With a line of world No. 1s in their contingent, Indians were expecting to win medals in double figure at the Tokyo Games.
Ironically, the handful of medals that the country has been assured of, have come from the unranked players. The No. 1s in shooting, boxing and archery have returned empty handed.
Why is this happening? London Games bronze medallist in 10m air rifle event, Gagan Narang feels the pressure of expectations from No. 1s is higher, compared to an unranked player. “When you are top-ranked in an event, nobody expects anything less than a gold from you. It somewhere plays on your mind. When I used to shoot, I always made sure to put full focus and attention on building a perfect technique under pressure. If that yielded results, it was fine, but the focus was never about rankings and result in the lead-up to the Olympics,” Gagan told TOI.
“The shooters were ranked No. 1s, but the kind of preparation, in terms of facing tough competition, they should have got, was not possible due to Covid restrictions,” Gagan added.
Brigadier (retd) Muralidharan Raja, former secretary general of now-disaffiliated IABF, agreed with the Olympic medallist. “The rankings our athletes had got were based on the points system counted two years ago. I feel none of the No. 1s got a chance to defend their ranking at the circuit. Badminton players like Saina and Sindhu have been on top of rankings and have played in the circuit to defend their position. Once you do that, you know what it takes to be No. 1 and how to face the challenge,” Raja said.
“In boxing, Amit Panghal’s top rank played a role in his defeat. Since the ranking wasn’t as per the actual assessment of the world boxers, many good boxers were unranked in Tokyo. In the draw, the top-ranked player gets a supposedly weaker opponent, and Amit also got a bye in the first round. In the second round, he got the Columbian Yuberjen Martinez, who wasn’t ranked here, but had won silver at Rio. Amit, despite being number one, didn’t know how to face the Columbian,” the former boxing administrator said. “Also, a favourite has more fear of losing than an underdog.”
Sports psychologist Amit Bhattacharjee, who had mentored gold medallist shooter Abhinav Bindra, feels a lot needs to be done to make Indian athletes stronger in their minds. He said the athletes can go as No. 1s and still win, but it will take a lot of meditation and practice.
“When Abhinav went to the Beijing Games as world champion, everybody said it wasn’t good for him. But we believed there is nothing as peaking of the mind. In physical sport one can have tired muscles, but a mind can be controlled with good meditation techniques. When the athletes were told that they were No. 1s, their minds registered their strengths and weaknesses scientifically analysing them. Since they saw the highs, during the training, they didn’t register why they shot good shots and how they got the bad ones. But if you meditate properly, you can overcome the challenges,” Bhattacharjee said.