While Covid-19 still has its foot on the world’s throat, the rousing reception of the Indian players at the Delhi airport must have thrown a few punches back at the virus. And it also hinted at the weight of expectations.
But it’s not the size of the contingent, the largest ever of 126 athletes, that has multiplied hopes, but the vastness of it across the facets of quality, age, world rankings and current form.
Like India’s only individual gold medallist, former shooter Abhinav Bindra, says, “Never before in our history have we gone into an Olympics starting as absolute favorites.” It gives the country more reasons than one to look forward to improving on the six medals it won at London 2012 — India’s best outing at the Games to date.
But at the same time, we shouldn’t weigh the athletes down so much that it affects their performance when it matters. But the run-up to the Games is littered with statements about “double-digit medal count”. How fair is that?
“Just give them the wings to fly and they will create magic moments,” says 2012 bronze medallist shooter Gagan Narang when asked to put his money on a number. And former India hockey captain and ‘Olympic Gold Quest’ boss Viren Rasquinha feels “it’s always better to under-commit and over-deliver.”
Timesofindia.com picked the brains of some of India’s Olympic greats on what to expect at Tokyo 2020.
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Former India Shooter
2008 Beijing Gold Medallist
“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, starting as world number ones. Never before in our history have we gone into an Olympics starting as absolute favorites.
“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 medals.
“I am not trying to demean any other sporting discipline by any means, and I know that we have world class athletes in many sports disciplines as well and events. But of course, as a shooting athlete myself, my heart will always be for that sport.”
Former India Hockey Player
“Yes, it will be (our best Olympics), and I have my reasons. For the first time, if I am not wrong, many of our athletes are ranked No. 1-2-3 in the world rankings. That gives one advantage (in getting a favourable draw), psychologically as well, which puts pressure on the opposition.
“Plus, if you see, this contingent is comparatively on the younger side. 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.
“Every sport (federation) wants to be very optimistic so that its players always come across encouraging statements, which is right. If I am not going there to win a medal, then why am I going at all? Every player, within himself or herself, surely knows where they stand. But if somebody is going overboard with medal predictions, I am not in favour of that because it unnecessarily puts pressure on players. But again, given the situation and the talent available, we will have our best Olympics.”
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Former India Shooter
2012 London Olympics Bronze Medallist
“I won’t set a number (to medals India may win in Tokyo) because I hope the result is better than what I am expecting. Winning gold medals will improve standings on the table but let’s not forget the difference between third and the fourth is often in decimals. That is true for the first, second and third (as well). Just give them the wings to fly and they will create magic moments.
“The best way to keep the team motivated is to not talk about medals and expectations…They are aware of their responsibilities, having trained very hard. They too want results…Realistically, there will be analysis, there will be talks. Some will be aware, others won’t be. I guess as athletes at the top level, they learn to live with it.”
Former India Boxer
2008 Beijing Bronze Medallist
“This time we have nine boxers going to the Olympics, which is the biggest contingent ever (at the Games). That’s why chances are bright and I hope they will come back with medals. There is Mary Kom, who has a lot of experience. I hope she will do it again this time.
“Woh kehte hain na ‘yeh dil maange more’. Always believe in good things, big things. So I don’t think that our expectations are high. If we expect big numbers, then only we achieve big numbers. Never think small, always think big.”
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Former India Hockey Captain
“I think it’s always better to under-commit and over-deliver. It can be our best Olympics. (But) 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.
“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.
“I have never been a big fan of making predictions. I don’t know what’s going to happen. Our job is just to prepare athletes to the best of their ability. If they prepare well, there are less chances of screwing up when actually it matters under pressure.”
Former India Shooter
Current National Coach (Pistol)
“I don’t have a gut feeling. I have an informed feeling and that is that all our shooters in the Olympic team are up there with the best in the world…I have no doubt in my mind that they will perform well in the Olympics, will give their best and will not let the country down.”
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Table Tennis Coach
Dronacharya Award winner
“Sharath and Sathiyan are the dark horses and can beat anyone on their day. Chances are bright (for Sharath-Manika in mixed doubles), and there will be only 16 teams participating in mixed doubles. If they play well on their day, then after winning two matches, the chances to win a medal will improve.”