India will be sending a contingent of 19 athletes to take part in the different athletics categories of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Let’s a take closer look at the athletes and their chances at the summer Olympics.
Track and Road
Muhammed Anas Yahiya (Men’s 4*400m relay)
Being the son of a state level athlete, it wasn’t really a surprise when Muhammed decided to follow in his father’s footsteps. Inspired by Usain Bolt’s 2008 Olympic heroics, the young Keralite joined a local sports club where he slowly began to display his talent.
Anas won the 400m gold at the junior national championships in 2012 and further went on to win more accolades for his university. He won the 4*400m gold medal at the 2015 National Games which had the Indian Navy come calling. With some financial backing from the Navy, Anas focused on the sport and went on to take silver at the 2016 senior National Championships. His run at the Polish Athletics Championships heats that year saw him create a new national record and made the cut for the 2016 Rio Olympics. Although his 4*400m relay team bowed out in the heats of the Rio Games, the experience and exposure received was a big learning curve for the Kerala boy.
A remarkable 2018 season saw Anas take three silver medals at the Asian Games and also win the bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games. The Arjuna Awardee now looks forward to using his previous Olympics experience to take the Indian relay team to newer heights.
Noah Nirmal Tom (Men’s 4*400 Relay)
Calicut-born Noah, who has been involved with athletics since a young age, will be representing India at his very first Olympics this summer.
A young Tom enrolled himself at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) academy in Kozhikode to help follow his dream of becoming a professional athlete. Proper training at the SAI saw the Indian Air Force recruit Tom and slowly blossom into a professional 400m sprinter. Tom’s record timing of 45:96s caught the eyes of the higher ups, which saw the Calicut boy get called up for the national camp in 2018. The 4*400m gold at the 2018 National Championships and 400m gold at the same event the following year have seen Tom become one of the country’s most promising prospects.
Heading into his first Olympics, Noah is looking to train to the limit to etch out every second he can from himself.
Arokia Rajiv (Men’s 4*400m relay)
The sprinter from Trichy, Tamil Nadu first shot into national limelight during the 2014 Asian Games where he won the bronze medal at the 400m race. Although Rajiv and his team finished fourth in the 4*400m relay race at the same competition, Arokia’s 400m heroics caught everyone’s eye.
Coming from humble beginnings, that saw Rajiv having to borrow spikes to compete at the state level during his earlier day, enrolment into the Indian Army saw Rajiv get some much needed financial stability. Rajiv continued his success story as he went on to take gold in the 4*400m relay and silver in the 400m race at the 2017 Asian Championships.
The 2017 Arjuna Awardee now heads into his first Olympic campaign hoping to put forward a good show with his team.
Amoj Jacob (Men’s 4*400m relay)
The young sprinter from Delhi first shot into national fame when his double medal haul at the 2016 Asian Junior Championships saw the country take notice. Further success followed as he took gold at the Asian Championship in the 4*400m relay the following year.
Having won gold in the 800m race and silver in the 4*400m relay, Jacob announced himself as a promising prospect for Indian athletics. The 23-year old’s debut Olympic campaign will see him participate in the 4*400m relay event, and he will hope to replicate the performances from his Asian Championship campaigns.
Sandeep Kumar (Men’s 20km walk)
Sandeep Kumar had never even heard of race walking until he joined the army. Kumar set a national record in his 20km race walking at the National Open Race-Walking Championship, Ranchi in 2021, to book his seat for the Tokyo Olympics. Kumar had previously set the national record by breaking Basant Rana’s 3:56:48 timing set at the 2012 Olympics, when he bettered it by clocking 3:56:22 at the IAFF World Race Walking competition held in China in 2014.
The Tokyo Olympics will be Kumar’s second Olympic campaign after an unsuccessful 50km event in the 2016 Rio Olympics where he finished 35th. Kumar would be hoping to better his Rio performance as he marches on towards Tokyo.
