Neeraj Chopra wins gold and India hauls a record 7 medals at the Tokyo Olympics!
The Tokyo 2021 Olympics came to an end on Sunday, August 8, 2021, with a gorgeous closing ceremony. It was a great sixteen days for me, flipping TV channels and watching myriad sporting events. There were the familiar Track and Field, Swimming, Basketball, and Volleyball along with the less familiar events like Wall Climbing and Skateboarding newly introduced in these Olympics. The Japanese deserve our kudos for having pulled off a great show with all its extravaganza in the midst of a raging Covid-19 epidemic. The stands were empty, a sad outcome of the pandemic, which surely was a new experience for the participants.
India ended up with its largest ever medal haul in these Olympics
India won seven medals, surpassing the six medals it had won in 2012 in London. The seven medals included a Gold, two Silvers, and four Bronze medals.
GOLD: Neeraj Chopra – Men’s Javelin Throw
Neeraj Chopra’s Gold Medal on the final day of competition (August 7) was a remarkable achievement for the 23-year old Army Subedar from Haryana. It was India’s first medal in Track and Field after 121 years – Norman Pritchard’s two silver medals (200m and 200m Hurdles) in the Paris Olympics in 1900. It was also the only second individual Gold Medal for India after Abhinav Bindra’s Gold Medal in Rifle Shooting in 2004. Chopra, whose best throw ever is 88.07m, was the leading qualifier of his group with a throw of 86.65m. He won the event with a toss of 87.58m in his second throw, defeating his nearest rival, Jakub Vadlejch of the Czech Republic by 91 cm (3 feet). Chopra is the reigning Asian (2018) and Commonwealth Games (2018) champion in the event.
SILVER: Mirabai Chanu – Women’s Weightlifting (48 kg Weight Class)
(Saikhom) Mirabai Chanu hails from Manipur and is 27 years old. She became the first Indian weightlifter to win a silver medal in Olympic weightlifting (men and women) and only the second to win a medal after the bronze won by Karnam Maleshwari in 2000. In her Olympic effort, she had a total of 202 kg, including an Olympic record of 115 kg in ‘clean and jerk’. Chanu has won a silver medal in the Commonwealth Games in 2014 in Glasgow and a gold medal in 2018 in Gold Coast, Australia in the 48 kg category. In 2017, she won a gold in the World Weightlifting Championships in Anaheim, California. In the Rio Olympics, she failed to finish her event owing to no successful lifts in any of her three attempts in the clean & jerk section. She has been awarded the Padma Shri and the Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna Award by the Government of India.
SILVER: Ravi Dahiya – Men’s Freestyle Wrestling (57 kg)
Ravi (Kumar) Dahiya (23) from Sonepat in Haryana won his first two bouts on technical superiority. In the semifinal, he pinned the Kazakh wrestler Nurislam Sanayev down in the final minute to win by fall, after trailing in the bout on points. There were reports that Dahiya endured a bite from his opponent, Nurislam Sanayev, in the semi-final match. In the final, Dahiya had to settle for silver as he was defeated 4–7 on points by ROC wrestler Zaur Uguev. Dahiya became the second Indian wrestler to win an Olympic silver after Sushil Kumar in 2012. Dahiya bagged gold medals at the 2020 and 2021 Asian Wrestling Championships.
BRONZE: Men’s Field Hockey
India’s Hockey Bronze was a huge moment for the Indian sports aficionados. It brought back nostalgic memories of the years gone by when Indians were unquestioned kings of the game with legendary names like Dhyan Chand, Roop Singh, K. D. Singh (Babu), Udham Singh, Balbir Singh, Leslie Claudius and goalkeeper Richard Allen. India had won 11 medals in successive Olympics from 1928 to 1972 (including 7 gold, 1 silver and 2 bronze). Then the drought started with a lone break in 1980 when India won a gold (the Games were boycotted by a large number of countries). In recent years, things had started looking up with a 6th place finish in the 2016 Olympics at Rio de Janeiro. In Tokyo this year, India started out badly with a 7-1 rout by Australia in their first game. Fortunately, the Indian team regrouped with successive wins in their subsequent matches including a victory over the reigning champions, Argentina, 3-1 to finish second in their group. Then they defeated Great Britain to 3-1 to advance to the semi-finals, where they were defeated 2-5 by Belgium, the ultimate champions, 2-5. In the bronze medal playoff, they beat Germany 5-4. It was an edge-of-the-seat affair with goals by Simranjeet Singh (2), and one apiece from Hardik Singh, Harmanpreet Singh and Rupinder Pal Singh. Just as crucial were the goalkeeper P.R. Sreejesh’s outstanding saves in the dying seconds of the game. The eighteen member team included at least 10 from Punjab, 2 from Haryana, and one from Manipur, and other parts of India, including the goalkeeper from Kerala.
BRONZE: Lovlina Borgohain – Women’s Boxing (Welterweight)
Lovlina Borgohain (23) hails from Golaghat District in Assam. Her campaign for the Olympic bronze medal started with a defeat of Chen Nien-chin of Taiwan to reach the semi-final and thus assured of a bronze medal. In the semi-final she was defeated by the reigning world champion, Busenaz Surmeneli of Turkey. Borgohain received the prestigious Arjuna Award in 2020. She is the first female athlete from Assam to represent India in the Olympics.
