The Indian Olympics story - few successes and narrow misses

August 12th, 2008 - 5:13 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Abhinav Bindra

New Delhi, Aug 12 (IANS) It has been a long painful 108-year wait before India got its first individual Olympics gold medal Monday. The world’s second most populous nation may be emerging as an economic superpower but it still lags behind in sporting excellence. When Abhinav Bindra climbed the top podium Monday, a billion people’s heart swelled in pride even as they fervently hoped it was just the beginning of a new era in Indian sports.

Bindra’s triumph in 10 metre Air-Rifle brought back fond memories of the athletes who showed courage and grit against all odds to compete and succeed in the world’s biggest sporting event.

India first participated in the Paris Olympics of 1900. Norman Pritchard, an Anglo-Indian, bagged two silver medals in 200 metres and 200 metres hurdles. However, it cannot be regarded a truly Indian medal as official records list Pritchard as having competed for Great Britain in 1900.

After a gap of 20 years, India again participated with two athletes in 1920 Antwerp Olympics before fielding eight members in Paris four years later.

The first official representation though was in 1928 Amsterdam, after the formation of Indian Olympic Association a year back.

The Indian Hockey team participated for the first time in Amsterdam and won the gold medal under the captaincy of Jaipal Singh. For the next six successive Olympics upto the 1956 Melbourne Games, the nation retained the hockey gold with legend Dhyan Chand playing a major role in the first three wins.

It was definitely the golden era of Indian Hockey in Olympics, during which India played 24 matches and won all, scored 178 goals and conceded only 7. India later won two more gold medals in hockey — 1964 Tokyo and 1980 Moscow.

Apart from the eight gold medals, one silver medal and two bronzes in hockey, bantamweight freestyle wrestler Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav gave India its first individual medal, winning bronze in the 1952 Helsinki Games.

It took another 44 years for the next individual medal to come, till Leander Paes broke the jinx by clinching bronze in Atlanta (1996). Karnam Malleswari won a bronze in weightlifting in 2000 Sydney before Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore got India its first silver in double trap shooting at Athens four years ago.

In showpiece track and field, apart from Pritchard, five Indians and the 4×400m women’s relay team have reached the finals of their events. The first was Henry Rebello in 1948 London (Triple Jump), then Milkha Singh 1960 Rome (400 metres, fourth), Gurbachan Singh Randhawa 1964 Tokyo (100 m hurdles, fifth), Sriram Singh 1976 Montreal (800m, seventh) and P.T Usha in 1984 Los Angeles (400m hurdles, fourth) who unfortunately lost her bronze by 1/100th of a second. The four-member squad of the 400m women’s relay Usha, M.D. Valsamma, Vandana Rao and Shiny Abraham reached seventh place the same year.

Besides, the men’s football team also got fourth place in the Melbourne Olympics by going down 0-3 to Bulgaria in the bronze medal play-off.

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