How Birmingham 2022 fuelled dreams of rich Indian haul at Paris 2024

As success breeds more success, India will be hoping that the 61 medals that its athletes bagged at the recently-concluded Commonwealth Games in Birmingham will lead to its best-ever performance at the next Olympic Games in Paris in 2024.

What gives them the confidence to entertain such a dream is the fact that the country bagged 61 medals, just a few short of the 66 it had bagged at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast in 2018, without any contribution from shooting, which was not included in the Birmingham Games.

The shooters had contributed 16 medals to India’s Gold Coast tally of 66, and the fact that we came so close to matching it in Birmingham proves that Indian athletes have made great progress in other sports too and portends to a good haul in Paris.

India has usually done well in the Olympics after putting up a good show in the Commonwealth Games — like the 101-medal haul of CWG 2010 was followed by India claiming six medals at the London Olympics in 2012 — two silver and four bronze, which was India’s best performance in the Olympics till it was overhauled in Tokyo 2020 last year when India claimed seven medals, including Neeraj Chopra’s incredible gold in javelin throw.

The Tokyo 2020 performance followed closely after India’s third-place finish at Gold Coast CWG with 66 medals.

So, if shooting was part of Birmingham CWG, and had Indian shooters emulated their 2018 performance — not bettered, our 2022 CWG haul would have been its best ever since New Delhi in 2010. This gives the confidence that India can surpass its best-ever haul of seven medals at Tokyo 2020 in the next Olympics.

Of course, there is always a huge chasm in standard between the Commonwealth Games and the Olympics and Paris 2024 will be vastly superior to Birmingham 2022. While the Indian athletes are yet to qualify for Paris 2024 (the qualifying period mostly starts next year), dreams are usually built on a successful foundation provided by the county’s ever-imprvoing performance at Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games, which usually precede the big event.

In case of Paris 2024, what augurs well for India is that the Asian Games in Hangzhou have been postponed by a year to 2023, which presents our sportspersons a crucial chance to gauge their preparations for Paris 2024, as they compete against a tough field and make course corrections, if necessary.

So, how does Birmingham 2022 foretells India’s possible success at Paris 2024? The answer lies in a detailed analysis of India’s performance in Birmingham.

As said earlier, India’s rich medal haul at Birmingham came despite the absence of shooting, which points to the diversity in our success.

The most heartening aspect of India’s performance in Birmingham was the eight medals won in track and field with youngsters like steeplechaser Avinash Sable, triple jumpers Eldhose Paul and Abdulla Aboobacker, walkers Priyanka Goswami and Sandeep Kumar, javelin thrower Annu Rani, long jumper Murali Sreeshankar and high jumper Tejaswin Shankar stealing the show.

India’s eight-medal haul in athletics included the first ever gold in triple jump by Eldhose Paul, bettering the silver won by Mohinderpal Singh Gill in 1974.

The undoubted star for India in track and field was Avinash Sable who challenged the Kenyan hegemony in 3000m steeplechase, finishing second, losing the gold medal by 500th of a second.

Abraham Kibiwot, the gold medallist, presented a brave front but he had his heart in his mouth for a few seconds as Sable made a late charge to the finishing line virtually hanging onto the Kenyan runner’s shoulder.

Eldhose Paul (25), who led a 1-2 finish in triple jump, was the other big gain for India from track and field, one who could be further groomed into a medal winner at Paris. He hopped, skipped and jumped into history books as India’s first gold medallist in triple jump, finishing ahead of compatriot Abdulla Aboobacker.

Paul had the best effort of 17.03 metres for gold while Aboobacker finished with 17.02 to take the silver. India’s Praveen Chithravel finished fourth, narrowly missing the bronze medal.

Though Paul’s effort is nowhere close to Portuguese Olympic gold medallist Pedro Pichardo’s leap of 17.98 metres, he is surely a good prospect considering his age.

Tejaswin Shankar and Murali Sreeshankar too have proved that they are developing into world-class jumpers.

Neeraj Chopra’s Tokyo gold has added fire to the dreams of Indian athletes and one would not be surprised if India wins more than one medal in track and field in Paris. Chopra, who missed Birmingham 2022 due to an injury, will definitely be gunning for gold in 2024.

India have traditionally done well in wrestling and weightlifting at the Olympics and Birmingham 2022 proved that our medal contenders in these sports are well and truly on course for Paris 2024.

Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist Bajrang Punia did not have to exert any sinew in winning gold at Birmingham as did Tokyo silver medallist Ravi Kumar Dahiya, Deepak Punia and woman wrestler Vinesh Phogat, who will still be a top contender in her weight category despite the debacle in Tokyo.

Olympic medallist Sakshi Malik’s welcome return to form and the impressive performance of young grappler Naveen are gains from Birmingham that augur well for India as far as Paris 2024 is concerned.

In weightlifting, Mirabai Chanu, Jeremy Lalrinnunga and Achinta Shauli won gold in Birmingham with impressive performances despite the poor standard. Sanket Sargar won the silver, injuring himself in the process needing surgery. They will surely be contenders at Paris 2024 if they continue their growth trajectory in the next 18 months or so.

Chanu, who had lifted a total of 202 kg for her silver medal in Tokyo, managed 201 kg effortlessly in Birmingham to bag the gold.

Two-time Olympic medallist P.V. Sindhu also looks on course for another medal in Paris, going by her recent performance.

According to her coach Park Tae-Sang, she is working on improving her game further to be a contender for gold in Paris.

Sindhu has improved her defence in the last few years and added more deceptive shots to her repertoire to make her game more potent. A gold is missing from her Olympic medal collection and that is what she will be aiming for in Paris, said Park.

In men’s singles, Lakshya Sen grabbed the gold in Birmingham with a superb come-from-behind win in the final. He gave ample proof of his grit and determination which has taken him to the top 10 in the world. If he plans his path well and plays to his potential, India could expect a medal from him too.

Veteran table tennis star Achanta Sharath Kamal was India’s most successful athlete in Birmingham 2022 as he won four medals, including three gold.

His nascent partnership with young Sreeja Akula — which brought India a gold medal in mixed doubles — has enthused the coaches so much that they have already asked the 40-year-old to consider to further strengthening the partnership by playing more WTT events and building it up for Paris.

Sharath says he is definitely considering the Asian Games and would not be averse to adding Paris 2024 to his plans.

With their appetite whetted by the bronze for men and fourth place finish for women in Tokyo 2020, the hockey teams have done reasonably well after Tokyo, finishing third in the Pro League.

Though the women’s team came a cropper at the FIH Women’s World Cup, proper planning, right selection and more hard work by the players could see both the men’s and women’s hockey teams contending for medals in Paris 2024.

The men’s team’s 0-7 debacle against Australia in the final at Birmingham was a huge disappointment, but then, the team had lost 1-7 against the country in Tokyo before going on to win the bronze.

Overall, India’s tremendous performance in Birmingham 2022 is a good indicator of success in Paris, provided the government, sports administrators and the athletes and their support staff plan well and execute those plans properly.

Birmingham 2022 surely augurs well for India’s dreams of success in Paris in 2024.

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