On the eve of the Olympic Games in Tokyo the mood in India is one of cautious optimism. It matters little that in the past such hopes have been dashed to the ground through a disappointing show by the Indian contingent. The upbeat mood is such that the experts believe India can surpass their previous best medal haul at the Olympics – six at London in 2012.

Yes the dismal showing of the Indians at various disciplines over the years has meant that we have had to be satisfied with just crumbs. Basking in the glory of the hockey squad which invariably returned with the gold India finished in the middling category in the medals table. Following the eclipse of the hockey team’s dominance the Indians have slid down the medals ranking to somewhere near the bottom. At four Olympic Games – Montreal (1976), Los Angeles (1984), Seoul (1988) and Barcelona (1992) – they have come back empty-handed.

Things started getting slightly better with Leander Paes winning the bronze medal in tennis at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 – India’s first individual medal since wrestler KD Jadhav won the bronze at Helsinki in 1952. Since then India hasn't come back empty-handed.

Karnam Mallleswari won a weightlifting bronze at Sydney in 2000 and shooter Rajavardhan Singh Rathore became the first Indian to bag an individual silver medal at Athens four years later. And at Beijing in 2008 Abhinav Bindra came up with one of the most outstanding feats in the history of Indian sport becoming the first to get an individual gold – again in shooting.

Beijing provided the proverbial silver lining to the otherwise inky dark cloud that was India at the Olympics for besides Bindra’s unprecedented gold there were two bronze medals won by wrestler Sushil Kumar and boxer Vijinder Singh. It was reckoned that the improved showing – particularly Bindra’s unprecedented gold – would inspire Indian athletes to perform better and sure enough four years later at London the Indian squad came up with their best ever performance – six medals.

While shooter Vijay Kumar and wrestler Sushil Kumar won silver medals four bronze medals - Saina Nehwal (badminton), Mary Kom (boxing), Yogeshwar Dutt (wrestling) and Gagan Narang (shooting) – saw India achieve an all time high with the promise of even better things to come in future. However at Rio four years later India finished with just two medals with PV Sindhu bagging silver in badminton and Sakshi Mallick bronze in wrestling.

Despite this the mood is upbeat on the eve of the Tokyo Games and there are reasons for this. For one thing India is sending its largest ever contingent with 126 participants. Out of quantity comes quality and it is hoped that there would be some medal winners in the list even if the majority will be just be making up the numbers. Secondly looking at some of the recent performances of the squad members it may not be off the mark to predict that this could be India’s best ever showing at the Olympics.

The disciplines in which the Indians are taking part are archery, athletics, badminton, boxing, equestrian, fencing, golf, gymnastics, hockey, judo, rowing, sailing, shooting, swimming, table tennis, tennis, weightlifting and wrestling. Traditionally India’s medals have come from boxing, wrestling, badminton and shooting. This time however there are hopes of medals being won in hockey as well as track and field.

At the Olympics there can be no sure medal for any Indian competitor but the closest is PV Sindhu. After her silver medal at Rio she has raised hopes of winning the gold thanks to her assiduous training and hunger for success. Even though close friend and rival Carolina Marin to whom she lost in the final five years ago is not participating Sindhu reckons the field is pretty challenging. But after working on her technique and fitness she has emerged stronger than she was at Rio. She should come back with a medal; whether she can make it a gold is anyone’s guess.

The other strong medal hope is the shooting squad who recently performed creditably at the World Cup in Croatia. Both in the individual and the mixed team competitions it would be a surprise if the shooters do not win at least a couple of medals.

Boxing and wrestling should also figure in the medal sweepstakes. Amit Panghal in the 52 kg category remains the best bet while on the distaff side the legendary Mary Kom would like to sign off her illustrious career with a second Olympic medal. In wrestling the best bets for a medal would appear to be Bajrang Punia in the 65 kg category (men) and Vinesh Phogat in the 53 kg category (women).

India has not won a medal in hockey since they won gold in an emaciated field at Moscow in 1980. Since then the squad has only disappointed but this time there are realistic hopes that India could return to the medal table. Currently the Indian men’s team is ranked fourth and so a medal cannot be totally ruled out. However the same cannot be said about the women’s team.

Ace archer Deepika Kumari has often faltered on the big stage. However she has been reinstated as world No 1 following her sterling performance at the World Cup in Paris and so emerges as another medal contender.

In athletics India has had nothing to show so far except for the gallant narrow medal missing efforts of Milkha Singh (1960) and PT Usha (1984). This time however there’s excitement in the air and the man to cause this is 23-year-old Neeraj Chopra. The star javelin thrower has been performing in exemplary fashion and has raised hopes of a podium finish. The sense of optimism is further heightened by the presence of the burly Tajinderpal Singh Toor who recently created an Asian record in the shot put.

So in this upbeat mood can India finally reach the elusive double digit mark in the medals tally?

All Indian athletes qualified for Tokyo 2020 Olympics

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