Prior to Rio Olympics in 2016, it had predicted the top three countries accurately and picked eight of the top-10 medal winning countries. However, the same can't be said for its prediction for India, which was five medals, of which four were to be bronze and one gold. India came back with just a bronze and a silver, won by Sakshi Malik in wrestling and P.V. Sindhu in badminton respectively.
However, India had considerable number of medal prospects going into Rio 2016 with officials from the Sports Authority of India (SAI) ambitiously forecasting a return of 10-14 medals. A combination of untimely injuries coupled with some underwhelming performances meant that much of it turned out to be nothing more than smoke in the air.
All this means that despite the potential Indian contingent travelling to Tokyo in 2020 presenting a far more convincing case than its counterpart did before Rio 2016, getting carried away before the big event is a mistake that fans and stakeholders can do well to avoid. Before starting to hope for Olympic medals, Indian athletes first need to ensure that they book their place in Tokyo.
As of now, India are currently assured of seven spots in shooting, three in men's archery and KT Irfan remains the sole qualifier in athletics.
Qualification for the Tokyo Olympics in athletics is primarily dependent upon an athlete's ranking at the end of the qualification period, unlike previous editions in which qualifying times were the benchmark.
Hima Das and Neeraj Chopra are two of the biggest names to have emerged in the past two years from the country in track and field. Neeraj turned heads with a stellar 2018 in which he won gold at the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games but he has not competed this year due to a right elbow injury that required surgery in May. He has decided to participate in the World Championships only if he has already qualified for it, not wanting any setbacks on his recovery process. While his status as a world class thrower remains undeniable, Neeraj's chances of winning an Olympic medal next year depends on his fitness as much as his ability.
Hima has been steadily working her way back to fitness after a back injury and the five medal gold medals that she won in European competitions was only part of this recovery. She will need to surpass her personal best to qualify for the World Championships in September and while her run in Europe has caused a sensation on social media, the reality is that she is far from reaching the Olympic qualifying mark.
The same can be said about Dutee Chand and Vismaya while Mohammad Anas will be looking to make good on his World Championship qualification.
Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat are the biggest medal hopes for India in wrestling. A freak injury forced Vinesh to make an early exit in 2016 but her recovery and return to the top of her game been an impressive journey. Vinesh decided to change her weight category (50kg to 53kg) in March this year. While she won a bronze and silver in tournaments immediately after that, she won consecutive golds this month.
Bajrang is the first Indian across any weight category to be ranked no. 1 in the world. He has won seven golds in his last nine tournaments and this includes his win at the 2018 Asian Games. Defeats to Takuto Otoguro and Yianni Diakomihalis at the 2018 World Championships and the Madison Square Garden exposed some flaws in his game, particularly his leg defence, that he will be looking to iron out.
India seem to have chanced upon a gold mine of shooting talent in the years between the Rio and Tokyo Olympics. Teenagers Manu Bhaker and Saurabh Chaudhary have won three gold medals in World Cups over the last three months in the mixed 10m air pistol event, which makes its Olympic debut in Tokyo. India dominated the Munich World Cup and Bhaker missed out on a bronze in the 25m pistol by 0.1 of a point but that was enough for her to seal an Olympic quota. Chaudhary, on the other hand, did so by shooting a world record score at the New Delhi World Cup and he later went on to surpass that score in Munich.
Apart from these two, Anjum Moudgill and Apurvi Chandela and others have looked impressive. It is to be noted though that Indian shooters went in with a lot of expectations in 2016 and came back empty handed. With the pool looking arguably stronger, if the athletes peak at the right time, India could be staring at a historic haul in shooting at Tokyo 2020.
Badminton was one of two sports that fetched India medals in 2016. Indian shuttlers have endured a slow start to the year but Olympic qualification extends till April 2020. Pullela Gopichand has said that while the buildup for the Games may start now, the actual preparation begins only three months before.
The India men's and women's hockey teams will have to play two-legged qualifiers later in the year to assure themselves a spot in Tokyo. Interestingly, both teams are not playing against any top ranked country in the run up to the qualifiers.
In weightlifting, Mirabai Chanu had to give the Asian Games and World Championship in 2018 due to a mystery lower back pain that struck her during the Commonwealth Games. After a nine-month layoff, she returned with a gold at the EGAT Cup in Thailand in March this year and missed out on another at the Asian Championship despite lifting a personal best of 199kg. Her biggest test will come at the World Championship in September.
( With inputs from IANS )