India will be represented by 26 athletes in 14 different track & field events at Tokyo Olympics. Athletics has never been India’s strong suit at Olympics. Kolkata-born Norman Pritchard remains the only Indian to win a medal in the track & field events. Pritchard participated in the 1900 Paris Olympics and bagged two silver medals in 200m sprint and 200m hurdles.
Since then, 10 Indians have made it to the finals in different track & field events but none could manage a finish on the podium.
However, the improved performance in recent times has been a refreshing site for Indian athletics. India bagged 20 medals including 8 gold medals in the 2018 Asian Games, which was their best performance in more than 6 decades. The nation has also produced its first two Junior World Champions during the last two editions of the IAAF Junior World Championships. One of them, javelin thrower, Neeraj Chopra is a strong contender for a medal in Tokyo.
On that note, here’s a look at the Indian athletics squad for Tokyo Olympics:
M.P. Jabir: 25-year-old hurdler from Kerala is the first Indian male athlete to qualify for the men’s 400m hurdles in Olympics. He made the cut by the Road to Tokyo Rankings quota. His personal best is 49.13s.
Avinash Sable: 26-year-old from Mandwa, Beed district, Maharashtra is currently India’s best athlete in track events. In 2018, at the 58th Open National Athletics Championships, Sable broke the 37-year-old national record in the men’s 3000m steeplechase with the timing of 8:29.80. Since then, he has rewritten the national record four times. The current national record stands at 8:20.20, which he clocked at Federation Cup in March this year. He qualified for Tokyo Olympics by clocking 8:21.37 in the final of the 2019 World Championships.
Sandeep Kumar: 35-year-old race walker from Mahendragarh, Haryana is the current national record holder in men’s 20km and 50km walk events. Sandeep who participated in 50km walk event at the Rio Olympics, will feature in 20km walk in Tokyo. He created a new national record after clocking 1:20.16 at Indian Race Walking Championships in February this year, which also helped him qualify for Tokyo Olympics.
KT Irfan: 31-year-old from Malappuram, Kerala will be competing in his second Olympics. His first appearance in the showpiece event came in London in 2012 where he finished 10th with a national record-breaking effort of 1:20.21.
Rahul Rohilla: 25-year-old from Haryana will make his Olympic debut in Tokyo. He qualified for Tokyo Olympics by winning the men’s 20-km walk in 1:20.26 seconds during the National Open Race Walking Competition in February this year.
Gurpreet Singh: Gurpreet Singh will represent India in the men’s 50km walk. His personal best in the event is 3:59:42 which he achieved during the 8th National Championships at Ranchi in February this year.
4×400m relay: Indian men’s 4 × 400m relay team qualified for Tokyo Olympics by securing 13th rank in the Road to Tokyo rankings. Muhammed Anas Yahiya, Noah Nirmal Tom, Amoj Jacob, Arokia Rajiv and Naganathan Pandi have been picked for the men’s relay squad, out of which four will feature in the races at Tokyo.
27-year-old Anas, the current national record holder in men’s 400m with a timing of 45.21s, hails from Nilamel, Kerala. He was also a part of the Indian men’s 4 x 400m relay team which created a national record by clocking 3:00.91 at 3rd Indian GP in 2016.
30-year-old Rajiv Arokia, another member of that national record-breaking relay team is from Tiruchirappalli, Tamil Nadu. He has a personal best of 45.37s.
23-year-old Amoj Jacob is from Delhi. He had excelled at the junior level. The highlight of his career at the age-group level was gold in men’s 800m at the 2016 Asian Junior Championships. He has featured in several events for the senior relay team in the last four years. His personal best is 45.68s.
26-year-old Noah Nirmal Tom is from Kerala. The highlight of his career was his performance in the mixed 4 x 400m relay final at the 2019 World Championships where he ran the anchor leg and took India to 3rd spot from 5th in the heat, which secured their place in the final of the World Championships and also booked their berth for the Tokyo Olympics. His personal best in men’s 400m is 45.75s.
25-year old Naganathan Pandi is from Tamil Nadu. His personal best in men’s 400m is 46.09s.
Dutee Chand: 25-year-old sprinter from Jajpur, Odisha has qualified in two events. She will run in the women’s 100m and 200m events. Dutee made the cut by the virtue of the Road to Tokyo Rankings quota. She is ranked 41st in Women’s 100m and 51st in Women’s 200m.
Dutee holds the national record in women’s 100m with a timing of 11.17s. In women’s 200m, her personal best is 23.00s. Dutee’s most memorable moment at the international stage came at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta where she won two silver medals in women’s 100m and 200m.
Priyanka Goswami: 25-year-old from Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh is the current national record in women’s 20km walk. At the Open Indian Championship in the 20 km race, she clocked 1:28.45 to create a new national record and also qualified for the Tokyo Olympics.
