In Japan, the protests and concerns over Covid-19 haven’t died down. Rising cases and the threat of a ‘super-spreader’ Olympics forced a last-minute rethink by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Tokyo reported 1832 cases on Wednesday – its highest since mid-January. There have been cases at the Olympic Village too. But the IOC, after a momentary doubt, said the Olympics will stay on.
It’s not surprising then that Tokyo 2020 is a ‘closed’ Olympics, sanitized to the point that it can be called the ‘TV-only’ Games.
There will be no overseas fans, not even from within Japan. The eerie silence at the world’s biggest stage can be unnerving. Compare this to an Usain Bolt looking sideways even before crossing the line, which shook stands filled with cheering crowds jumping up and down, and then beating his chest in front of the fans before breaking into his signature ‘To Di World’ (To The World) pose (that’s what it is called in Jamaica). For the rest of the world, it’s the ‘Lightning Bolt’.
No fans at the Olympics sounds absurd. Blame it on Covid.
Interestingly, and contrary to some views, the players could be best trained for this. They expected the ‘no-fans’ ruling as the Olympics neared. On top of that, lockdowns and lack of competition gave the players enough time to focus on the mental side of their preparations. It never happened before. So saying that the athletes at Tokyo 2020 will be more mentally prepared comes with logic.
India women’s boxing team and officials in Tokyo. (Pic credit: @BFI_official)
But the gloom for the worried and angry Japanese public lifted a bit when the softball team got the hosts off to a winning start on Wednesday. They beat Australia to open the Games (softball, football, archery and rowing events begin before the Opening Ceremony). If that trend continues, it will help shift Japan’s focus from ‘protests’ to ‘contests’ — unless the Covid situation snowballs, which can never be ruled out.
India has gone to Tokyo with its largest ever contingent of 127 athletes (including reserves). But more importantly, India has gone to Tokyo with hopes of it’s richest haul at the Games.
Spread across 18 sports, in which Indians have qualified for various events, the contingent consists of many athletes ranked among top five, including world No. 1s like boxer Amit Panghal, archer Deepika Kumari and shooters Elavenil Valarivan, Abhishek Verma and Yashaswini Deswal.
A very good morning from #Tokyo @WeAreTeamIndia @ISSF_Shooting @Tokyo2020 #Cheer4India #indianshootingteam #shooting https://t.co/o5Lk0zxsm9
— NRAI (@OfficialNRAI) 1626843104000
“I really look forward to multiple athletes coming back from Tokyo with gold medals. Shooting remains our best hope, is our best hope, with so many athletes in our Olympic team starting as favorites,” said former shooter Abhinav Bindra, India’s only individual Olympic gold medallist, while talking to TimesofIndia.com.
“The world is looking at us now, that for the gold medals they (Indian athletes) start as favourites. So we have so many more athletes than ever before who have a realistic chance of winning gold.”
Then there is the age factor.
It’s a largely young squad consisting of world champions and medallists at international events of repute. Most Indian contingents, at least until the 2008 Beijing Olympics, never had such a large supply of world-class athletes.
“If you see, this contingent is comparatively on the younger side,” said former India hockey striker Jagbir Singh, who featured at the 1988 and 1992 Olympics. “Earlier, usually our athletes won medals once they matured. But now these youngsters are habitual or used to winning medals (internationally) at a young age, and they get to compete at the Olympics at a very ripe time.” he told TimesofIndia.com.
Shooting has its largest ever contingent for the Olympics, with 15 athletes. Same is the case with boxers, which will have a record nine athletes in Tokyo.
The Indian women’s hockey team at the Olympic village. (Pic credit: @TheHockeyIndia)
But is it right to directly relate the talent and size of a contingent to the number of medals India can win in Tokyo? Because if rankings could culminate into medals, India’s haul could do justice to the predictions of the country winning 19 medals, including 4 gold, made by ‘Gracenote’.
“It’s always better to under-commit and over-delivery,” said Viren Rasquinha, upon being asked by TimesofIndia.com if talks of “medals in double digits” are logical at this juncture of India’s sporting prowess at the Olympics.
“Doubt-digit medals maybe pushing it a bit too far. It’s good to be optimistic, and if you ask me potential medal winners, that’s definitely in double digits,” said the former Indian hockey captain and ‘Olympic Gold Quest’ chief.
“Generally, around 25 percent conversion rate on expected medal winners to actual winners happens. I would say 25 percent is a very high conversion rate. I think if 20 to 25 percent of them (potential winners) convert it into medals, that’s a reasonably high medal count. I hope it’s the best ever, which means it’s more than six medals (which India won at London 2012),” he further told TimesofIndia.com.
Irrespective of that, these Games will be special for a number of debutants in the Indian contingent, and for fencer Bhavani Devi — who will put Indian fencing on the Olympic map for the first time.
Off ✈️ Tokyo #Olympics2020.My First Olympic Games.1st INDIAN to Represent INDIA in Fencing at the Olympic stage.… https://t.co/nfi3OmNKxd
— C A Bhavani Devi (@IamBhavaniDevi) 1626693657000
Action for India begins when Deepika Kumari stretches the bow during the ranking rounds of the archery event on Friday morning (July 23).
Over to the athletes.
REALISTIC INDIAN MEDAL CONTENDERS:
Manu Bhaker (women’s 10m Air Pistol and 25m Pistol)
Saurabh Chaudhary (men’s 10m Air Pistol)
Manu and Saurabh (10m Air Pistol mixed team)
Rahi Sarnobat (women’s 25m Pistol)
Abhishek Verma (Men’s 10m Air Pistol)
Divyansh Singh Panwar (men’s 10m Air Rifle)
Deepika Kumari (women’s individual recurve archery)
Neeraj Chopra (men’s javelin throw)
PV Sindhu (women’s singles badminton)
Bajrang Punia (men’s wrestling, 65kg)
Vinesh Phogat (women’s wrestling, 53kg)
MC Mary Kom (women’s boxing, 51kg)
Amit Panghal (men’s boxing, 52kg)
Mirabai Chanu (women’s weightlifting, 48kg)
A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality. #StrongerTogether #TokyoOlympics https://t.co/Xx587RxNwx
— Pooja Rani Bohra 🇮🇳 (@BoxerPooja) 1626872103000
THOSE WHO HAVE AN OUTSIDE CHANCE:
Tajinder Pal Singh Toor (men’s shot-put)
Manika Batra and Achanta Sharath Kamal (TT mixed team)
Aishwary Pratap Singh Tomar (shooting, men’s 50m 3P)