During the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, there were a host of athletes who made it to the finals of their respective track and field events, but only Neeraj Chopra went on to win a medal. Having said that, had some of them achieved their PBs or equalled them, they could have been among the medals too.
It's been almost a month since the Tokyo Olympics culminated and Team India returned with its richest medal haul ever - seven - including gold from javelin thrower and the new poster boy of Indian sports, Neeraj Chopra. Undoubtedly, athletics emerged as the biggest positive from the games with a few other athletes making it to the final rounds in their respective disciplines, which have only raised hopes for the future.
For long athletics has been a sport where India is seen as a powerhouse in Asia, but truly stands nowhere as far as the world is concerned. A fair indicator of that is the fact that India has won 254 medals in the Asian Games in the track and field since the inception of the competition, and is third in the tally behind Japan (586) and China (462). But when it comes to the Olympics - India has only three medals to show, China has 37 and Japan 27.
To date, when someone talks about Indian athletics, the first names which come to mind, barring Neeraj Chopra now - are of late Milkha Singh and PT Usha. Make no mistake, the duo are one the best athletes produced by India, but not being able to look beyond them hints at little achieved by Indians till now.
But Tokyo 2020 seems to have started a new trend where the fans are eager to follow their stars and even analyse their performances; maybe even compare with the best in the world. After Chopra's gold, it is a no-brainer that the majority of sports followers searched for India's record in javelin, and in the world as well. Post Tokyo, the support that the Indian youngsters got at the Nairobi U-20 World Championships was unprecedented. Just about everyone backed a young long jumper - Shaili Singh to pick up the gold in her event (eventually she had to settle for a silver).
Not that the Indian athletes did not make it to the final rounds of the track and field events in the previous edition of the Olympics, but this young Indian brigade is a little different, which doesn't get bogged down with the reputation of best in business and want to push their limits. Classis example of that is 3000m steeplechase runner Avinash Sable. Even though he finished a lowly seventh in his heat, but did enough to shave off two seconds from his personal best. He clocked a decent 8:18.12.
This is just one discipline. If some of the other athletes in the fray had managed to get their PBs or even equaled them, they would have ended up with medals for the country. Let's start with men's 20km walk. India had fielded three athletes - Rahul Rohilla, Sandeep Kumar and KT Irfan. Sandeep and Irfan are national record holders with timing of 1.20.16, whereas the duo were roughly 10 minutes slower than their best in Japan. To their dismay, all three medals went to a timing lower than their PBs.
Similar was the case in women's 20km walk. Two participants - Priyanka Goswami and Bhawana Jat - entered the competition with PBs of 1:28:45 and 1:29:54. In the Olympics, all three medals were decided within the range of 1:29:12 to 1:29:57. That means India could have pocketed two more here.
Murali Shreeshankar, the national record holder in the long jump has a PB of 8.26m. This distance would have fetched him a bronze at the Olympics. While the lad could only manage a leap of 7.69m, the bronze went to Cuba's Maykel Masso, with a distance of 8.21m.
Women's discus thrower Kamalpreet Kaur had set a national record a month before the Olympics at 66.59m. But in the final of the Olympics, her best effort was recorded at 63.70m. Had she equaled her PB, she would have taken the bronze. But it went to Cuba's Yaime Perez with a throw of 65.72m.
Many would bring into equation a lot of factors that come into play during competition and argue that PBs cannot be achieved easily, but perhaps the right way to look at these stats is - one medal won, and six lost by India at Tokyo in athletics. The idea here is not to dis the Indian athletes, but give a clear picture to one and all that we have some of the best athletes in the world and the performances will eventually come.
Keep supporting Indian athletics.