VOICES JUG SURAIYA RAVI SHANKAR S VAIDHYASUBRAMANIAM GAUTAM CHINTAMANI YASH VARDHAN SINGH THE NEW SUNDAY EXPRESS MAGAZINE BUFFET PEOPLE WELLNESS BOOKS FOOD ART & CULTURE ENTERTAINMENT JANUARY 12 2020 SUNDAY PAGES 12 The Tokyo Olympics has the potential to be the kind of turning point that the 2010 Commonwealth Games was to Indian sport. Never before in the country’s history has it sent a contingent to the quadrennial games with so many medal contenders within its ranks. A best-ever show might be on the cards come July and August, writes Vishnu Prasad Heavy Medal “Highest number of athletes are likely to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics this year. Considering current trends, India is likely to record its best performance. However, medal-wise estimation at this juncture may not be appropriate.” Kiren Rijiju, Sports Minister I t’s the ninth of August and millions of Indians are glued to their TV screens. The closing ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics is on and they’re left wishing it had dragged on for a few more days. Cloaked in the bright lights and sweltering heat of the New National Stadium, the Indian contingent is all smiles—never has a squad of athletes from the country had more reason to be more happy at an Olympic Games. Waving the tricolour high is Bajrang Punia, the unassuming wrestler from Jhajjar, who had, a day before, put the cherry on top of an excellent Indian performance with gold in the men’s 65kg section. Behind him, sporting her trademark grin is another gold medallist, the affable Vinesh Phogat, who had laid to rest the demons of 2016 where she had gone in as a medal hope and returned with a broken leg. There’s one more wrestling medallist in the party—the young Deepak Punia. Amidst all the waving hands, the diminutive lifter Mirabai Chanu is hard to spot, but after a medal in the 49kg section, the cameras find enough time to be trained on her. Back in India, celebrations are underway in various parts of the country with everyone rushing to congratulate medallists who opted for early returns. Nowhere are they celebrating harder than in Hyderabad where PV Sindhu has returned home with her second straight Olympic medal, this time an improvement on the silver that she had won in Rio. But unlike four years prior, she has to share the spotlight with a lot many others. Outside her Jhajjar home, Manu Bhaker brandishes her gun and her gold to the ILLUSTRAATION: AMIT BANDRE TOKYO OLYMPICS From Leander’s lone bronze to high Tokyo hopes Olympic medals India has won, both before and after Independence. Hockey has contributed the most—the men’s team has won 11 medals of which eight were gold. adoring public—she’s got one in the mixed team event as well. She’s not the only shooter to be mobbed on return though—fellow teenager Saurabh Choudhary and rifle shooter Apurvi Chandela have landed with medals as well. A short drive away from there in Rohtak, everyone’s getting ready to welcome another returning medallist in Amit Panghal. He though is not the boxer of the moment—that would be the veteran MC Mary Kom, who, at 36, has punched her way to a second Olympic medal, eight years after she had won the first in London. But, amidst all the golds and silver, the most poignant story from Tokyo is a bronze. Forty years after a last medal in the sport on the world’s biggest stage, the women’s hockey team has managed to get on the podium. In a sport, that Indians once considered their own before they appeared to lose their way and slip over to an eternal path of damnation, they had somehow stumbled back on to the right road. That bronze made it 12 medals. A bestever performance and the first time ever that the country had managed double digits at a Games. Ok, now cut back to reality! Did that scenario sound a bit too fanciful? A utopian dream that’s never going to happen in at least a couple of decades? Think again! It’s not as far-fetched as it sounds. For all their faults, the women’s hockey team is probably the fittest in the world and it will only take a couple of blistering performances on the right day for them to move into the medal brackets. Sindhu is the reigning world champion. Vinesh, Bajrang and Deepak were all medallists at the most recent World Championships in their sport as were Amit and Mary Mirabai may be eighth in . the world rankings right now, but finished fourth in the weightlifting Worlds in September. And where do you start with shooting? The way , Manu & Co have dominated the World Cup circuit over the past 12 months, it would probably be considered a disappointment if they come back with anything less than three or four medals. It’s no fluke that India has secured a record 15 shooting quotas at Tokyo and the buoyancy in the camp is best summed up by national coach Jaspal Rana. “This time, it’s different because whatever quota places we have won, we won it at events where all these top Olympians were participating in,” he says. “Our shooters beat them by good scores, not just once but a number of times.” Of course, there is the very real possibility that all this could end in one dour, grimace-inducing anti-climax. India could come back with two, one or even zero medals. But for once, nobody is expecting them to. ****** Things were a lot different when Leander Paes was packing his bags for Atlanta, way back in 1996. India had just shaken off the constraints of a protectionist economy and was beginning to sprout its post-liberalisation wings. For Indian sport, it was a weird period—that interlude between the hockey team’s last years as a global force and the cricket team’s rise as one of the game’s true powers. Sachin Tendulkar was starting to tell the country that an Indian could be the best in the world at a sporting discipline but not everyone was ready to believe him just yet. An individual medal at the Olympic Games was considered a fanciful fantasy—after all, the only instance of that happening for independent India came in 1952 when KD Jadhav netted a wrestling bronze. And as Doordarshan broadcasted the Atlanta Games in its entirety Indians , scrambled to find a rare glimpse of the national flag in the participants’ list. No one bothered to even take a glance at the medal tally . Then Paes happened. Few saw it coming, Sure, the field at Atlanta was much-weakened but there were still names like Andre Agassi, Goran Ivanisevic and Thomas Enqvist. And Paes was nowhere in the picture—a mere wildcard. But he somehow battled on to a bronze, scalping third-seed Enqvist along the way , losing only to the great Agassi. A bronze and the joint-71st spot on the medal tally may seem like nothing to write home about but Paes had broken a 44-year drought. Turn to page 2... Multiple World C’ships medallists in 2019 alone It has been a long journey for India since Leander Paes ended the country’s 44-year wait for an individual Olympic medal, back in 1996. In the years since, many landmarks have been broken. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore kickstarted India’s shooting revolution with a silver in 2004 before Abhinav Bindra won the country’s first-ever individual gold in Beijing in 2008. Sushil Kumar became the country’s first double-medallist (in individual events) in 2012, the same Games that Saina Nehwal won a landmark badminton medal in. 28 Golden year in shooting heightens expectation Indian rifle and pistol shooters were in a different league throughout 2019. In all the four World Cups (rifle and pistol) they participated in, they performed exceedingly well. They topped the medal standings, earning a record number of quotas in the process—15 is the most shooters India has ever sent to the Olympics. They went on to put the icing on the cake by topping the World Cup Final, where only the best-ranked shooters compete. However, the trap shooters had a year to forget with no one making the Olympic cut. As many as 11 medals were won by boxers and wrestlers in the world championships last year. The Worlds medals meant four wrestlers— Vinesh Phogat (53kg), Ravi Dahiya (57kg), Bajrang Punia (65kg) and Deepak Punia (86kg)—qualified for Tokyo. The pugilists also did well as six of them (four women) finished on the podium. Amit Phangal (52kg) and Manju Rani (48kg) clinched a silver each while MC Mary Kom (51kg), Jamuna Boro (54kg), Lovlina Borgohain (69kg) and Manish Kaushik (63kg) won a bronze each.
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