India, the country of 1.3 billion people, has historically struggled to make a mark in the Olympic Games. But in the last decade or so, especially after Abhinav Bindra’s Gold medal, efforts have been made to improve the nation’s performance in one of the biggest sporting events in the world. Indian athletes bagged three medals in 2008, record six in 2012 but came down to just two in Rio. However, one positive was that the number of athletes from India in the Olympics had risen from 67 in Beijing to 117 in Rio. A lot is expected from Indian athletes in the next year’s Olympics, with a number of medal hopefuls. Here’re the athletes who have qualified for the next year’s global sporting extravaganza:
Men’s 20 km Walk
K. T. Irfan will participate in the men’s 20 km race walking. The 29-year old was the first Indian track and field athlete to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics back in March. Irfan clocked 1 hour 20 minutes 57 seconds at the 2019 Asian Race Walking championship in Japan to clear the Olympic qualification criteria by just 3 seconds. He finished 11th in the competition, 2 minutes and 42 seconds behind the gold medallist.
Irfan has previously participated at the London Olympics where he finished 10th. But he set the National record with the time of 1 hour 20 minutes and 21 seconds.
Mixed 4x400m team
Although India didn’t any medal at the 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships, the country’s Mixed 4x400m team managed to qualify for the 2020 Olympics. The team of V.K. Vismaya, Muhammed Anas, Tom Nirmal Noah, and Jisna Mathew clocked 3 minutes 15.77 seconds in the final race to finish in the seventh spot of eight participating countries. Earlier, the Indian team had ended in the third position in its heat and seventh overall to make it to the finals. This was also enough to secure themselves an Olympic berth.-- Advertisement --
Indian steeplechaser Avinash Sable was amongst the three Indian finalists at the 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships. The 24-year-old clocked 8:21:37 minutes in the finals of the men’s 3000m steeplechase event to finish at the 13th spot, enough to secure the Olympic quota.
After a no-show at the Rio Olympics, Indian men’s archery team made sure they do not miss out on yet another Olympic participation. The team of Atanu Das, Tarundeep Rai, and Praveen Jadhav qualified for the Tokyo Olympics with an exceptional performance at the 2019 World Archery Championship.-- Advertisement --
The team needed to make it to the quarterfinals to book an Olympic berth and they did it almost effortlessly with a 5-1 victory against Norway and 5-3 against Canada. Das, Rai, and Jadhav did not stop there as they made it to the final of the competition, where they faced China. Despite a 2-6 defeat against the Chinese archery team, India returned with a silver medal in the competition.
Indian women’s archery team, on the other hand, failed to qualify for the Olympics at the World Championship. But Deepika Kumari and co will get another shot at the qualification in November in the Asian Continental Qualification Tournament.-- Advertisement --
Indian women’s and men’s hockey teams qualified for the 2020 Olympics by defeating the United States and Russia respectively in the qualifiers in November. Having thrashed the visitors in the first leg by 5-1 at the Kalinga Stadium, the Indian Eves received a scare in the second from the Americans who scored 4-0 to make it 5-5. However, skipper Rani Rampal scored the all-important winner to make it 6-5 and send the women’s team to Tokyo. It was a job as usual for the men’s team, who strolled past Russia 11-3 to proceed to the Olympics.
What a proud moment for every Indian! Both our Hockey Women's and Men's Team have qualified for @Tokyo2020 Olympics! I'm going to meet both the teams to congratulate and extend the best wishes on behalf of the people of India🇮🇳! https://t.co/meeMRn8zsP pic.twitter.com/uz0xQuhfev
— Kiren Rijiju (@KirenRijiju) November 2, 2019
After Hockey and Wrestling, Shooting has brought most medals for India in Olympics. And interestingly, all of them have come in the 21st century. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore won the first medal in shooting in 2004, Abhinav Bindra’s historic Gold came in 2008, followed by Vijay Kumar’s silver and Gagan Narang’s bronze in 2012.
And India will expect a few more medals from shooters once again in Tokyo. The signs are already there as seven athletes have qualified for the next year’s event so far.
Anjum Moudgil and Apurvi Chandela (10 m Air Rifle)
Anjum Moudgil and Apurvi Chandela were the ones to get the ball rolling for India for the Tokyo Games. They were the first two Indian athletes to qualify for the Olympics. At the 2018 World Championship, where top four qualify for the Olympics, the duo made the most of that opportunity.
Anjum won the silver medal with her score of 248.4 while Apurvi finished fourth with 207 points. Both shooters booked their berth for the 2020 Olympics. It was the first time in the history that two Indian athletes qualified for the Olympics in the same competition.
