, who won her first individual World Cup title in Osijek.


4. Yashaswini Deswal and Abhishek Verma

Event: 10m Air Pistol Mixed Team

Date: July 27

Positives

Although they have been overshadowed by Chaudhary and Bhaker, the pair of Deswal and Verma are genuine medal contenders in the mixed team event, having won a silver and bronze medal in three appearances at the World Cup. On paper, Verma and Deswal are even stronger prospects than Chaudhary and Bhaker, being ranked World No. 1 in the men’s and women’s 10m pistol individual categories.

Recent record

The pair won a bronze earlier this year at the New Delhi World Cup. At the most recent competition in Osijek, though, the duo finished outside the podium for the first time, losing the bronze-medal playoff match to Iran.

Weakness

Deswal’s qualification scores are on the lower end. If the duo are to make it past the second qualification round and into the last four, a lot would ride on Deswal’s performances.

Key opponents

Javad Foroughi’s form this year suggests that the Iranian mixed team pair of him and Golnoush Sebghatollahi will be fighting for a place in the last four. Compatriots Saurabh Chaudhary and Manu Bhaker as well as the Russian pair of Artem Chernousov and Vitalina Batsarashkina will be obstacles to be overcome as well.


5. Neeraj Chopra

Event: Men’s javelin throw

Date: Qualification on August 4 | Final on August 7

Positives

Although he missed most of 2019 due to injury, Chopra has been incredibly consistent in the Olympic year, routinely throwing the javelin around the 85m mark. In a sport where performances can vary wildly, that is a crucial edge. Anything around that mark would likely qualify him for the final. On the day of the final, if he throws anything around or better than his personal best of 88.07m, Chopra stands a very good chance of making the podium.

Recent record

Chopra’s last competition prior to the Olympics was the Kuortane Games in Finland, where he finished in third place with a strong effort of 86.79m, finishing ahead of reigning world champion Anderson Peters.

Weakness

While Chopra’s strength has been consistency in a field not known for it, he will have to be at his very best if others perform to their ability too. Eleven of the athletes who have qualified for Tokyo have a better personal best than the Indian. Among athletes this year, Chopra currently has the fourth-best throw.

Key opponents

Germany’s Johannes Vetter is the gold medal favourite this year with a season’s best of 96.29m. The rest of the podium, though, will see a tough fight between Chopra, former Olympic champion Keshawn Walcott (SB 89.12m) and Marcin Krukowski of Poland (SB 89.55m).


6. Mirabai Chanu

Event: Women’s weightlifting (49kg)

Date: July 24

Positives

Mirabai Chanu will almost certainly be the first Indian weightlifter since Karnam Malleswari (in 2000) to win an Olympic medal. She’s a former World Champion and currently the fourth-ranked weightlifter in her division. However, two of those ranked above her will not be competing, meaning she will easily be the second-best lifter in her category in Tokyo. Mirabai also has the best clean and jerk world record in her category, which means that even if she has a poor start in the snatch event, she will still be able to make up lost ground in the clean and jerk segment.

Recent record

Mirabai last competed at the 2021 Asian Championships in Tashkent, where she lifted a personal best and new national record of 205kg. She also set a new world record of 119kg in the clean and jerk segment.

Weakness

Compared to her clean and jerk lift, which is the best in the world, Mirabai has a relatively average snatch lift (PB 88kg). She also tends to miss a lot of lifts at that weight, which puts a lot of pressure on her. At Tokyo, a lot would ride on the kind of start she gets in the snatch event.

Key opponents

The gold medal favourite in the women’s 49kg division will be China’s Hou Zhihui, who has lifted 213kg this season – eight kilograms more than Mirabai. Should Mirabai have a strong set of lifts in the snatch, she might very well threaten the Chinese. However, she should also be wary of the USA’s Jourdan Delacruz, who has a personal best of 200kg in the 49kg division. Delacruz, though, is capable of more — she has earlier lifted 207kg while competing in the 55kg division.


7. Ravi Dahiya

Event: Men’s freestyle wrestling (57kg)

Date: R-16 to SF on August 4 | Repechage and medal match on August 5

Positives

Although he’s won a bronze medal at the World Championships and is a two-time Asian Champion, Ravi Dahiya is still flying under the radar, overshadowed by Bajrang Punia. Dahiya has all of Punia’s advantages — key being one of the best endurance levels in the division. He is also considered one of the most technically-gifted wrestlers in his category, which allows him to win in multiple ways. Seeded fourth in Tokyo, he will also avoid gold medal favourite Zaur Uguev (to whom he lost at the 2019 World Championships) until the finals.

Recent record

Dahiya competed most recently at the Asian Championships, where he won his second consecutive continental medal. However, none of the wrestlers he competed against in that tournament will be competing in Tokyo.

Weakness

Although Dahiya is one of the most well-rounded wrestlers in the division, it remains to be seen how he performs at a high-pressure tournament like the Olympics.