Rahul Rohilla (Men’s 20km Walk)
Rohilla was the fifth Indian to qualify for the racewalking event at the Tokyo Olympics.
He had a stellar national campaign in early 2021 which helped him book his maiden Olympic seat.
Going into his first Olympics, albeit without a lot of international experience, Rahul will want to have an impressive first Olympic stint.
Priyanka Goswami (Women’s 20km Walk)
When Goswami put in a solid performance at the nationals in early 2021, not only did the youngster book a place for herself at the Tokyo Olympics, but she also won the championship and went on to set a new national record with a time of 1:28:45.
A two-time national champion (2017, 2020), Goswami will look forward to a successful Olympic campaign.
Bhawna Jat (Women’s 20km Walk)
Having taken up the sport at a young age, Jat, a former national record holder, set a personal best record timing at the National Open Championship in early 2020 to cement her place at the Tokyo Olympics.
A junior champion at the zonal and national levels, Bhawna made the ultimate sacrifice of giving up her studies to concentrate on her sport, since her family couldn’t financially support both. A strong Olympic result will definitely rake in results for all the sacrifices she and her family put in all those years ago.
KT Irfan (Men’s 20km Walk)
Hailing from Malappuram, Kerala, Irfan was introduced to sport by a national-level competing friend. Although Irfan wasn’t hooked on to sport right away, the sport helped him get a college and a stay at the SAI, which gave Irfan the much needed motivation to take up the sport seriously.
His performance at the 2011 National Games saw him get a call up to the national camp. The training at the camp had an immediate impact on the young Keralite as he won silver at the National Athletic Championships and gold at the Open Nationals. The following year saw Irfan put in a record timing at the Federation Cup to take gold and qualify for his maiden Olympics at the 2012 London Games.
Thrown into the international spotlight, Irfan, even though he wasn’t ready, put in stellar performance and set a national record – which holds till today – by finishing 10th. Irfan put on a brave show at the 2014 Asian Games as well, finishing just outside the podium places and although he qualified for his second Olympics in 2016, an injury saw him having to miss out the event. Irfan returned with a bronze winning performance at the 2017 Asian Race Walking Championships.
Irfan became the first Indian track and field athlete to qualify for the 2020 summer Olympics after a fourth-place finish at the 2019 Asian Race Walking Championships. Almost a decade after his first Olympic venture, Irfan will look towards securing a medal using all his experience.
Dutee Chand (Women’s 100m and 200m)
The ace sprinter, who hails from Odisha, comes from a family of weavers and only took up the sports after being inspired by her elder sister, who was a national level athlete. Chand became an overnight sensation when she went on to become the national champion at the U-18 nationals in the 100m event. Further success followed as she took the 200m bronze at the 2013 Asian Championship and double gold (200m and 4*400m) at the 2014 Asian Junior Athletics Championships.
Although she clocked a national record (11.33s) in the 100m event at the 2016 Federation Cup National Athletics Championships, Chand was one-hundredth of a second short of an Olympic qualification berth. But the sprinter didn’t let this demoralise her and went on to break her own record at the XXVI International Meeting G. Kosanov Memorial in Kazakhstan a few months later to seal a maiden Olympic berth.
Although her first Olympic experience wasn’t a successful one, she went on the went silver in the 100m and bronze in the 200m events at the 2016 South Asian Games, and a bronze at the Asian Indoor Athletics Championships in Doha saw her round off a memorable year. Her double medal haul at the 2018 Asian Games was the country’s first in almost three decades. Chand went on to climb further heights by winning the 100m event at the 2019 Summer Universiade in Napoli, becoming the first Indian woman to win gold at the event.
As Chand heads into her second Olympic campaign, the road has been far from easy, with legal issues hassling her throughout her career. She has been at the centre of the hyperandrogenism controversy and has even faced backlash for being the country’s first homosexual athlete. In spite of all the hurdles, Chand continues to inspire youngsters throughout the country and continues to climb new heights with each event she participates in.
