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Can India Build on the Gains of Neeraj Chopra's 2021 Olympic Gold in 2022?

By: G Rajaraman


Last Updated: January 07, 2022, 09:42 IST

New Delhi

Neeraj Chopra won India's 1st gold at Tokyo Olympic 2020 (AP)

Neeraj Chopra won India's 1st gold at Tokyo Olympic 2020 (AP)

Neeraj Chopra brought home an Olympics gold medal and now it's up to India to make the best of it.

It is amazing what one Olympic Games gold medal can do. It can magically lift the mood of nation. It can effortlessly instil greater self-belief in a nation’s athletes. It can spawn a thousand and more dreams. It can raise expectations, some of which can be more challenging than usual. Neeraj Chopra’s Javelin Throw gold medal in Tokyo2020 did all this and more.

His undiluted passion for his sport is there for all to see in the manner in which he preferred to base himself out of India, away from the distractions, to start his off-season training. He has set his sights on a World Championship medal to complete his golden haul from the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games in 2018 and the Olympics last year.

There are others on whom fans of Indian sport can focus their attention in the coming months, especially in the Asian Games. India won 20 medals, including eight gold and nine silver in Jakarta in 2018. But by expecting to more than match that, India will be making a significant push to win multiple medal in athletics in the Olympic Games in Paris in 2024.

It is always risky business, predicting success in sport as it is fraught with immense risk. But then what is sport if one does not stick one’s neck out and identify talent that has the potential for podium finish in 2022 with a calendar that includes the World Athletics Championships in Oregon, Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and Asian Games in Hangzhou.

The men’s 4x400m relay squad did not get to the final in the Olympic Games but broke the Asian Record and installed itself as the team to beat in the Hangzhou. But before that, Muhammed Anas, Arokia Rajiv, Amoj Jacob and Noah Nirmal Tom will have to find redemption in the World Championships.

Indian men’s 4x400m relay team. (Twitter Photo)

Discus Thrower Kamalpreet Kaur will be among the athletes who will be tracked with more than cursory interest. She ensured that with two of Asia’s best five throws last year, including a National record of 66.59m and backing that up with a 64.00m effort to finish seventh in the Olympic Games.

At one end of the experience spectrum is Long Jumper Shaili Singh. The teenager leapt 6.48m to win the silver medal in the World U20 Championships in Nairobi last year and her coach Bobby George believes she will soon be hitting distances around 6.70m. Shaili is already among the top six in Asia and could win a medal in the Asian Games if she crosses 6.60m.

A time of 52.77 seconds in the World U20 Championships gave Priya H Mohan a top 6 place in the women’s 400m in Asia. If she can progress to the sub-52 bracket, she can perhaps be seen as a medal hopeful in the individual event while playing a role in the resurgence of the women’s 4x400m relay team.

Hima Das, who won the 400m individual silver medal and played a part in the relay gold in Jakarta, has not featured in a quarter-mile race for a while now. The Dhing Express, ranked fourth in Asia last year in the 200m, is expected to make a bid for a medal in the half-lapper in the Asian Games.

Despite not being part of the National Camp, middle-distance runner Harmilan Kaur Bains has caught the fancy of many with her efforts in the 800m and 1500m. Her second place in the National Open in Warangal was the second fastest time by an Asian woman in the metric mile and gives rise to expectation that if she stays clear of injury, she can be a medal prospect.

Harmilan Bains won the 1500m title at the National Open Athletics Championships. (SAI Media Photo)

Training away from the mainstream, the US-based High Jumper Tejaswin Shankar will have to recalibrate his goals to peak at the Asian Games. With a best of 2.28m last year, he is within hailing distance of an Asian Games medal but the moot question is if his collegiate commitment will allow him to make Hangzhou a major target for the year.

Three Indian Triple Jumpers figured in the men’s top 10 in Asia last year and if any of the three - Praveen Chithravel, Abdulla Aboobacker and Kartik Unnikrishnan - can find the 17m mark, they can surprise a lot of folk. However, they will have to shed the inconsistencies that have punctuated their careers thus far.

Let us now look at some names that are more familiar. Steeplechaser Avinash Sable, who carried his penchant to rewrite the National Record to the Asian Games, will have to get the better of the Japanese but there are those who believe that the athlete from Beed district has it in him to shave off a chunk from his personal best time.

Shot Putter Tajinderpal Singh Toor, Long Jumper M Sreeshankar and Javelin Thrower Annu Rani will each need to put their respective setback in the Olympic Games behind and make it count this year. Their resilience will be on test in the Commonwealth Games and/or Asian Games.

How well Tajinderpal Singh Toor has managed his rehabilitation after surgery will determine if the burly athlete can improve to be among the world’s best. His willingness to use sports science and better coaching inputs will be critical to his evolution from Asia’s best to a challenger at the global level.

Despite having the second best long jump recorded by an Asian last year, M Sreeshankar will have to get his act right to medal at the Asian Games. And that could possibly mean working with a new coach at the National camp. It will be interesting to see how he plans his career ahead and embraces greater consistency.

Like Tajinderpal Singh Toor and Sreeshankar, Annu Rani disappointed at the Olympic Games. How she adapts to a new coach this season will be as important as her ability to lift herself from a poor show in Tokyo that was in contrast to the consistent efforts she had been making post the Asian Games in Jakarta.

There can be no gainsaying that the sport will always have the sceptre of doping hovering over the landscape. It must be hoped that India does not have to face the ignominy of having to deal with it in a critical year when it is making a push to build on the gains of Neeraj Chopra’s Olympic Games gold.

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first published:January 07, 2022, 09:40 IST
last updated:January 07, 2022, 09:42 IST
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