Key opponents

At least on form and record, Dahiya should make the finals in Tokyo. His seeding means he will avoid Russia’s Zaur Uguev until the finals. Dahiya also has a winning record against five of the 16 contenders for a medal in Tokyo and a likely semi-final opponent — top-ranked Stevan Micic — has a loss to Kazakhstan’s Nurislam Sanayev — a wrestler Dahiya has beaten twice before.


8. Bajrang Punia

Event: Men’s freestyle wrestling (65kg)

Date: R-16 to SF on August 6 | Repechage and medal match on August 7

Positives

Bajrang has been one of the most successful wrestlers in this Olympic cycle with two Worlds medals and an Asian Games title over the last four years. His pressure and stamina make him a major threat to any opponent. His consistent performances have earned him the second-seeded position in Tokyo, where he will avoid World Champion Ghadzimurad Rashidov until the final.

Recent record

Bajrang competed most recently at the Ali Aliev tournament in Russia last month, where he suffered a knee injury while trailing 0-4 in the semifinal. Bajrang, though, says he has recovered from the injury and has resumed training.

Weakness

Bajrang’s relentless pressure tires lesser opponents but also leaves him vulnerable to quick opponents with sufficient conditioning. His forward momentum often leaves his legs vulnerable, something that opponents have capitalised on in the past.

Key opponents

While he has avoided both Russia’s Ghadzimurad Rashidov and the mercurial Ismael Muszukajev of Hungary, the men’s 65kg category is still stacked with talent. Bajrang has already lost twice to Japanese talent Takuto Otoguro and he will hope to avoid him in the draw as well.


9. Vinesh Phogat

Event: Women’s freestyle wrestling (53kg)

Date: R-16 to SF on August 5 | Repechage and medal match on August 6

Positives

Phogat has been incredibly consistent over the past few years. She is unbeaten this year with gold medals at the Rome Ranking series, the Asian Championships and the Poland Open. The pullout of world champion Pak Yong Mi has boosted her prospects as has the fact that she is the top seed in Tokyo — potentially avoiding a match against her nemesis Mayu Mukaida until the final.

Recent record

Phogat last competed in the Poland Open, where she beat Worlds bronze medallist Ekaterina Poleschuk of Russia and only conceded two points over three matches.

Weakness

Phogat is in excellent form and has ironed out most of her weaknesses. However, she has admitted facing issues with her recovery from her weight cut in her early matches and will hope she doesn’t run into a strong opponent early on.

Key opponents

As the top seed, Vinesh will be favoured to at least make the final in Tokyo, where her likely opponent, Japan’s Mayu Mukaida, holds the advantage with a 3-0 record against the Indian. Phogat might face a tricky match in a potential semifinal against China’s Pang Qianyu, who holds a 2-2 record against the Indian. Phogat, though, has the most recent win — in the 2019 Asian Championships.


10. PV Sindhu

Event: Badminton (Women’s singles)

Date: Qualification rounds start on July 24

Positives

Although she hasn’t had the greatest form over the last couple of years, PV Sindhu won the title that mattered — the 2019 World Championships. Sindhu is a big tournament player and her route to a medal, possibly a gold, got easier with reigning Olympic champion Carolina Marin having to pull out due to injury.

Recent record

The badminton calendar has been plagued due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with few tournaments being held this year. Sindhu though has shown signs of finding some form in 2021, reaching the final of the Swiss Open and beating former World No.1 Akane Yamaguchi to reach the semifinals at the All England Open.

Weakness

Sindhu doesn’t have a lot of match practice going into the Olympics and potentially has a tricky quarterfinal match against Japan’s Yamaguchi. Despite holding an 11-7 record, Sindhu has lost a fair number of times to the Japanese.

Key opponents

Sindhu should advance from the group stage easily, and will likely face Mia Blitchfeldt – an opponent she has a 4-1 record against. A tricky match against Yamaguchi in the quarters might be followed by an even tougher one against Tai Tzu Ying, who has a 13-5 record against the Indian.


11. Amit Panghal

Event: Boxing (Men’s 52kg flyweight)

Date: Qualification rounds start on July 26

Positives

Panghal is the top seed in Tokyo, which would boost his chances of a medal since the top eight seeds will not meet until the quarterfinals — essentially a medal bout. The Indian is perhaps the fastest boxer in his weight class, which makes up for his lack of reach. He’s also in excellent touch coming off a strong performance in the Asian Championships, where he lost a very close bout to the reigning Olympic flyweight champion Shakhobidin Zoirov.

Recent record

Panghal last fought at the Asian Championships, where he beat Worlds bronze medallist Saken Bibossinov by a wide decision. He however lost a very tight 3-2 decision in the final to World and Olympic champion Zoirov.

Weakness

Panghal is generally a slow starter and often finds himself having to play catch up after dropping the first round. He sometimes falls into the trap of failing to throw enough punches — which could cost him especially if he comes up against a strong starter.

Key opponents

As the top seed, Panghal should avoid most tricky opponents early on. However, the nature of the draw will not be known until closer to the competition. Panghal’s key rivals are likely to be World Bronze medallist Bilal Benama of France, Hu Jianguan of China — to whom he lost in the 2020 Olympic qualifiers, and the highly impressive youth world champion Thitisan Panmod of Thailand.



Source link