Avinash Sable (Men’s 3000m Steeplechase)
A Mandwa-born athlete who joined the Indian Army after finishing school. Avinash was first introduced to cross-country running during his time with the army in 2015 and it was there that his colleagues encouraged him to switch to steeplechase.
Although an ankle injury prevented Sable from qualifying for the 2018 Asian Games, he came back strongly to break the national record at the 2018 National Open Championships. He further went on to set a new national record at the 2019 Federation Cup, which also saw him qualify for the 2019 Asian Athletics Championships and the 2019 World Athletics Championship, in turn becoming the first male athlete to qualify for the event at the World Championships since Deena Ram in 1991. Sable went on to win silver at the Asian Athletics Championship in his debut international event. Later in 2019, he went on to break the national record, that he himself had set, at the World Championships heats. After qualifying for the finals at the World Championships, Sable, although finishing a disappointing 13th out of 16, saw himself qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.
Sable is riding high on confidence heading into his first Olympic campaign after a strong show at the 2020 Delhi Half Marathon, where he went on to create a new event record. As he goes into the Olympics being the first Indian to qualify for the event since 1952, he will be confident of a good show.
Neeraj Chopra (Men’s Javelin Throw)
The youngster from Haryana has taken the athletic field by storm with his performances in his short career to date. A member of the Indian Army, Chopra first shot into the limelight with his javelin throw gold medal at the 2016 South Asian Games. He followed it up with another gold at the 2016 IAAF World U20 Championships, setting a world junior record with an 86.48m throw.
Although Chopra faced disappointment when he missed out on a 2016 Rio Olympics berth, he bounced back with a gold at the 2017 Asian Athletic Championships. In his debut Commonwealth Games in 2018, Chopra became the first Indian to win the Javelin throw event at the Commonwealth Games and win gold on debut.
The youngster further went on to better his national record at the Doha Diamond League in 2018 and set a national record once again during his triumph at the 2018 Asian Games. Chopra will look to secure at least a medal when he competes in his very first Olympic Games, and the signs for the youngster are promising.
Shivpal Singh (Men’s Javelin Throw)
The Varanasi-based athlete has had a rollercoaster ride to the Olympic Games. Having won the Men’s Javelin Throw event at the 2016 Budapest Open, Singh finished a disappointing 8th in the 2018 Asian Games. However, he bounced back strongly from injury in 2018 to grab the silver at the 2019 Asian Athletics Championships and went on the win the gold at the Military World Games the same year.
His silver at the Asian Championships saw him book his maiden Olympic berth, and having been teamed alongside his highly rated compatriot Neeraj Chopra, Shivpal will have his work cut out at the Tokyo Olympics.
Murali Sreeshankar (Men’s Long Jump)
The 22-year-old youngster from Palakad took the entire nation by storm when he broke the national record at the 2018 National Open Athletics Championship in the long jump event, achieving a jump of 8.20m. His record-breaking performance saw him qualify for the 2019 Athletics Championship in Doha. Although he didn’t have a promising tournament, the international exposure helped Sreeshankar gain some much-needed valuable experience.
Sreeshankar, who has been involved with athletics since a very young age, was introduced to long jump by his father, and his current coach, S Murali, who himself was a former silver medallist at the South Asian Games. Sreeshankar’s mother is also a former athlete, having previously won the silver medal at the 1992 Asian Junior Athletics in the 800m event. With talent running in his genes, Sreeshankar was well set for a successful junior career, and was the state champion in the U10 50m and 100m events.
Sreeshankar’s 8.26m jump at the 2021 Indian Grand Prix not only saw him create a new national and Asian record but also secured him a seat at Tokyo 2020. Heading into his very first Olympics, Sreeshankar is confident of putting up a good show.
Tajinderpal Singh Toor (Men’s Shot Put)
The Punjab-based athlete was a big cricket fan growing up, but had to give up his love for cricket to follow shot put more seriously.
