Every four years, forecasts are made on how many medals India will win at the Olympics, a practice that can see widely polarising opinions. World’s leading data and technology company Gracenote has predicted India will finish with 19 medals, four of them being gold. Most Indian sports officials too are bullish, they too promise a double-digit haul.
Considering India won just a couple of medals at the last Olympics — one bronze, one silver — the long-haul punt for Tokyo 2020 looks like a giant leap of faith. Between those two extremes is where India is expected to finish. Better than last time, but not double digit, seems realistic.
The Indian Express takes a look at some disciplines and athletes that have performed consistently at the international stage and would be in with a shot for a Tokyo Games medal.
Express Prediction: 2 medals, if all goes well
Gracenote predictions: 8 medals in total (2 golds, 4 silvers and 2 bronze medals)
– Gold medals to Elavenil Valarivan in Women’s 10m Air rifle and Manu Bhaker/ Saurabh Chaudhary duo in 10m Air Pistol mixed event
– Silvers for Saurabh Chaudhary and Manu Bhaker in 10m Air Pistol Men’s and Women’s individual events, Rahi Sarnobat in Women’s 25m Air Rifle and Divyansh Singh Panwar/Elavenil Valarivan in 10m Air Rifle mixed event.
– Bronze medals for Divyansh Singh Panwar in Men’s 10m Air Rifle and Yashaswini Singh Deswal in Women’s 10m Air Pistol event.
Recently, the mixed team event in 10m Air Pistol was announced as a discipline at the Olympics. India is fielding Saurabh Chaudhary and Manu Bhaker, two shooters who have dominated the field since 2019, having won World Cup golds at New Delhi, Beijing, Munich, Rio de Janeiro and then New Delhi again. While their first four gold medals were won in 2019, it was the 2021 New Delhi gold medal that was their toughest one yet.
Iranian duo Javad Foroughi and Golnoush Sebghatollahi ran away with a 10-6 lead before Chaudhary and Bhaker reeled them in and at 12-12 shot a 10.7 and 10.5 each to win the team event by 0.7. Foroughi had also beaten Chaudhary in the same World Cup in the Men’s 10m Air Pistol event — a discipline where India is expected to win a medal as well.
Don’t discount Apurvi Chandela in women’s air-rifle and Rahi Sarnobat if she makes the finals. If Indian pistol has indeed come of age, the less-there, more-thereabouts duo Yashaswini Deswal and Abhishek Verma can leapfrog Bhaker and Chaudhary even.
Express Prediction: 1 medal, best case scenario 2
Gracenote prediction: 3 medals (2 golds, 1 bronze)
– Gold medals to Bajrang Punia in men’s freestyle wrestling 65 kg category and Vinesh Phogat in women’s freestyle wrestling 53kg category.
– Bronze for Deepak Punia in men’s 86kg freestyle wrestling event.
Two names stand out in Indian wrestling as potential medal hopes. In the 53-kg freestyle wrestling category, Vinesh Phogat is the top seed at the Tokyo Olympics. In a field that has Sweden’s Sofia Mattson, China’s Pang Qianyu, American Jacarra Winchester and Phogat’s Japanese nemesis Mayu Mukaida, a medal — or the colour of it, depends on so many factors.
The draw, the conditions, preparation – especially in Covid-19 times, all play a part in how any given wrestler will perform on a day. For Phogat, Mukaida is the gold standard in her category. The Japanese wrestler has beaten Phogat on three different occasions, but both are only slated to face each other in the final.
In the men’s division, Bajrang Punia’s legend will be put to the test in a trying 65-kg field. Seeded second behind Russia’s Gadhzimurad Rashidov, his biggest opponent, just like Phogat’s, is a Japanese wrestler. Takuto Otoguro is seeded fifth in Bajrang’s category and has forever been a thorn in the side of the Haryana wrestler. But barring the Japanese, Punia has a tried and tested track record against the rest of his competition.
Ravi Dahiya in 57 kg has the Indian gas tank, and can explode on his day.
Express Prediction: 1
Gracenote prediction: 1 medal (Silver)
– Silver medal for Mirabai Saikom Chanu in women’s 49kg category
North Korea’s decision not to be a part of these Olympics has benefitted many athletes, but none more so than weightlifter Mirabai Chanu, who is well in line to win a silver medal. In the 49-kg category, Chanu’s best records put her in the fourth spot, behind China’s Hou Zhihui, Ziang Huihua and North Korea’s Ri-Sing Gum. But Korea’s withdrawal, combined with China only being applicable to send one 49-kg weightlifter, means that Chanu has a clear path to the silver.
But Chanu has had her fair share of injury issues, particularly a troublesome back problem that has only recently been addressed at the technique level. On her return, at the Asian Championships in April, Chanu broke the clean and jerk world record by lifting 118kgs.
Express Prediction: None. In case of a miracle, 1
Gracenote prediction: Indian hockey team will come fifth.
