Fans couldn’t have asked for more. A bright start and a silver medal from weightlifter Saikhom Mirabai Chanu on the very first day of the Tokyo Olympics only flattered to deceive. As we go into Games Day 6 (July 28), a prodigious and aspirational India are still searching for their second medal or at least someone coming close to winning one. (MEDAL TALLY | NEWS)
India's young shooters have come in for some sharp criticism. True the likes of Manu Bhaker, Saurabh Chaudhary, Divyansh Singh Panwar, Elavenil Valarivan et al lack experience and maturity but there are no free lunches in an Olympics and data analytics predictions and hyperboles mean nothing. But sadly, the pressure of an Olympics and competing against the best in the world is something else.
At least the shooters cannot complain. Despite the pandemic, they spent the better part of two months in Croatia for competition-cum-training. So far, only Saurabh Chaudhary, 19, managed to enter the medal round. The rest did not even come close to qualification and most importantly, scores have vacillated between poor and average.
Manu Bhaker, Chaudhary and Elavenil are all rookies and Tokyo 2020 can be seen as a learning curve for them. Already calls of a complete 'postmortem’ have started coming from shooting fraternity with NRAI (National Rifle Association of India) hinting at a complete overhaul. Reports of intra-squad factionalism are also bringing the shooting contingent under sharp criticism as the country's best shooters continued to belie expectations with their horror show.
Chaudhary Saurabh pauses as he competes in the men's 10-meter air pistol. AP Photo
Perhaps the worst came in the mixed team events where Indians have dominated world-level tournaments in recent times. But pressure got to young Bhaker and Chaudhary in the 10m air pistol mixed team event qualifiers. Abhishek Verma and Yashaswini Singh Deswal, the second team in the event, also failed and India's gloom intensified when in the 10m air rifle mixed team event, Elavenil Valarivan, 21, and Divyansh Singh Panwar, 18, and Anjum Moudgil and Deepak Kumar crashed out in the first qualification stage.
Men's hockey, seeking a podium finish for the first time in 41 years, has seen both highs and lows so far in group matches. A 3-2 win against lowly-placed New Zealand was followed by a 7-1 drubbing at the hands of world champions Australia. But the men did well to redeem themselves with a 3-0 win over Spain. Indian women, led by Rani, have lost all three Pool games so far and after the loss against Great Britain on Wednesday, the knockout rounds only look a mathematical possibility.
In racquet sports, the scripts went as expected. In tennis, Sumit Nagal won his first match against Denis Istomin but lost to second seed Daniil Medvedev. The women's doubles team of Sania Mirza and Ankita Raina were also ousted in the first round. It's time to take a realistic call on an ageing Sania's tennis future and find the next generation of women's tennis players capable of delivering at the international stage.
The archers have been another let down. The likes of Deepika Kumari, Atanu Das, and Praveen Jadhav were in such a good form prior to the Games that a medal seemed certain. But they failed to live up to the expectation in the team events. Focus will be on the individual events now where Deepika Kumari, in her third Olympics, will aim for her first medal at a Summer Games.
Sharath Kamal competes during men's singles second round match against Tiago Apolonia. AP Photo
In table tennis, both Sharath Kamal, and Manika Batra fought valiantly but were knocked out facing stronger opponents. Sharath Kamal lost to the legendary Ma Long and even took a game off the Chinese Olympic champion. The Indian veteran lost 7-11, 11-8, 11-13, 4-11 4-11 in 46 minutes. Manika Batra's campaign in the women's singles came to an end with a 4-0 loss to 10th seed Sofia Polcanova in the third round.
India's quest for a 'double-digit' finish is not over yet. The boxers, wrestlers and the shooters still have plenty to show. PV Sindhu, veteran boxer Mary Kom, No 1 in 52kg boxing Amit Panghal, wrestlers Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat and the men's hockey team have the potential to go all the way to make Tokyo 2020 memorable for India.