Tokyo 2020 is officially over. The closing ceremony of the Paralympic Games marked the end of a month-long sporting extravaganza held in trying pandemic times that featured the world’s best athletes, able-bodied or otherwise.
From an Indian perspective, these 30 days were arguably the best ever in the nation’s sporting history. The Indian national anthem was played six times from the Japanese capital’s sporting arenas and there were several other historic firsts for fans back home to savour.
It wasn’t all rosy for India however. There were heartbreaks, unexpected losses and frankly bewildering moments. India won a record 7 medals in the Olympics and 19 in the Paralympics but there was a sense that the medal haul could have been a lot better in the former.
To help Indian fans deal with post-Games withdrawal effects, we compile a definitive list of the best and worst moments of India’s Tokyo adventure.
Tokyo 2020 Highs
This one is a no-brainer of course. All 26 of India’s medal wins received enthusiastic cheers from everyone from the Prime Minister and celebrities to the common folk. However in the spirit of ‘all medals are equal but some are more equal than others’, there are a few victories that stand out:
- Mirabai Chanu set the tone on the very first day of the Olympics. She lived up to her medal favourite tag with best lifts of 87 kg in Snatch and 115 kg in Clean & Jerk and a total lift of 202 kg to clinch silver. This was the first time that India had won a medal on Day 1 of the Olympics.
- Boxer Lovlina Boroghain ensured India’s 2nd medal with a commanding quarterfinal win over a former World Champion in the Women’s Welterweight category. She eventually won bronze.
- Ravi Dahiya emerged from the shadows of Bajrang and Vinesh by registering an amazing comeback win in the Men’s Freestyle 57 kg semifinals. Ravi, trailing 2-9 at one stage, managed to make it 7-9 before pinning Kazakhstan’s Sanayev for the win. He eventually won silver.
- The Men’s Hockey Team were on the Olympic podium for the first time in 41 years.
- Neeraj Chopra set off the nation into a frenzy by India’s first Olympic gold in 13 years with a best throw of 87.58 m in Men’s Javelin.
- Just like Mirabai, Bhavinaben Patel got India’s Paralympic campaign up and running with a historic table tennis silver.
- Avani Lekhara became the first Indian woman to win a Paralympic gold proved that Indian shooters possess the mental strength to succeed in major multi-sport events. Ditto Harvinder Singh in recurve archery.
- Shooters Manish Narwal and Singhraj Adhana won gold and silver for India in the Mixed 50m Pistol SH1 event, the first ever 1-2 for the country at the Olympic/Paralympic stage.
- Sumit Antil set a new World Record three times on his way to a Men’s Javelin F64 gold.
- 18-year old Praveen Kumar set a new Asian Record of 2.07 m for a silver in Men’s High Jump T64.
- Indian Paralympic legend Devendra Jhajaria added a silver to his kitty in Men’s Javelin F46 with a personal best throw of 64.35 m
- Para-badminton stars Pramod Bhagat and Krishna Nagar won golds to propel India to a highest-ever 24th place in the Paralympic medal tally.
Tokyo 2020 Creditable Performances
They may not have won medals but surely won hearts as the cliche goes:
- The MD badminton duo of Satwik and Chirag were the only team in the competition to defeat eventual gold medalists Lee Yang and Wang Chi-lin. They were unlucky to not progress beyond the group stages.
- Kamalpreet Kaur was the only Indian besides Neeraj to qualify for the athletics finals. She finish 6th with a throw of 63.70 m in Women’s Discus.
- Avinash Sable set a new National Record of 8:18.12 in Men’s Steeplechase
- The Men’s 4 X 400 m team set a new Asian Record of 3:00.25 in the Heats. They will be a formidable force in next year’s Asian Games.
- Saurabh Chaudhary was the only Indian shooter with a respectable performance. He qualified in 1st place in Men’s 10m Air Pistol but finished 7th.
- Fouaad Mirza became the first equestrian from India to qualify for an Olympic final. He and his horse Seigneur Medicott finished 23rd in individual eventing.
