With Deepak Kumar, Manika Batra, Amoj Jacob and Sarthak Bhambri participating in the Tokyo Games, the Capital has a realistic chance of contributing to India’s medal haul this time
Delhi has some of the best sports facilities in the country, thanks to the massive investment made for the Commonwealth Games in 2010. The Capital was also projected as a possible Olympics host, before Odisha and some other States took over the risk of nursing such an expensive dream.
The nation as a whole needs to harvest a rich haul of medals in the Olympic Games to convince everyone that it would be a good idea to invest huge money to host the quadrennial event, easily the biggest spectacle that unites the world.
Support in nurturing talent and rewards are the key to having more athletes winning Olympic medals. The national capital has taken a big step forward in both directions, first by setting up Delhi Sports University with the Sydney Games medallist, Karnam Malleswari, as its Vice-Chancellor, and then by announcing a cash prize of ₹3 crore for athletes from the city winning gold medal in the Tokyo Olympics.
It is not surprising that Delhi has only four athletes — Deepak Kumar, Manika Batra, Amoj Jacob and Sarthak Bhambri — who will compete in Tokyo. With Haryana having a very rewarding sports programme for many years, the best talents have been inclined to stake allegiance to the State. Of the 127 athletes representing the country in the Tokyo Olympics, the neighbours of Delhi — Haryana (31) and Punjab (19) — account for the lion’s share. It is perhaps some consolation to Delhi that the big State of Uttar Pradesh has only eight athletes going to Tokyo, the same number as from sporting States such as Kerala and Maharashtra.
It is not the numbers but the performance in Tokyo that would be remembered. To that extent, Delhi has a realistic chance to strike an Olympic medal this time.
It may be hard for the relay runners, Amoj Jacob and Sarthak Bhambri, to dream of an Olympic medal considering the harsh fact that Indian athletics from Milkha Singh and P.T. Usha’s time to the more immediate past of Anju George and Krishna Poonia has been finding an Olympic medal most elusive.
Shooting offers the best prospects for medals in Japan for India, and Delhi has a bright shooter in the Asian Games silver medallist, Deepak Kumar, 33, who serves the Indian Air Force.
Coached by Manoj Kumar, Deepak has made rapid strides towards excellence and matching world standards in a very short time. He joined the national team only in 2017, but by next year he made the final of the World Championship in Changwon, Korea, after winning the silver medal in the Asian Games in Palembang, Indonesia.
Deepak shot a national record 630.1 in air rifle and was placed sixth in a field of 112 shooters in the World Championship. Such a score would comfortably put him in the Olympic final and give him a shot at a medal.
Deepak will also have a chance to win a mixed air rifle medal with the World Championship silver medallist, Anjum Moudgil. Deepak, along with Olympian Apurvi Chandela, had won the gold in the World Cup in Rio de Janeiro in 2019. With the men’s air rifle scheduled for July 25, the fans of Gurukul student Deepak will not have to wait for long to see their star perform on the biggest stage of sports.
Delhi will have another familiar face, table tennis star and Commonwealth Games gold medallist Manika Batra. Indian table tennis has not reached such standards yet to eye an Olympic medal but there is a realistic chance for Manika in the mixed event with the seasoned Sharath Kamal, who would be competing in his fourth Olympics. The Indian pair will open against the third seeds from Chinese Taipei in the mixed event on Saturday.
Manika, 26, who has already been bestowed the nation’s highest sports honours — Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna and Arjuna awards — will be competing in her second Olympics in Tokyo. She has won mixed event medals in both the last Commonwealth Games and Asian Games in 2018.
In the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia, Manika not only won the individual gold but helped the Indian women’s team get top honours by beating four-time champion Singapore. The highlight of that triumph was Manika’s win over world No. 4 Feng Tianwei. She also won the doubles silver medal with Mouma Das.
Manika and Sharath will have to be at their best to make it memorable for Indian table tennis.
Tennis ace Divij Sharan, who had won the Asian Games gold with Rohan Bopanna, would have also strengthened Delhi’s representation in Tokyo, but he missed the entry.
Another Delhi boy, Yuki Bhambri, was also in line to get an Olympic entry in tennis on his injury-protected rank but has been unable to play owing to a recent knee surgery in the U.S. The chance went to junior Wimbledon champion and the country’s No. 1 Sumit Nagal, who lives in Delhi but hails from Haryana.
The Tokyo Games in these difficult times would perhaps inspire the youth of Delhi to take up sports in a big way. The best support from the Delhi government will ensure that the youth do not move away to greener pastures but take pride in representing the Capital, at every level.