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  • Writer's pictureAaryan

India's Medal Hopefuls at Paris 2024

Four weeks out from the first events of Paris 2024, the excitement for the Games is building worldwide. With the qualification campaign completed, let us take a look at India’s best medal contenders heading into the Olympics.


Neeraj Chopra & Kishore Jena finished 1-2 at the Asian Games. Photo from: X

Athletics


The reigning World and Olympic champion in the M Javelin, Neeraj Chopra will spearhead (no pun intended) India’s medal efforts in Paris. He gave himself a tough act to follow after winning India’s 2nd ever individual Olympic Gold in Tokyo, but his unparalleled consistency over the previous 3 years will have him going to Paris as the favourite, as long as he is fully healthy. His main rival will be Tokyo silver medallist Jakub Vadlejch (CZE), who is the only athlete to have beaten Neeraj in the last 12 months. The Czech has had the upper hand in recent competitions, so the battle for Gold should be an enthralling duel between the two. But that could leave the third spot on the podium up for grabs with 85-86m. The other Indian in the event, Kishore Jena, might just have such a throw in his arm after his 87m throw at the Asian Games, giving him an outside chance of a medal. While his form this year makes the likes of Helander (FIN) or Weber (GER) far more likely for Bronze, a double Indian podium is not entirely out of the question.


Despite strong results in recent competitions such as last year’s World and Asian Champs, medals will be hard to come by in other events. The M 4x400m quartet’s bid to make the Olympic final will certainly be worth watching, after they produced a surprise 5th place finish in Budapest last year. Sreeshankar would have been exciting to follow with an outside chance at a medal in the M Long Jump, but he has sadly been ruled out of the Games due to a knee injury.


Weightlifting


Mirabai Chanu won Silver at the Tokyo Olympics. Photo from: Olympics.com

Saikhom Mirabai Chanu became an icon overnight when she delivered India’s first medal of Tokyo 2020 by winning Silver in the W49kg. World class in every respect, Mirabai is one of India’s best athletes, across all sports. A former world record-holder and world champion, she is the 4th best lifter ever in the 49kg category with her PB of 205kg. She backed up her Tokyo performance with CWG Gold and World Champs Silver the following year, but her last 12 months have been marred by an injury she suffered at the Asian Games. She has gradually returned to fitness and competed at the World Cup in April, lifting a total of 184kg. With multiple other lifters in the category breaking 200kg, she will face stiff competition in Paris given her injury setbacks. Still, she will go to Paris ranked 2nd in the field only behind Hou Zhihui of China, and will be a favourite to medal if she can return to her best.


Hockey


India will always be amongst the contenders in hockey, with our historic prestige in the sport. Tokyo 2020 ended an Olympic dry spell for the men’s team, who hadn’t won a medal since 1980. Since then, the team has had mixed results, with Gold and Silver at Asian Games and CWG offset by 9th place in a home World Cup. The team enjoyed good Pro League campaigns in recent years, with 3 consecutive top 4 finishes, but they finished this season in 7th. That stems mostly from an apparent habit of drawing many winnable games. Still, the Hockey competition will be very open in Paris 2024, with 6 or 7 teams in contention, and India will be amongst that. The team's attacking talent and skilful play is ever-present, with Harmanpreet Singh in amongst the top scorers of the Pro League season. Other than Australia seeming to have India’s number recently, the Indian team on their day can challenge any other. They should make it out of their Olympic group quite comfortably, ahead of Ireland, New Zealand and Argentina. Quarter-finals onward, anything can happen - and India’s shootout experience from the Pro League could come in handy.


Boxing


India’s female boxers in particular will have high hopes for medals in Paris. Hopes are riding high for Nikhat Zareen who will lead the charge in the W50kg. Having won Gold at the last two World Champs, Gold at the CWG, and Bronze at the Asian Games, she is one of the strongest fighters in the category. She has only lost 2 fights since 2022, and on her day, she can go toe-to-toe with anyone. Fighting for medals alongside Nikhat will be Jaismine Lamboria, Lovlina Borgohain, and Preeti Pawar. A Bronze medallist from Tokyo, there aren’t many Indian boxers who can boast a better résumé than Lovlina. She has gone up a weight class to 75kg and won Asian Games Silver and World Championship Gold last year, so she could do well in Paris. Lovlina will be India’s only seeded boxer in Paris after her Silver at the Asian Games, but her 8th seed potentially sets up a tough QF match against top seed Li Qian (CHN). Lovlina beat her in the final of the 2023 Worlds, but was then beaten by her at the Asian Games.


