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Tokyo Olympics 2020: Heavy weight of expectations on Indians again

·4 min read

No one knows how heavy the burden of expectations is better than Mirabai Chanu. Going to Rio Olympics as a medal contender, the weightlifter buckled.

Let Vikas Krishan tell you how deeply defeat at the Olympics cuts you. He went to sleep having won his quarter-final at the London Olympics, but woke up to the news that he had been eli minated instead.

Maybe someday Deepika Kumari will open up about how frequently she thinks about the London Olympics.

Let Apurvi Chandela's smiling countenance not fool you. She's still smarting from not returning with a medal from Rio five years ago.

Hear Vinesh Phogat talk about the unflinching injustice of sport after that injury at Rio Olympics.

"Main bilkul toot gayi thi," Mirabai admitted recently.

Broken. Beaten. Bested.

But not anymore.

Some of India's top medal hopefuls at these Games have reconstructed their Olympic dreams for Tokyo 2020 €" branded the Reconstruction Games €" from the smouldering wreckage of past Olympic campaigns.

"There used to be this fear (in my mind): What if I make it to another Olympics and I again get injured. But not anymore. That setback in Rio is just unfinished business now," said Vinesh in the months leading up to Tokyo. "Whatever I am today, is because of past setbacks."

Vinesh comes to Tokyo as the top seed in her weight class. Mirabai has the world record in clean and jerk. Deepika is the World No 1 in women's recurve archery. Apurvi, despite her recent woes, is formidable in women's 10m air rifle, which is the one discipline in shooting that is crying for an Olympic medal. All three of them will get their shot at redemption in the first few days of the Olympics as will Vikas, who has embraced life as a pro boxer but still stuck around till the Tokyo Games to end his amateur stint.

That old adage about the Olympics will hold true for all of them at Tokyo: it's not good enough to be the best. You need to be the best on the stage where it counts.

Which brings us to another set of Indian medal hopefuls.

Neeraj Chopra and Bajrang Punia have never been to the Olympics. Neither have Saurabh Chaudhury, Manu Bhaker, Divyansh Singh Panwar and Elavenil Valarivan, gun-totting boys and girls who have been swaggering into the shooting hall at World Cups like they own it.

The reputation of these first-timers precedes them. Our top athletes got to the top by keeping tabs on the best in the world. The world's best track Neeraj and Bajrang. When Neeraj picks up an injury, the top throwers from Germany take notice.

Deepali Deshpande, a high-performance coach of the rifle shooters who has seen likes of Divyansh and Elavenil enter the sport, break into the junior ranks, then make the senior team in a matter of months, calls them the post-Bindra generation.

"The first day they stood at the lane they wanted to become an Olympic champion. This is a characteristic of this generation. They think they deserve the best. And they're willing to fight for it. It's not like the 'theek hai', and 'chalta hai' kind of attitude," said Deshpande, who got to her debut Olympics at Athens 2004 after nearly 16 years of shooting. "For our generation of shooters, we didn't have too many idols. No milestones to reach. In fact, we had to create milestones on every step. Everything we did became a milestone."

Arguably, the biggest milestone among those was the gold at Beijing 2008.

Some of these sharpshooters were not old enough to tell a rifle from a pistol when Abhinav Bindra won India's first €" and to date, only €" individual Olympic gold. Obviously, they didn't watch that moment on television in Beijing either.

But should they make it to a medal round at Tokyo, you can be sure Bindra is watching. Even if it means waking up at 5 am.

Many of the Tokyo-bound athletes have sworn off social media in the weeks leading up to the Olympics. The rhetoric, the euphemism is too deafening.

For an entire Olympic cycle, elongated to five years instead of four due to the vagaries of COVID-19, our best men and women have promised to give their best. There has been nary a press conference without some version of the phrases "hundred percent dena hai" and "best karenge" being uttered earnestly by those 120-odd women and men headed to Tokyo.

Well, shoot your shot.

Also See: Khaana, sona aur practice: The motto that brought Mirabai Chanu her silver medal at Tokyo Olympics 2020

Tokyo Olympics 2020 Highlights, Day 1: Weightlifter Mirabai Chanu wins silver; Netherlands thrash India 5-1 in women's hockey

Tokyo Olympics 2020: Deepika Kumari finishes ninth in ranking round; South Korea's An San shatters Olympic record

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