- CA Bhavani Devi, the first Indian fencer to qualify for the Olympics, won her first round match in Women’s sabre and lost to the eventual bronze medalist in the Round of 32.
- Super Heavyweight boxer Satish Kumar decided to fight his quarterfinal bout despite receiving 13 stitches on his face after his pre-quarters win. His gutsy display was appreciated by opponent and eventual gold medalist Bakhodir Jalolov.
- Golfer Aditi Ashok despite being in medal contention for the better part of four days finished a heartbreaking 4th after a slight blip in the weather-affected final round of Women’s Golf.
- It was impossible for Indian fans to maintain a dry eye after witnessing the Women’s Hockey Team’s 4th-place finish. The team is surely now a force to reckon with on the global stage.
- Arjun Lal and Arvind Singh produced India’s best ever performance in rowing by qualifying for the Men’s Lightweight Double Sculls semifinals.
- Vinod Kumar was unlucky to have his bronze medal in Men’s Discus F52 disqualified.
- Prachi Yadav by reaching the Women’s Va’a VL2 finals became the first Indian canoeist to qualify for the finals of an Olympic/Paralympic competition.
- Para-shooters Swaroop Unhalkar, Rahul Jakhar and Rubina Francis qualified for the finals of their respective events. Swaroop finished 4th despite leading at one stage in Men’s Air Rifle SH1.
Tokyo 2020 Lows
Much was expected of Indian shooters in the build-up to the Olympics but the entire squad barring Saurabh Chaudhary flopped spectacularly at the biggest stage. Some of the reasons for the debacle (discussed in detail here) include the pandemic, conflicts of interest among coaches, breakdown of shooter-coach relations, and lack of mental conditioning.
The fact that the NRAI missed out on a golden opportunity is further highlighted by the success of the para-shooters under the PCI.
Tokyo 2020 was India’s best chance for an Olympic archery medal, but much like the shooters, the archers too fluffed their lines. Atanu Das, who was India’s best archer after Deepika Kumari in the build-up, will, unfortunately, have to be singled out for a poor 35th place in the ranking rounds. India was drawn to face South Korea as a result in both the Mixed and Men’s Team events which effectively ended any medal hopes. Atanu’s win over a Korean in the individual round was too little too late.
Once again a para-athlete, Harvinder Singh this time, showed the able archers how it’s done.
Amit Panghal, who was a medal contender, posted a disastrous performance in his R16 match. The experienced Vikas Krishan Yadav fielded an injury and also looked all at sea.
Men’s boxing was a particular disappointment for India. No male boxer apart from Satish Kumar won a single bout.
Vinesh Phogat’s quarterfinal loss was the single most upsetting result of the Games for many Indian fans. If her loss was not bad enough, the controversy with the WFI that followed led to further disillusionment about the Indian wrestling system.
None of the other female wrestlers could even win a bout in contrast to Sakshi Malik’s heroics at Rio 2016. Among male wrestlers, Deepak Punia could not convert the luck of a relatively easy draw into a medal. His performance in the bronze medal match was particularly poor.
B Sai Praneeth endured a horror run in Men’s Singles. He lost both group stage matches to lower-ranked opponents. His was perhaps the single worst performance in Indian badminton’s Olympic history and could well be a sign of things to come if the management of the sport in the country does not improve.
There weren’t too many mediocre performances in the Paralympics. Among those that stand out are Tarun Dhillon, the only male shuttler without a medal, Sandeep Chaudhary, the former Javelin F64 World Champion who finished 4th, and Ekta Bhyan in the Women’s F51 Club Throw.
Lack of sporting culture
The bizarre and inappropriate questions asked to Neeraj Chopra exemplify the lack of respect among Indians towards sporting heroes. There were additionally the endless number of felicitation functions that prevented Neeraj and Ravi Dahiya from competing in the Diamond League and World Championships respectively.
Such instances are rare in countries with a developed sporting eco-system and serve to showcase India’s inexperience in sports apart from cricket.