Nikhat Zareen will lead the charge for India's Boxers in Paris. Photo from: X

Jaismine’s Olympic dreams were all but over a month ago when she suddenly got a call-up to fight in the final Olympic qualifier a weight class down, to try and recover Parveen Hooda’s lost quota. The new weight class seems to suit her, though, because despite her minimal preparation, she dominated every bout in the competition to earn herself an unlikely quota! That bodes well for her hopes at the Olympics, where she could be a bit of an X-factor unfamiliar to her opponents.


On the men’s side, Nishant Dev and Amit Panghal will have a tougher task of getting on the podium, with some very competitive fields. Both are excellent fighters in their own right, though, with World Champs medals to their names. Panghal, in particular, could prove to be a serious podium threat if he can return to the form that won him CWG Gold back in 2022. It is difficult to judge how competitive India’s pugilists are likely to be, since Boxing has not had unified World Champs since 2022, but it has historically been a successful sport for the nation, and we have some fantastic fighters looking to keep that going in Paris.


Wrestling


Despite the challenges India’s wrestlers have had to contend with in the last two years leading up to Paris 2024, India will field a 6-strong team at the Olympics. The fact that 5 of them will be female should really reinforce the value of female wrestlers in country, and make us reconsider whether our treatment of them fits their contributions to Indian sport. Aman Sehrawat will be the sole male representative, to complement Vinesh Phogat, Antim Panghal, Anshu Malik, Nisha Dahiya, and Reetika Hooda. An extremely promising team, they all have the talent to threaten the podium. But India’s strongest contender should be Antim Panghal in the W 53kg. A double World Junior Champion, Antim had a meteoric rise through the senior ranks in 2023, winning Silver at the Asian Champs and Bronze at the World Champs and Asian Games. Still only 19, she is already amongst the best in the world, and if she replicates her form from last year, few can stand between her and a podium. Antim’s rise has forced 2-time Olympian Vinesh Phogat to drop down to the W 50kg, and while she remains a world-class fighter, it is not her preferred event and the weight cut has presented its challenges. But having overcome administrative mistreatment and knee surgery to get to the Olympics, she will have a point to prove and should not be counted out.


Reetika Hooda is another young talent to look out for. The 21-year-old came up to the Olympic 76kg category only last year and won the U23 World Champs. She then won a quota at the Asian Qualifier this year with a sublime performance, winning every match. She won Silver at the most recent ranking series, only narrowly losing 3-2 to the 2023 World Bronze medallist - her only loss so far in this weight category! She will be an underdog, but she has looked ready to challenge anyone she comes up against. Meanwhile, Aman Sehrawat is another strong wrestler who will carry high hopes into Paris. He had a strong 2023 with Asian Championships Gold and Asian Games Bronze, and has given a good account of himself in 2024 to book his spot in Paris. But he will face a very competitive field in the M 57kg event.


Badminton


SatChi have become the poster boys for Indian Badminton. Photo from: Shi Tang/Getty Images

Badminton has been one of India’s most reliable medal sports in recent years, led by PV Sindhu who medalled at the last 2 Games. She goes to her 3rd Olympics in Paris, but not in her best form as injuries have ended her last two seasons. She returned to the court well, but she has dropped out of the top 10 in the world rankings and has not had consistent success in recent competitions. Paris 2024 will present a new challenge for her, but she has shown time and again that she can deliver the goods on the big stage, so count Sindhu out at your own risk. India will have double representation in the men’s singles event, with Lakshya Sen and HS Prannoy. The latter had a strong 2023 with Bronze at the World Championships and Asian Games, but then ended the season with an injury. He too has had recent struggles, dropping out of the top 10 in the world, where he was ranked for the last 2 years. India’s best contenders for a medal in Paris will be the men’s doubles pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty, or ‘SatChi’ for short, who have enjoyed a great couple of seasons. They played a pivotal role in India’s Thomas Cup win in 2022, before a Bronze in the World Champs. They also won Gold at the Asian Games and Asian Championships last year. The pair held the top position in the world rankings for much of 2024 until Satwik suffered a shoulder injury in April. But he made a quick recovery and they won the Thailand Open in May. Heading into the Olympics as no 3 in the world, SatChi will be favoured to win a medal in Paris.


Shooting


Shooting has the potential to be India’s best sport at these Olympics by some distance, with the nation’s marksmen enjoying some strong performances this quad. Almost every Indian shooter, especially in rifle and pistol events, has a chance to step on the podium. India finally has a sport where being the best in the country means being one of the best in the world. This is evidenced by the multiple (unofficial) world record performances at India’s shooting trials, and the world champions and world-record holders who did not even make the team in certain events. Having said that, the competition between the top shooters in the world is very close and the margin for error is  vanishingly small. So, the team could just as easily come away with 10 medals as 0 (as in Tokyo). The whole team will be hopeful of medal performances, but I will highlight a few shooters here.


