Eyes firmly set on Paris 2024 - Hindustan Times
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Eyes firmly set on Paris 2024

ByRutvick Mehta, Birmingham
Aug 09, 2022 10:04 PM IST

Birmingham was just the starting point for many of India's biggest stars. The Olympics are the ultimate goal

The last time Indians won medals at a major multi-sport event, a majority of the medallists got entangled in the loopy celebratory chain of euphoria upon its conclusion, shutting off seasons and drifting away from training and competitions for months.

India's CWG 2022 contingent(SAI Media Twitter) PREMIUM
India's CWG 2022 contingent(SAI Media Twitter)

As the country welcomes home the 2022 Commonwealth Games (CWG) achievers, the hazard of that scenario repeating and its after-effects is manifold. Not only due to the sheer volume of medal winners that is way heftier than the seven from last year’s Tokyo Olympics, but for what’s in store in a couple of years’ time: the 2024 Paris Olympics.

The men and women with an eye on the prize in Paris, unsurprisingly, often alluded to that after their individual deeds of triumph to add to India’s collective uptick at the CWG. This was a moment to savour alright, the longer path of building on it with several key pitstops—none more significant than the Asian Games next year—far from its destination.

The shuttlers, who placed the three-gold cherry on the Indian medal cake on the final day, have the World Championships coming up in two weeks. Park Tae-Sang, the calming presence in PV Sindhu’s corner, is already working on making the two-time Olympic medallist a more refined version of her quality self for 2024. Leading up to the CWG, the coach dedicated four to five of their weekly sessions to Sindhu’s defensive game; her attacking prowess, he said, had been top-notch anyway. For Paris and against players whom Sindhu has struggled to get past of late, the weapon to be fine-tuned will be the motion drop. “In two years in Olympics, if Sindhu masters the trick drop shot and motion drop shot, we can do well in Paris," Park said. The Olympic qualification cycle next year, he added, would be crucial.

So it will be for the hockey teams as well, with the Asian Games offering a direct spot for the Olympics. The men’s team has a World Cup before that in January next year, where the Tokyo bronze medallists’ takeaways from a steady Pro League campaign to the wounding CWG final show against Australia will be put to test. The women, meanwhile, earned the medal they yearned for but still have issues of penalty corner and field goal chance conversions to fix. Janneke Schopman said she could go out of the box for the former, perhaps making her drag flickers train with the men’s specialists in the camp in Bengaluru.

The track and field of Alexander Stadium witnessed a few spectacular scenes from an Indian viewpoint—Avinash Sable’s steeplechase ace and the triple jump 1-2 first. It went a long way in making sure the absence of the leader of the pack, Neeraj Chopra, wasn’t overwhelmingly felt in Birmingham. That said, the reigning Olympic champion in javelin throw will continue to play that role heading into Paris and, prior to that, the World Championships next year. The rest will look to continue pushing their personal thresholds to join in, like Sable has vowed to do. CWG high jump silver medallist Murali Sreeshankar hasn’t wasted time getting down to it, up against a much stiffer field at the Monaco Diamond League on Wednesday.

Nikhat Zareen, though, doesn’t fancy getting back to the ring all too soon. After a hectic season, that began in January, saw her become the 52kg world champion in May and the 50kg CWG champion in August, a rest beckons. The pugilist, however, outlined this was but a solid starting step towards her ultimate quest for a medal at the 2024 Olympics in the lower weight division. Amit Panghal struggled to get over the mental scars of not being to do that in Tokyo. The CWG medal a year later can only be a soothing sign to regain his mind and boxing to the feel of champion.

Ditto for Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat, both rediscovering the touch on the mat and overcoming the physical and mental blocks after the Olympics in this CWG where they were hardly tested. Tokyo bronze medallist Bajrang highlighted his larger-picture target to grapple for that gold in Paris, knowing the bigger challenge will be to keep his body in shape wading through the World Championships in September and the Asian Games along the way. And trust Tokyo silver medallist Ravi Dahiya to go about his business with ridiculous nonchalance.

Mirabai Chanu, too, oozes similar confidence at present, the CWG 49kg gold being a mere formality for the Tokyo silver medallist weightlifter. That won’t be the case at the World Championships, an Olympic qualifying event, scheduled in December and the Asian Games. The other two lifting gold medallists may have a weight clash in the offing looking ahead to Paris. Jeremy Lalrinnunga, the 67kg champion, stated his intention of moving up to the 73kg, in which Achinta Sheuli won the CWG gold.

Paddler Sharath Kamal won three of them, the mixed doubles victory with Sreeja Akula coming as a surprise to even the serial medal collecter. Seated beside her after the final, Sharath revealed Sreeja's coach has been pushing him for a mixed doubles gig together in Paris. Sharath said he'd consider, banking on the Asian Games to give him a more definite picture. As Birmingham has shown, with this 40-year-old, nothing can ever be off the charts.

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