Five athletes who can lead India’s charge at future Olympics

Gaurav Baliyan and Vivek Sagar Prasad can light up the next decade for India. 

By Saurabh Shankar

2019 saw PV Sindhu winning her and the country’s first BWF World Championships gold medal while boxing legend MC Mary Kom won an historic eighth medal at the AIBA Women’s World Boxing Championships.

India also recorded their most successful season in shooting, with as many as 15 shooters winning quotas for the 2020 Tokyo Games.

But what about the next generation of Indian Olympians?

Here are five Indian athletes who could light up the next decade and win many more laurels for the country.

Gaurav Baliyan

The grappler from Uttar Pradesh has been making waves in the wrestling fraternity with his splendid performances, comfortably winning the gold medal at the 2019 South Asian Games. The youngster also bagged a gold medal at the National Championships in Jalandhar, beating the two-time Commonwealth Wrestling Championships medallist Parveen Rana.

The 18-year-old plies his trade in the 74kg category - the same as two-time Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar. Those are some big shoes to fill, but given Baliyan’s brilliant track record and incredible potential, one can expect big things in the coming years.

Sumit Nagal

The 22-year-old Sumit Nagal was the talk of the town at the 2019 US Open when he gave tennis legend Roger Federer a run for his money. The young Indian managed to win the first set in that match which prompted praise from the Swiss maestro, who said in the post-match press conference that Nagal “is going to have a solid career.”

 Sumit Nagal as snapped during his US Open game against Roger Federer

Nagal performed admirably in India’s Davis Cup games against Pakistan, winning both his match without dropping a single set.

The tennis player from Haryana, who won the Wimbledon Boys’ Doubles title in 2015, is just getting started in his sporting career and will be one to look out for in the next few years.

Deepak Punia

The young grappler mesmerised all at the 2019 World Wrestling Championships in Nur Sultan, reaching the final with convincing victories in all his bouts. Deepak Punia suffered an injury in the semifinals which caused him to pull out of the final, but he nevertheless earned a quota for the Tokyo 2020 Games by virtue of finishing as runner-up.

Deepak Punia also won gold at the Junior World Championships in 2019, becoming the first Indian to win a medal at that competition in 18 years. His muscular physique and strength has been too hot to handle for most of his wrestling compatriots; and Indian fans will hope for the same to continue in the years to follow. 

Vivek Sagar Prasad

The past few months have been brilliant for the Indian men’s hockey team, with that unbeaten European tour followed up by a 11-3 aggregate win over Russia to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Games.

At the helm of affairs during those games was energetic midfielder Vivek Sagar Prasad, who has played over 50 times for the country. The 19-year-old has been nominated for the FIH Rising Star of the Year award for his stellar performances in the past season. Marshalling the Indian midfield with captain Manpreet Singh, Prasad is in the right company to augment his career to greater heights in the decade to come. 

Elavenil Valarivan

She might be just 20 but Elavenil Valarivan is already the top-ranked women’s 10m Air Rifle shooter in the world. The young shooter from Tamil Nadu has had an incredible season thus far, winning her ever ISSF World Cup gold medal in Rio a few months back.

Valarivan followed that up with another gold at the ISSF World Cup final in Putian to add to her medal tally, which includes an Asian Championships junior bronze medal from 2018.

Training alongside Olympic bronze medallist Gagan Narang at his academy, it is to be seen how far Valarivan can go in her sporting career.