Saurabh Chaudhary (10 m Air Pistol)
A 17-year old sensation, Saurabh Chaudhary has set the stage on fire in the past two years. He won the Gold medal in the 2018 Youth Olympics and became the youngest Indian Gold medallist at the Asian Games.
Chaudhary qualified for the Tokyo Olympic with a gold medal in 2019 ISSF World Cup in New Delhi. He followed it with yet another Gold in the third phase of the World Cup in Munich, where he broke the World Record and World Junior Record with the score of 246.3 in 10 m air pistol.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the teenager is already amongst the medal hopefuls for the Tokyo Games.
Abhishek Verma (10 m Air Pistol)
India’s second participant in the 10 m air pistol event, Abhishek Verma also booked his ticket to Tokyo with a gold medal in the second phase of the ISSF World Cup in Beijing. The 29-year old has won the bronze medal at the 2018 Asian Games.
Divyansh Singh Panwar (10 m Air Rifle)
Yet another wonder kid, 16-year old Divyansh Singh Panwar booked his Olympic quota with a silver medal at the ISSF World Cup in New Delhi. Divyansh, who trains at the same shooting range in Rajasthan where Olympic medallist Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore once did, missed the gold by just 0.4 points. But it was enough for him to start working for the next year’s mega event.
Rahi Sarnobat (25 m Pistol)
After missing Rio Olympics due to injury, nothing could stop Rahi from booking a place for the Tokyo Games. The 28-year old won the Gold medal at the ISSF World Cup in Munich and will be on her flight to the Olympics for the second time.
Back in 2012, Rahi became the first Indian shooter to qualify for the 25 m pistol event at the Olympics, where she could only finish 19th. But with ample experience, Commonwealth and Asian Games gold medal under her belt since then, Rahi will be aiming for a medal in 2020.
Manu Bhaker (10 m Air Pistol)
It is safe to say that the future of Indian Shooting is in safe hands. After all, the 17-year old Manu Bhaker is the third teenager to qualify for the Olympics. Manu had an exceptional 2018, with a gold and silver at the Youth Olympics gold at the Commonwealth Games and two gold medals at the 2018 ISSF World Cup.
But in the 2019 World Cup, she missed out on a podium and had to settle for the 4th place after an equipment failure. But destiny is a funny thing. With two Olympic berths to grab from Manu’s event, the gold and bronze medallist had already qualified for Tokyo in 2018. So along with the silver medallist, Manu automatically got the ticket to Japan.
India had its best-ever outing at the World Wrestling Championships, winning 5 medals in the 2019 edition in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan. That also meant that five grapplers from the country booked their berths for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Ace Indian wrestler, Vinesh Phogat became the 1st grappler from the country to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. She managed the feat by beating the USA’s Sarah Hildebrandt 8-2 at the 2019 World Wrestling Championship in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan. Although she suffered a defeat in the pre-quarterfinals at the hands of Japan’s Mayu Mukaida, Vinesh made an incredible comeback in the second repechage against Ukraine’s Yulia Blahinya. This was followed by another incredible performance against Greek wrestler Maria Prevolaraki in the bronze-medal bout round to secure the Olympic berth.
Indian wrestler Deepak Punia scripted history by winning a silver in the men’s freestyle 86kg category of the 2019 World Wrestling Championships. The Junior World Championships gold medallist had defeated Switzerland’s Stefan Reichmuth on his way to the finals. However, he bowed out of the finals owing to injury. Going by his scintillating performances, Deepak Punia is expected to be an important medal hopeful at the 2020 Olympics.
Bajrang Punia put the disappointment of a heartbreaking semi-final loss behind to clinch the bronze at the 2019 Wrestling World Championships in Nur-Sultan. The grappler beat Mongolia’s Tulga Ochir 8-7 in the 65kg freestyle category’s bronze medal bout. However, Punia had already secured his place in the next year’s sporting showpiece, having earlier won silver in the 2018 edition of the World Wrestling Championships in Budapest. The Asian Games gold won his first World Championships medal, a bronze, back in 2013.
India’s presence in the wrestling events at Olympics was further boosted by a young Ravi Kumar Dahiya, who won a bronze medal on his debut at the World Wrestling Championships. The budding grappler beat Iran’s Reza Atrinagharchiof 6-3 in the decisive 57kg freestyle bronze medal bout to gain the honours. Ravi Kumar’s performances at the Nur-Sultan are certain to be a big confidence-booster for India.
Rahul Aware completed India’s best-ever medal haul (5 medals) at the World Wrestling Championships by winning a bronze in the 2019 edition. The Maharashtra wrestler crushed his opponent Tyler Lee Graff 11-4 in the bronze medal bout of the 61kg category to achieve the feat.