Neeraj Chopra, one of India’s brightest medal prospects at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, leads the charge for India in athletics in field events. However, we cannot ignore the likes the Shivpal Singh, Murali Sreeshankar and Kamalpreet Kaur who are equally talented and aiming for glory at the spectacle
India has never been amongst medal prospects in field events in Athletics at the Olympics, but regular participation has been a significant trait. However, with the emergence of the likes of stars like Neeraj Chopra, fresh hopes have plagued the nation ahead of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. It would be criminal not to mention other athletes in the fray who are equally talented and well-equipped to make a mark at the spectacle.
So far, four Indians have qualified for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics in Athletics in field events.
Neeraj Chopra (Men's Javelin Throw)
The most hyped track and field athlete and India’s brightest medal prospect to break the 121-year jinx in athletics at the Olympics - the spotlight is on Neeraj Chopra. Having marked his arrival at the 2016 South Asian Games with a gold medal, the javelin thrower has improved leaps and bounds as days progressed. The top-podium finish at the 2016 World U20 Championships set the tone for the rest of his career. However, the magical year did not materialise into a 2016 Rio Olympic qualification.
But, two years down the line, Neeraj claimed individual gold medals at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and a few months later at the 2018 Asian Games with a national record (88.06) - a feat unreal by Indian standards. He was sidelined for the entire 2019 owing to an elbow injury but was back in shape after a frustrating phase. His qualification to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics was inevitable even though a handful would have predicted him to achieve the feat at an event in Potchefstroom, South Africa.
The Covid-19 lockdown meant it was hibernating once again, with the Tokyo Olympics also pushed back to 2021. Returning to action after a year, Neeraj flexed his muscles to breach his own national record with a throw of 88.07 at the Indian Grand Prix earlier this year. With the Olympics knocking at the door, the 23-year old was craving for international tournaments to ramp up his preparations in the midst of travel restrictions imposed on Indian travellers. As per the latest reports, he has been granted a French visa and will complete the rest of his preparations in Europe, including a few international competitions.
Shivpal Singh (Men's Javelin Throw)
The other javelin thrower from India to qualify for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, Shivpal Singh has largely thrived in the shadows of his compatriot Neeraj Chopra. His major claim-to-fame moment surfaced at the 2019 Asian Champions, where he claimed a silver medal. It was in the same event in South Africa - Athletics Central North East (ACNW) League Meeting - that he secured a Tokyo berth. Going by the same flow, he also encountered similar roadblocks in the build-up to the Games, with international tournaments hard to come by.
However, the Varanasi-based athlete is not distraught at the postponement of the mega-event, rather he’s kept himself in the best shape possible. Hours of strenuous exercises and long throwing sessions at the NIS (National Institute of Sports) in Patiala and then at the Kalinga Stadium, in Bhubaneswar, have kept his Olympic aspirations alive.
Shivpal was hoping to participate in the first half of the Diamond League as his final lap of preparations ahead of the Tokyo showdown, but the possibilities are slim with no ease on the travel restrictions till now. The Olympics is set for a July 23 start, with the men’s javelin throw qualifying rounds to be staged on August 4.
Murali Sreeshankar (Men's Long Jump)
Hailing from a family of athletes, Murali Sreeshankar was destined to follow in the footsteps, but the magnitude of the success was unknown. A jump of 7.99m during the 2019 Federation Cup propelled him to a place in the Indian contingent for the 2018 Commonwealth Games, but he pulled out of the event just days prior after being diagnosed with appendicitis. Few months of recovery was not enough to restore his previous form as he struggled with run-up issues at the 2018 Asian Games, finishing at the sixth position with a best jump of 7.95m.
However, the ‘class is permanent’ phrase proved to be true, as Sreeshankar scripted a national record with a jump of 8.20m at the 2018 National Open Athletics Championships in Bhubaneswar, days after the Asian Games outing. The sky was the limit for the Palakkad-base athlete as he kept on bettering his own record, with his training overseen by his father-cum-coach Murali, who is also a former triple-jumper.
The efforts reaped the ultimate result when Sreeshankar secured a quota for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics with a jump of 8.26m during the 2021 Federation Cup, also creating a new national record in the process. Aiming for a leap of 8.40 at the Olympics, the 22-year old is currently working on his ‘mental aspect’ and how to perform well with pressure pouring in from all corners. The men’s long jump qualification at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics is scheduled for August 1.
Kamalpreet Kaur (Women's Discus Throw)
The stage was set for veteran athlete Seema Punia to flourish, which was also supposed to be the last dash for her at the Olympic Games. However, Kamalpreet Kaur came out of the syllabus and hogged the limelight in tremendous fashion at the Federation Cup, earlier this year. Not only did she breach the Olympic qualification mark of 63.05m, she also created a new national record with a throw of 65.06m.
Surprisingly, it was also her second consecutive gold medal at the competition, with her triumph in 2019 earning her a qualification to the 2019 Asian Athletics Championships, where she finished at the fifth spot.
It was only her low marks in Standard VIII and a poor run in the build-up to the Class X board exams that prompted her to shift tracks and make a future out of sports. Her height and structure caught the attention of her physical trainers in school and they lured Kamalpreet into athletics.
Having won several national titles including wins in the U-18 and U-20 categories, ditching a possible marriage situation and overcoming the snags of a farmer’s family, Kamalpreet Kaur is all set to embark on a journey she never imagined of a few years ago. All eyes will be on Kamalpreet Kaur when she aims for glory in Tokyo, on July 31.