We are a little over 6 days away from the start of the biggest multi-sport event in the world- the Olympic Games. Although the tournament was originally scheduled to happen in Tokyo last year, it had to be pushed back by an entire year owing to the outbreak of the coronavirus. Despite a lot of criticism even this year on organising an event of such a big magnitude at a time when the delta variant of COVID-19- which is more contagious- has been detected in Japan, the festival of sports is on. However, there won't be spectators to watch it all unfold at the venues.
As the Indian contingent gears up for the much-anticipated games, here is a look at some of the top medal contenders from India this year. A win here in any event in the COVID-era would not only bring enormous joy to the millions of people in India but send across a loud and clear message of hope and will.
1. Vinesh Phogat
It was absolute agony for Vinesh Phogat in the Rio Olympics after her campaign came to a premature end with a knee injury in the quarter-finals which saw her being stretchered off. A surgery and a long rehabilitation process later, Phogat has made a brilliant comeback. She not only won the gold medals at the 2018 Asian Games and Commonwealth Games but clinched the bronze at the 2019 World Championships. Moreover, Vinesh will be the top seed in the women's 53kg category for the Tokyo Olympics and is also the world number 1. The nation has its eyes set on her this year, hoping for a medal.
2. Men’s hockey team
India prides itself on its hockey and this year again, the country will hope that their long wait for an Olympic medal from the men’s hockey team will finally come to an end. After a disappointing campaign in the Rio Olympics, they haven’t achieved much but under new coach Graham Reid, the team looks like a breath of fresh air. They have also registered wins over top teams like Australia, Belgium, Netherlands, Argentina and Germany in the last two years but can they do it in a pressure scenario and in an event where all eyes will be on them? The mind may be in dilemma but the heart’s answer is in affirmative.
3. Neeraj Chopra
India’s first global track and field star in over decades, Neeraj Chopra, hasn’t had an ideal build up to the Tokyo Games. While he sustained an injury in 2019, he couldn’t participate in any international event owing to the COVID-19 restrictions for over a year. Yet he remains one of the India’s top medal hopes this year. His 88.06 metre throw that won him the 2018 Asian Games gold and 88.07 m throw at Indian GP this year has also put him closer to the hallowed 90 m mark. What’s interesting is that these throws have said to be come in “training mode” and were not delivered at full intensity. Who knows, Chopra has it in him to clinch the Olympic medal and make the nation proud.
4. Bajrang Punia
World number 1 in 65 Kg, Bajrang Punia loves the big stage and over the last three years has won medals at every single major tournament. He clinched the gold at the 2018 Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and silver and bronze at successive World Championships in 2018 and 2019. The 27-year-old is the only Indian wrestler to have won three medals in the World Championships and given that he has the Novak Djokovic kind of ability to simply outlast the opponent especially in moments where he looks down and out, Punia will be the key man for India.
5. PV Sindhu
She is the reigning world champion. She is a queen when it comes to big tournaments and after having won a silver at the Rio Olympics, PV Sindhu will be confident of going a step further this year. She has made the finals of the world championships every year from 2019 and given that she has a reputation of being a big match player and her ability to lift her game in such tournaments, expect a new and improved Sindhu at the Olympics this year. What also works in her favour to a certain extent is that one of her arch rivals Carolina Marin, her opponent in the Rio finals, has been ruled out of the tournament but can she use that to her advantage and get the gold? Only time could answer it correctly but India's hopes from Sindhu are intact.