Toor’s switch was met with immediate success as he went on to win multiple state-level titles in the youth categories. The shot putter went on to win his first title at the 2016 Federation Cup which he followed up by defending his title the following year with a best throw of 20.40m.
Toor won his first international title at the Almaty Kosanov Memorial in 2017 and went on to win the silver at the 2017 Asian Championships, missing out on gold by three centimetres. He completed a hat-trick of Federation Cup titles with his third title in as many years. Although he had a rough 2018 Commonwealth Games, finishing eighth, Toor bounced back with a gold medal at the 2018 Asian Games, and went on to create a new national and Asian Games record with a throw of 20.75m
His good form continued in 2019 as he took gold at the Asian Championships, breaking his own national record. He now heads into his first Olympic Games riding high on confidence after a 21.49m throw at the Indian Grand Prix in 2021.
Kamalpreet Kaur (Women’s Discus Throw)
Hailing from Badal village in Punjab, Kaur was interested in sports rather than academics from a young age, and her school coach encouraged her to follow her passion which ended up with Kaur finishing fourth in her very first state meet. After turning professional in 2014, Kaur started training at the SAI facility in her village and the results soon began to show. After winning the U18 and U20 discus throw events at the National Championships in 2016, Kaur went on to take home a sixth-place finish at the World University Games in 2017.
Kaur took gold at the 2019 Federation Cup with a throw of 60.25m but went on to better than with a national record at the 2021 Federation Cup with a 65m throw. With her eyes set on the Tokyo Olympics, she wants to further create records, breach the 68m barrier, and have a stellar debut Olympic campaign.
Seema Punia (Women’s Discus Throw)
Punia hails from Sonipat, Haryana, and comes from a family of sportspersons, with her elder brothers invested into other sporting disciplines (wrestling and hockey). Punia started off with running and jumping but shifted to discus throw after the advice of her coaches.
Seema announced herself at the international stage in the 2002 World Junior Championships where she took home the bronze medal. She made her Olympic debut at the 2004 Games and finished 14th in her debut campaign. She went on to win the silver medal at the 2006 Commonwealth Games and hence, the hopes were high for the Haryana girl for the Asian Games that year, but she opted not to take part in the 2006 Asian Games due to personal reasons. The next few years saw Punia struggle with recurring injuries that saw her miss out the 2008 Olympics.
Punia made her comeback at the 2010 Commonwealth Games where she took the silver medal and further went on the finish 13th at the 2012 Olympics. She went on to secure a gold medal at the 2014 Asian Games and took silver at the Commonwealth Games in the same year.
With a bronze medal at the 2018 Asian Games along with a silver at the Commonwealth Games from the same year, Punia heads into her third and what could possibly be her final Olympic bout. She will be looking to finish strongly and give her illustrious career that missing Olympic medal.
Annu Rani (Women’s Javelin Throw)
The javelin throw record holder’s first javelin stick was one made out of bamboo. Supported by her brother through her initial stages, Rani soon began succeeding at the junior levels. She won the National Inter State Championship in 2014 with a throw of 58.83m, breaking the national record and qualifying for the Commonwealth Games in the process, which were scheduled to take place the same year. Rani finished a promising eighth in her first international event, and went on to take the bronze medal at the 2014 Asian Games.
Rani continued her rich form as she went on to break her own record at the 2016 National Athletics Championships and took silver at the 2016 South Asian Games. A bronze followed, as Rani finished third at the 2017 Asian Championships. She did one better in her 2017 Asian Championship result as she took silver in the 2019 edition along with bagging the silver medal at the Asian Athletics Championships that same year. The UP girl became the first Indian woman javelin thrower to qualify to the World Athletics Championships and won the bronze at the World Challenge event in 2019.
In 2021, Rani once again broke her national record to win gold at the 2021 Federation Cup with a 63.24m throw. Although she didn’t cross the 64m barrier to gain direct qualification for the Tokyo Games, Rani’s current world rank of 18 saw her secure her first Olympics berth.