Seven medals - the most for an Indian contingent in the history of the Olympics, what an exciting 16 days it has been in Tokyo, with Neeraj Chopra's triumph just escalating it to another level. However, several athletes, who were expected to go the distance, but faltered when it mattered the most.
Amit Panghal (Boxing)
The road was almost engineered for the world no.1 in Men’s Flyweight to claim top honours, with the only threat in his career -Uzbekistan’s Shakhobidin Zoirov, shifting domain to the professional circuit a couple of years ago. On the back of a silver medal at the 2019 World Championships, followed by gold at the Asian Championships, the Rohtak-based pugilist was destined to complete the cycle in Tokyo with a podium finish. The hype around him was justified, with bold headlines indicating it was a deal done as far as the medals tally was concerned.
But, the Olympics is an event like no other.
Colombia’s Yunerjen Martinez, not in the fray to go big, pulled-off a brave attempt to tame his more fancied counterpart. Well, it did work. Even though Amit managed to combat the furious punches from the other side of the ring, he was totally shattered in the second period.
The Indian boxer was so engaged with blocking Martinez’s punches and uppercuts, hardly did he get time to pack a punch himself. On the backfoot, looking helpless, with no finesse whatsoever, it was not even close to the Amit Panghal we know. Only positive, the Paris 2024 Games are three years away, considerable time to stage a turnaround!
Deepika Kumari (Archer)
Keeping on scrutinizing the same individual is a bit harsh, but Deepika Kumari always escalated us with lofty expectations, yet, crumbled each and every time. Not only that, she’s set foot at the Olympics as the top-ranked archer in two of the three editions she’s been a part of, but, a medal is still missing from her cabinet. Detractors might intrude with an argument that she’s getting better each time, but that’s a vague argument, with the Archer sweeping away medals elsewhere, with just the Olympics being an exception.
She was ousted by top-seeded An San in the quarter-final. Yes, South Korean opponents are expected to blow away any obstacle in their path, but with a high-profile bio-data, how did she manage to cross paths with a strong opposition? Well, she has only herself to blame, having finished at the 9th spot in the ranking round, which set her on a collision course with An San, the eventual winner.
Once again, the mental aspect has been the talk of the hour, which to some extent would have been justified, but, it has been the case for so long, ample time has been devoted to getting over the hurdle, so being sympathetic is off the cards. Three years left for the 2024 Paris Games, another opportunity for her to hit back at the critics, can she finally get rid-off her past haunts?
Vinesh Phogat (Wrestling)
A Teary-eyed Vinesh Phogat left the mat at the 2016 Rio Olympics, after suffering a knee-injury during her quarter-final bout against China’s Sun Yanan. It was a painful sight. However, by pulling herself together, she recovered from the setback and claimed back-to-back gold medals at the 2018 Commonwealth and Asian Games. Back by a bronze medal at the 2019 Asian Championships and gold at the Asian Championships, a few months prior to the Tokyo Olympics, she was set for a gala time in Japan.
The first bump – Sweden’s Sofia Mattsson was dealt with pretty smoothly, with a dominating 7-1 win. Her next assignment, Belarus’ Vanesa Kaladzinskaya, was not a grappler who fared exceptionally well in the past few years, while, Vinesh Phogat, already one of the contenders, was expected to tide over. However, it was the exact opposite. Not only was the Indian far from his best, but also managed to allow her opponent to pin her down, ultimately losing the bout by fall.
There are literally no words to console her, even the grappler from Haryana knew how she bottled when it mattered the most. She had waited five years to get a shot at what is supposed to be the ultimate prize in the world of sports. With her 26 years of age, three years from now, she’ll get stronger each day, Paris is waiting for the last shot at glory!
Manu Bhaker (Shooter)
Exposure tours, pumping astronomical funds into the system, world cup wins – the shooting contingent of 15 athletes was expected to bring at least three medals back, yet, they have let down the most. In fact, young Manu Bhaker, the only athlete in the entire contingent to feature in three separate events, had the best chance to set foot on the podium. Reaching the final in only one of those categories cannot be consoled by any means, it has been a forgettable tour of Tokyo for the shooter.
Yes, her equipment malfunctioned during the event itself, but, she did have two more opportunities to salvage and redeem. Unfortunately, she failed in both, having just qualified for the medal round in the Mixed 10m Air Pistol team event. No excuses whatsoever. The internal feuds that made rounds on social media and newspapers cannot be put forward as an excuse to nullify the mishap.
However, the only aspect which works in her favour is that she is still quite young and will get more several occasions to display her true potential. It would be very generous not to judge her as a shooter just on the basis of their performance at the Tokyo Olympics. At 22, in Paris, she’ll come back stronger.