BRONZE: P. V. Sindhu – Women’s Badminton Singles
This was the second Olympic medal for 26-year old Pusaria Venkata (P. V.) Sindhu from Hyderabad who had won a silver medal in the same event in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. She is the second badminton medal winner in the Olympics after Sania Newhal (bronze 2012). Sindhu, who was seeded sixth for the tournament, won her matches in the group and knockout stages before losing to the second seed Tai Tzu-Ying of Taiwan, 21-18 and 21-12 in the semi-final. She defeated He Bingjiao of China in a playoff to win the bronze medal. Apart from the Olympic Games, Sandhu has won silver and bronze medals in the Commonwealth Games in 2018 and 2014, respectively; a silver in the Asian Games in 2018; and a gold (2019) and two silver medals (2017 and 2018 in the BWF World Championships. PV Sindhu has been awarded the Padma Shri and the Padma Bhushan by the Government of India, and also the Arjuna Award and the Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna Award. She developed her skills in the Gopichand Gopinath Academy, which she attended from a very young age. She has been employed by Bharat Petroleum since 2013 and is currently the Deputy Sports Manager.
BRONZE: Bajrang Punia – Men’s Freestyle Wrestling (65 kg)
Bajrang Puniya (27), who won the bronze medal in the 65-kg category is one of the most successful and decorated Indian wrestlers of recent times. Puniya from the Jhajjhar district in Haryana and is currently a Gazetted officer OSD Sports in the Indian Railways and the reigning champion (2018) in both Asian and Commonwealth Games. He also won gold medals in the 2017 and 2019 Asian Wrestling Championships and silver and bronze medals in 2019 and 2018, respectively in the World Wrestling Championships. Puniya has been awarded the Padma Shri, Arjuna award, Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna Award and the FICCI India Sports Award. Punia defeated wrestlers from Kyrgystan and Iran to enter the semi-finals, where he lost to Azerbijan’s Haji Aliyev. In the bronze medal match he beat Kazakhstan’s Daulet Niyazbekov comfortably, 8-0.
Indian competitors who deserve a shout out include the Women’s Hockey team, which finished fourth and others, who in my opinion, were ‘competitive’ though they did not win medals – they are often separated by inches, milliseconds or the third places of decimals and on a given day could have made to the podium.
4th Place: Women’s Field Hockey
The quarter final for the Indian Women’s Hockey team was probably the most heartbreaking event in these Olympics for the Indian sports afficionados. In the game against Great Britain to decide the bronze medal, India was 2-2 at the halftime. They increased their lead to 3-2, only to lose 4-3 in the end. Nevertheless, it was a splendid performance for the Indian team making us all proud along with their bronze winning male counterparts. India had earlier lost to Argentina 2-1 in the semi-finals after surviving in their pool, where they started off by losing their first three matches. They bounced back, including a plucky 1-0 win against three-time champions, Australia. A cursory look at the 16-member squad indicated at least 10 from Haryana, three from the tribal belt of Jharkhand and Orissa and two from the northeast (Manipur and Mizoram). Their ages ranged from 19 to 31 – mostly in the 20s. They did not boast of a glittering tradition like the men, Tokyo being only the third Olympics they had qualified for (in 1980 they finished 4th during a boycott by several countries). Though the team has won medals in the Asian and Commonwealth Games, their performances in the world Championships have been lackluster, so the fourth place finish was quite a surprise.
4th Place: Deepak Punia – Men’s Freestyle Wrestling (86 kg)
Deepak Punia (22) from Jhajhar district in Haryana reached the Olympic semi-final by defeating Lin Zushen of China in the quarterfinals. He lost his semi-final bout against American David Taylor and lost the bronze medal (4-2) to Myles Amine of San Marino. In 2018, Punia, a Junior Commissioned Officer in the Indian Army won the silver medal in the World Wrestling Championships.
4th Place: Aditi Ashok – Women’s Golf
Aditi Ashok (23) from Bangalore was in second place at the end of the third day and in medal contention at the 72nd hole. She finished in 4th place with a 15 under par 269. She plays on the Ladies European tour and the LPGA tour. Ashok had qualified for the 2016 Games in Rio, where golf made its appearance after over 100 years and finished 41st.
6th Place: Kamapreet Kaur – Women’s Discus Throw
Kamapreet Kaur (25) placed sixth in the finals of Women’s Discus Throw matching Krishna Poonia’s sixth-place finish in the same event in London in 2012. Her best throw in the final was 63.70 meters, after having qualified with a throw of 64.0 meters. Kaur who is employed by the Indian Railways holds the India record of 65.06 meters.
7th Place: Saurabh Chaudhary – 10 m Pistol Shooting
19-year old Saurabh Chaudhary of Meerut District was touted as a possible gold medalist in 10m Pistol Shooting by Time Magazine. A World No. 2 coming into the Olympics, Chaudhary had earlier qualified in the top spot but crashed to 7th place in the finals.
Finally, one cannot miss the predominance of athletes from Punjab and Haryana in the above lists for both individuals and the hockey teams. The presence of successful athletes from the northeast is also significant.
Partha Sircar has a BE in Civil Engineering from Bengal Engineering College in Shibpur, India, and a Ph.D. in Geotechnical Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley. He is a 53-year resident of the United States, including the last 36 years in California. He loves to write and can be reached by e-mail at [email protected].