Bhawna Jat: 25-year-old racewalker from Kabra, Rajsamand district, Rajasthan is a former Indian national record holder for women’s 20 km race walk. She clocked 1:29.54 at Open Championships in February 2020 and qualified for the Tokyo Olympics which had a qualification standard of 1:31:00.
4 × 400m relay: The Indian mixed relay team qualified for the Tokyo Olympics by entering the final of the 2019 World Championships. However, neither of the four members of the team are a part of the Olympics squad. VK Vismaya and Jishna Mathews both missed out due to poor form in recent times while Anas & Nirmal won’t show in the mixed relay as they are focusing on the men’s relay.
The young & inexperienced mixed relay team comprises Revathi Veeramani, Subha Venkatesan, Dhanlakshmi Sekhar, Sarthak Bhambri and Alex Antony. Alex Antony hails from Kerala, Sarthak Bhambri comes from Delhi while the three girls are from Tamil Nadu.
Neeraj Chopra: The Panipat lad is India’s biggest hope for a medal in track & field. In 2016, he became the first Indian athlete to ever win a World title in track and field at the U-20 level. Two years later, won gold medals at the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games in 2018, becoming only the second Indian track & field athlete since Milkha Singh to achieve the double. He qualified for Tokyo in January last year covering a distance of 87.86m in a competition held in Potchefstroom, South Africa. Neeraj’s personal best is 88.07m and he currently stands at 4th in the season best list for 2021.
Shivpal Singh: 26-year-old from Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh has been India’s number 2 men’s javelin thrower for the last three years. He qualified for the Olympics last year with an 85.47m throw at ACNW League Meeting in Potchefstroom, South Africa. His personal best throw is 86.23 metres, which he achieved during his silver medal-winning effort at the 2019 Asian Championships in Doha.
Tajinder Pal Singh Toor: 26-year-old shot putter from Moga, Punjab is India’s lone Asian record holder. Tajinder crossed the Olympic Qualification mark with a throw of 21.49m in his first attempt, bettering his national record and also creating a new Asian record at Indian Grand Prix 4 in June this year. The southpaw also holds Asian Games Record in the event which he created during his gold medal-winning effort at Jakarta in 2018.
Murali Sreeshankar: 22-year-old long-jumper from Palakkad, Kerala is one for the future. Sreeshankar qualified for the Tokyo Olympics with a national record jump of 8.26m at the Federation Cup in March this year. He surpassed his record of 8.20m and the Olympic qualifying mark of 8.22m.
Annu Rani: 28-year-old javelin thrower from Meerut, Uttar Pradesh has been India’s leading women’s javelin thrower for a while. In the 2014 National Inter-State Championship in Lucknow, Rani won the gold medal with a throw of 58.83 metres, breaking a 14 year old national record. And since then, she has broken her national record multiple times. The current national record stands at 63.24m, which she created at 24th National Senior Athletics Championship in March this year. On the international stage, highlights of her career have been a bronze medal at the 2014 Asian Games and a silver at the 2019 Asian Championships.
Kamalpreet Kaur: 25-year-old from Punjab is the current national record holder in women’s discus throw. She qualified for
Tokyo Olympics with a national record effort of 65.06m at the 24th Senior National Athletics Championships in March.
Kamalpreet 66.59m at Indian GP 4 in June to rewrite her national record. Her record-breaking effort is 6th best in the world in this season and also the best in Asia.
Seema Punia qualified for Tokyo Olympics in women’s discus throw with an attempt of 63.72m, breaching the Olympic Qualification mark of 63.50m. This will be the 4th Olympics for the 37-year-old veteran who is originally from Sonipat, Haryana and now represents Uttar Pradesh at national level events.
Seema Punia is the only Indian track & field athlete to win medals at four different editions of the Commonwealth Games. She also secured a Gold and a Bronze at 2014 and 2018 editions of the Asian Games.
Expectations: Neeraj Chopra is India’s biggest prospect for a medal at Tokyo Olympics. He is ranked 4th in the season best list for 2021. The next highest-ranked Indian in an event is Kamalpreet Kaur, who stands at 6th position. Kamalpreet hasn’t featured in any major international event so expecting an Olympic medal would be a bit unfair on her.
The likes of Tajinder Pal Singh Toor and Avinash Sable have also shown great form in recent times and can be expected to reach the final round. For other athletes, giving their personal bests and/or breaking national records should be the main focus. If they manage to do so then we may see some of them in the final round of their respective events.
In the last edition at Rio, India had assembled a 34-member squad. This time there are 26 but the overall quality seems better. A medal looks realistically possible and probably 3-4 athletes can make it to the final of their respective events.