For the first time in a while, the Indian men’s hockey team looks to be in with a chance of placing in the medal categories. In the FiH Pro League, India placed fourth, with wins over Belgium, Netherlands, Argentina and Olympic champions Australia.
Since 2018, Graham Reid’s team has lost only six matches in regulation time and all the losses were by a margin of a solitary goal. The successful period has been attributed to a renewed defensive game where a high press has been employed with India preferring to attempt winning the ball back in opposition territory.
What will work against the Indians though, is the lack of match experience. The pandemic ensured that European countries managed to play more competitive games in the period of the pandemic and the effects of that could translate poorly for India.
In Group A, the men’s hockey team have to clear the hurdles set by Spain and New Zealand to reach the quarters. It is the quarter-final and onwards where India will need to up their game, since they will likely face Netherland, Belgium, Germany or Great Britain at that stage. In the Rio Olympics, World Champions Belgium had knocked India out at the quarters.
The women’s team could prove to be the dark horse since they have given consistent result in the qualification rounds. The team led by Rani Rampal has given consistent results at the continental level, however it remains to be seen if they can deliver on the world stage.
Express Prediction: 2 medals, but more likely 1 or none
Gracenote prediction: 5 medals (3 silver and 2 bronze medals)
– Silver medals for Amit Panghal and Mary Kom in men’s and women’s flyweight and Lovlina Borgohain in women’s welterweight.
– Bronze medals for Manish Kaushik in men’s lightweight and Pooja Rani in women’s middleweight.
The smallest boxers in the Indian contingent are the nation’s biggest medal hopes. Amit Panghal due to his consistency, and Mary Kom due to her legacy.
Panghal, the top-seeded flyweight, has a gold and silver at the Asian championships and a historic silver at the Worlds in 52kg. The 25-year-old could be expected to bring the nation its third Olympic medal. The biggest rival is the reigning Olympic and world champion Shakhobidin Zoirov.
Since moving back to the Olympic category of 52kg, Mary Kom last won gold medals at the India Open and President’s Cup in 2019. She took bronze at the 2019 Worlds, bronze at the Olympic qualifiers, bronze at the Boxam invitation this March, and a silver at May’s Asian championships. The 38-year-old has lost to new names Nazym Kyzaibay, Chang Yuan, Busenaz Cakiroglu and fellow veteran Virginia Fuchs, and has slowed down considerably.
Outside chances belong to Manish Kaushik, Lovlina Borgohain and Vikas Krishan.
Express Prediction: None, or maybe 1
Gracenote prediction: 2 medals (1 silver and 1 bronze)
– Silver for Deepika Kumari in women’s individual event
– Bronze for Men’s recurve team
The mixed team event in archery will be held for the first time, so there’s no history to go by. However, like in any other competition in the sport, the Koreans are the gold standard and the safe money should be on them to reign here as well.
The Indian pairing of Deepika Kumari and Atanu Das did win the gold medal at the most recent World Cup, though several of the top nations didn’t send their teams. If everything falls into place, one can expect the husband-wife chemistry returning with the country’s first-ever medal in the sport.
Deepika Kumari is the No.1-ranked archer in the world as of now, and it remains to be seen if she can use her current form, confidence, experience and maturity to good use in the women’s individual event at her third Olympics.
Express Prediction: None or 1
Gracenote prediction: Fourth position for PV Sindhu in women’s event.
P V Sindhu is a strong gold medal/any medal contender at Tokyo. Except the same description could realistically fit five others competing at the Games. This is the pinnacle of the golden generation for badminton’s women’s singles, even without Carolina Marin, who some dubbed a clear favourite.
Sindhu has two enormously difficult roadblocks in Akane Yamaguchi and Tai Tzu Ying before she earns herself a finals spot.
Considered the best player in men’s singles at Tokyo, Kento Momota could be B Sai Praneeth’s make-or-break quarterfinal, even before hopes of a medal are entertained.
The doubles pairing of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy-Chirag Shetty will have to play out of their skins to get out of a tough group with top Taipese and Indonesians.
All three men are high quality players but will be firm underdogs in every match they play. A medal will be India’s first in a sport where men respectfully lag two steps behind women.
Express Prediction: A very hopeful 1
Gracenote prediction: 0 medals
Of the 26 athletes, javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra is the only one who could bag a medal in track and field. Chopra broke his own national record in March, and though he has not got close to 88.07 metres since, what matters is his ability to hit peak form in the final. He has the fourth best throw this year in the world, but form sometimes counts for little at the Olympic Games, as has been seen in this event a number of times.
The pull-out of defending Olympic champion Thomas Roehler and 2019 World Championships silver medallist Magnus Kirt has definitely brightened his chances. In-form German Johannes Vetter is the favourite to win gold with Chopra and others fighting for the silver and bronze.
Discuss thrower Kamalpreet Kaur (66.59m), shot putter Tajinderpal Singh Toor and long jumper Sreeshankar M (8.26m) have set national records this year, but reaching the final in itself will be an achievement.