Indian-origin athletes at Tokyo Olympics: Stanford graduate and a national champion’s son

Field hockey (3) will have the most athletes of Indian origin at Tokyo 2020 followed by table tennis (2). Tennis, wrestling and water polo will have one each.

By Abhishek Purohit
Picture by 2016 Getty Images

In sports, it’s not uncommon for athletes with roots from one country becoming naturalised citizens of another nation and represent their flag at major sporting events.

Very common in football and cricket, there are several other high-profile instances like California-born tennis player Naomi Osaka representing Japan and Michael Chang, with roots in Taiwan, playing under the USA flag.

Similarly, there will be several athletes of Indian origin representing their respective countries at the Tokyo Olympics.

Most of the athletes will be representing Canada (four) and the USA (three) in various disciplines while one of them will be playing for New Zealand at Tokyo 2020. It is a clear reflection of Indians migrating to those countries to seek greener pastures.

Field hockey (three) will have the biggest representation from athletes of Indian origin while table tennis will have a couple. Tennis, wrestling and water polo will have one Indian-origin participant each.

Here is a brief look at these Indian-origin Olympians who will be in action at the Tokyo Games.

Kanak Jha (USA, table tennis)

The youngest American to participate at Rio 2016, Kanak Jha is also the first Olympian from the USA who was born in the 2000s.

The 21-year-old American will compete in men’s singles and team table tennis events at Tokyo 2020.

Kanak Jha’s mother is from Mumbai while his software professional father was raised in Kolkata and Prayagraj.

Kanak Jha will play in his second Olympics at Tokyo.
Picture by 2019 Getty Images

Nikhil Kumar (USA, table tennis)

Hailing from San Jose, 18-year old Nikhil Kumar topped the USA table-tennis Olympics trials.

Nikhil Kumar’s father, a software professional, had moved to the USA from Kerala. Nikhil, who won the team gold at the 2019 Lima Pan American Games, plans to study computer science at Berkeley after the Tokyo Games.

Rajeev Ram (USA, tennis)

Born to immigrants from Bangalore in Colorado, the 37-year old Rajeev Ram won the mixed doubles silver with Venus Williams at Rio 2016.

Rajeev Ram won the Australian Open men's doubles in 2020 and the mixed doubles in 2019 and 2021. He will play men’s doubles with Frances Tiafoe at Tokyo 2020.

Amar Dhesi (Canada, wrestling)

Amar Dhesi’s father Balbir Singh Dhesi was a Greco Roman national champion in India before he migrated to Canada. His 25-year old son will, however, be competing in the 125kg freestyle category at Tokyo 2020.

Born in Surrey, British Columbia, Amar was also the 2014 junior world champion.

Heading into Tokyo 2020, Amar Dhesi seems to be in good form, having bagged the gold in his weight class at the 2021 Matteo Pellicone Ranking Series in Rome.

Sukhi Panesar (Canada, field hockey)

Sukhpal Singh Panesar will be participating in his second Olympics at Tokyo after Rio 2016. His younger brother Balraj also plays field hockey for Canada, and another brother Manjivan is also a hockey player.

Their love for the game comes from their father Balbir Singh Panesar, originally from a village near Ludhiana, Punjab.

Sukhi Panesar (in red) hails from a family of hockey players.
Picture by 2018 Getty Images

Keegan Pereira (Canada, field hockey)

The Mumbai-born Keegan Pereira began playing hockey at the age of six, learning from his father Reginald, who also played professional hockey with the legendary Indian Dhanraj Pillay.

Keegan Pereira’s younger brother Kevin is also a national-level hockey player. The 29-year old Keegan has also represented Canada at the Rio 2016 Olympics.

Gurpreet Sohi (Canada, water polo)

Born to Parm and Jatinder Sohi in British Columbia, Gurpreet Sohi led Canada to the water polo gold at the 2011 Youth Pan American Games.

The 26-year old majored in human biology at Stanford University, and has played for Canada at multiple water polo World Leagues and the 2018 water polo World Cup.

Jared Panchia (New Zealand, field hockey)

Jared Panchia’s great-grandfather migrated from India to New Zealand in the 1920s. His brother Arun has led New Zealand in field hockey. Another brother and sister also play the game, as did his parents.

The 27-year old from Auckland was part of the New Zealand hockey team that won silver at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.


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