It may have taken five years for the Tokyo Olympics to roll in after the Rio edition but the half a decade between the two games has seen a lot of changes in India as a sporting nation.
We've gone from a country that hoped for medals at the big event to now, when we hope there are no upsets against India's multiple medal hopes from the 119-strong contingent which features at least 10 sportspersons who are placed in the top three of the world rankings of their discipline.
India is competing for 85 medals in Tokyo this time and while just having qualified in itself is a massive achievement for athletes like Bhavani Devi, who became the first Indian fencer to qualify for an Olympics or Fouaad Mirza, the first Indian equestrian to qualify in 20 years, Nethra Kumanan, the first Indian female sailor to qualify for the Games, or Sajjan Prakash, the first Indian swimmer to ever automatically qualify for an Olympics. This Indian contingent also has riding on itself the greatest of expectations. Expectations based on belief in our athletes and also, well, world ranking and current form.
On recent form, no Indian would be more of a favourite for a medal in Tokyo than archer Deepika Kumari. The 27-year-old capped off her preparations with three gold medals in the Archery World Cup in Paris this June, a performance that helped her reclaim her world number one ranking, for the first time since 2012.
Along with husband Atanu Das, she also makes up a formidable mixed team, with the two winning the gold in Paris as well. Deepika will be at her third Olympics and after winning two golds at the two World Cups she competed in this year, she is expected to finish on the podium.
The 26-year-old wrestler was the 2017 world champion in the 48 kg weightlifting event and goes into the Olympics as the world number 3.
She was also a medal favourite at the Rio Games and will have some demons to vanquish after failing to register a lift in the ‘clean and jerk’ 5 years back. Just this April though, she created a new world record in the 'clean and jerk' at the Asian Championships. Her efforts in the snatch event is what will determine if India's only weightlifter at the Tokyo games will finish on the podium
The 23-year-old is considered India's best chance for a medal in track and field at the Tokyo games.
The javelin thrower burst into the scene around the time of the Rio Olympics with his throw of 86.48m at the World U20 Championships. While it was too late for him to try to qualify for the Rio games with that throw, his effort would have allowed him to finish on the podium five years back with the third-placed thrower in Rio managing 85.38m.
Five years on, Neeraj is competing in the senior categories. Having won the gold medals at the 2018 Asian Games and Commonwealth Games, he also improved his personal best by almost three meters, registering his best throw of 88.07m earlier this year. While his throw doesn't put him in the top three of season's best throws, the armyman's ability to step up on the biggest of stage makes him a favourite to become the first track and field athlete to win a medal for India since Norman Pritchard in 1900.
15-Strong Shooting Contingent
While India has always had expectations from the shooting contingent for well over a decade, the young 15-member squad sent to Tokyo has at least four men and five women who are currently ranked in the top 3 of the ISSF's Tokyo rankings.
Leading the favourites list is Saurabh Chaudhary. All of 19, the shooter is the only Indian in TIME magazine’s ’48 Athletes to Watch at the Tokyo Olympics’ list. He’s won 7 World Cup gold medals already and was India’s youngest Asian Games gold medallist in 2018, at the age of 16. Such is the quality of this Indian squad that Saurabh isn't even the top ranked player in his event, the 10m Air Pistol, with another India, Abhishek Verma leading the rankings.
A larger chunk of Saurabh's success though has come in the mixed team event where he partners with yet another 19-year-old Manu Bhaker. The pair have won four World Cup golds already, including one this year.
Two more Indian men, 10m Air Rifle shooter Divyansh Singh Panwar and 50m Rifle 3 Positions shooter Aishwarya Pratap Singh are ranked number two in the Tokyo Rankings. Divyansh in fact is a medal prospect in the mixed event along with women’s 10m Air Rifle world number one Elavenil Valarivan.
In fact, there are such riches in the shooting contingent that Chinki Yadav, who competes in the 25m Pistol category, and won a gold at the World Cup this year, wasn’t even selected to represent India in the quota place that she had bagged for the country. Instead, India are fielding Rahi Sarnobat and Manu Bhaker in the event, with the Olympics rules allowing a maximum of two shooters in each category. Manu Bhaker will be competing in three events in Tokyo with the third being the 10m air pistol where she and Yashwini Deswal are the world number 2 and 1.
Vinesh Leads Wrestling Charge
Apart from shooting, these are the two disciplines that draw the most focus when it comes to expectations for a podium finish.
Among wrestlers, Vinesh Phogat goes into Tokyo as a strong medal favourite with her current world ranking of one. Vinesh too has a few demons to vanquish when she had to withdraw from the Rio games after getting injured during a bout.
Bajrang Punia, Deepak Punia, and Ravi Kumar are the three seeded men's wrestlers in Tokyo with Bajrang and Deepak both seeded second while Ravi is the fourth seed in the 57kg event.
India's Biggest Boxing Contingent
For the first time, India has seen nine boxers qualify for the Tokyo Olympics with legend MC Mary Kom also being given the honour of carrying the national flag at the opening ceremony of the games.
Ranking wise though it's Amit Panghal who is a medal favourite with his world number one ranking, going into the games. The top seed won gold medals at the 2018 Asian Games, the 2019 Asian Championships and the also a silver at the 2019 World Championships which helped him also book a qualification berth for the Olympics.