India is sending its largest ever contingent to the Tokyo Olympics in the hope of bettering its medals haul over previous Games.
With 120 athletes competing across 85 events, the country hopes to win medals for shooting, wrestling, boxing, archery and badminton.
India returned with a meagre two medals from the 2016 Rio Olympics – a silver for ace shuttler PV Sindhu in the Women’s Singles Badminton event and a bronze for wrestler Sakshi Malik in the Women’s 58kg Freestyle Wrestling event.
This time, India is participating in two events for the first time, with Bhavani Devi becoming the first fencer to qualify and Fouaad Mirza making it to the equestrian event.
India’s 15-member shooting contingent is the favourite to bring back a big haul of medals.
The country’s biggest hopes are pinned on Manu Bhaker and Saurabh Chaudhary.
Nineteen-year-old Bhaker, one of the top contenders in the 10m Women’s Air Pistol event, has in the past won it all from World Cup gold medals to the Commonwealth medal and Youth Olympics.
Shooter Saurabh Chaudhary, world number two and Youth Olympics champion, became the youngest Indian shooter to win a gold at the Asian Games in 2018 when he was just 16.
Both Bhaker and Chaudhary are top contenders for a medal finish when they pair up for the 10m Air pistol mixed event. The duo won five successive golds at international shooting events and a silver at the World Cup in Croatia in June.
At the Rio Olympics, 21-year-old PV Sindhu bagged a silver – and won a billion hearts. Not everyone had expected a medal back then from the young shuttler. But five years on, expectations are high.
“I was just a participant back then, but now everyone says Sindhu has to get a medal,” she told the BBC recently.
Last year, the ace shuttler won the inaugural BBC Indian Sportswoman of the Year award.
In 2019, she was crowned the World Badminton Champion but her form has had inconsistencies since then. However, she remains India’s top medal prospect.
Mary Kom, also known as Magnificent Mary, the Iron Lady and many other nicknames, is a medal favourite for India.
She won a bronze at the 2012 London Olympics and will be looking to change the colour of her medal this time when she participates in the Flyweight section (51kg).
In May, she picked up a silver when she lost the final to Kazakhstan’s Nazym Kyzaibay during the Asian Boxing Championships in Dubai.
At 38, Kom may well be taking part in her last Olympics, and India will be rooting for her to increase her tally before she takes off her gloves.
India had a decent run at the Rio Olympics in 2016, with Sakshi Malik earning a bronze medal. In Tokyo, Vinesh Phogat leads the women’s wrestling team.
Having suffered a freak injury during the Rio Olympics, Phogat returned to India in a wheelchair and underwent surgery.
The 26-year-old is now roaring to go in the 53kg category with some great wins in the last couple of months, as well as reclaiming the number one ranking.
“At one point, I thought my career was over due to the injury but now I have got a second chance and I want to make my dream come true,” she says .
With three world championships to his name, wrestler Bajrang Punia is the top contender from India in the 65kg men’s category at his first Olympics.
India’s medal tally at recent Olympics:
2016 Rio Olympics: 1 Silver, 1 Bronze
2012 London Olympics: 2 Silver, 4 Bronze
2008 Beijing Olympics: 1 Gold, 2 Bronze
India has won a total of 28 medals since 1900 – 11 from hockey, five from wrestling, four from shooting, two each in badminton, boxing and athletics, and one each in tennis and weightlifting.
The Tokyo Olympics will be Mirabai Chanu’s second time on the big stage. In 2016, she qualified for Rio but failed to record any legal lift in three attempts in the Clean and Jerk category, and was out of the running in the Women’s 48kg category.
In 2017, she won gold in the World Weightlifting Championships and went on to win gold in the Commonwealth Games a year later and bronze at the 2019 Asian Weightlifting Championships.
She is the lone weightlifter in India’s Olympics contingent and will be looking for redemption in Tokyo.
Only last month, archer Deepika Kumari won three golds at the Archery World Cup in Paris.
She is now the world number one in the women’s recurve category and a strong candidate for a medal in Tokyo.
Kumari has won nine gold, 12 silver and seven bronze medals at various World Cups and will be looking to add the Olympic medal to her tally now.