Sift Kaur Samra holds the world record in her event. Photo from: Olympics.com

Sift Kaur Samra is the current world record-holder in the W 50m Rifle 3 Positions event, and has consistently produced high scores in recent competitions. She won Gold at the Asian Games last year and won Bronze at the most recent world cup in Munich, indicating good form for the Games. The men’s air rifle trials were very competitive with the 2022 World Champ Rudrankksh Patil and former WR-holder Divyansh Singh Panwar both missing out. They were beaten for spots on the team by Sandeep Singh and Arjun Babuta, whose strong performances at trials would have given them ambition for Paris. Babuta in particular has great potential as he broke the world record (at the time) at the first trial and put up a strong qualifying performance in the most recent world cup as well.


The women’s pistol squad will also be strong contenders. Manu Bhaker will compete in both pistol events for the 2nd Olympics running after a very strong showing at trials. The highlight was a finals score of 47 in the 25m Pistol, which would have shattered the world record of 42 if it was an official ISSF competition. She is joined in that event by Esha Singh, who won Silver in both the 10m & 25m events at the Asian Games. Rhythm Sangwan takes the other spot in the 10m Air Pistol, despite actually holding the qualifying world record in the 25m. The trio won the 25m pistol team event at the 2023 World Champs, and will have high hopes for the Olympics. The all-round strength and depth of the Indian shooters will certainly make them a threat in the rifle and pistol mixed team events too. Indeed, the 2023 World Champs mixed pistol gold went to India.


Tennis


The last few months have provided some fantastic Indian stories in Tennis, none more incredible than how Sumit Nagal has managed to qualify for the Paris Olympics. After losing at Roland Garros, he played another Challenger tournament the same week and won it, which earned him just enough points on the last day before the qualifying rankings were finalised, to secure one of the last available quota spots for Paris. Now he will have another chance to play with the best in the world at Roland Garros, while representing India at the Olympics. His fighting spirit is truly incredible.


The other wonderful story is of Rohan Bopanna’s resurgence. He has established himself as one of the best doubles players in the world at 44 years old! He won the Australian Open this year with partner Matthew Ebden (AUS), and the two have reached the semi-finals of the last 4 grand slams on the trot. While clay is perhaps not his favourite surface, Bopanna is ranked the 4th best doubles player in the world. His partner will be Sriram Balaji, a very capable doubles player in his own right. India hasn’t won an Olympic tennis medal since 1996. Bopanna reached a Rio semi-final in 2016; they will be hunting for hardware in Paris.


Bopanna and Ebden celebrating their AO2024 victory. Photo from: ausopen.com

Archery


India’s archers have enjoyed recent success that leaves fans very hopeful of their prospects in Paris. The men’s team is presently ranked 2nd in the world behind only South Korea, having won the Shanghai World Cup this year and Silver at the Asian Games. Dhiraj Bommadevara has been the standout individual performer of the current team. He was the 1st Indian archer to earn a quota at the Asian Qualifiers last year, and he won a Bronze medal at the most recent World Cup in Antalya. On the women’s side, we have seen some very strong individual performances off late, with an Indian reaching the final 4 of every major competition this year. Deepika Kumari did so in the first two world cups, winning Silver in Shanghai after returning to competition post-childbirth. Bhajan Kaur then won Gold at the final Olympic qualifier, while Ankita Bhakat reached the semis of the last world cup. The trio’s team performances have not hit the mark quite as consistently, but the archers certainly have the ability to turn things around in Paris. The challenge for India is that the big names in archery tend to perform better at big competitions like the World Champs and Olympics, but being seen as the underdogs might suit India's talented group.


Golf


Aditi Ashok will be going to her 3rd Olympic Games in Paris. Having narrowly missed out on Bronze on the final day in Tokyo, she may be looking for redemption. Although she missed the podium, her 4th place finish at Tokyo was still a marvellous achievement, given her world rank of 200 going into the tournament. But a difficult one to replicate. Her ranking has improved to 60th in the world, but she will have to overcome some of the world's best. After her Silver at the Asian Games, however, it may be that this format of golf suits Aditi. She is certainly one to keep an eye on. Of the other 3 golfers going, Shubhankar Sharma is most noteworthy. While expectations will not be as high for him, he has a career best performance of tied 8th place at the 2023 Open Championship, so he can certainly spring a surprise.


The Olympic Games officially begin on 26th July, less than 4 weeks from now! The sporting action begins from the 24th, however, with India’s first event being the ranking rounds for Archery on the 25th. Be sure to tune in and cheer them on!

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