Once it every four years, cricket takes a backseat to athletics, swimming, shooting, boxing and all the other sports that make up the Olympics.
But despite that, the Olympics — for India — are usually laced with disappointment. We don’t have any legends, except the hockey team, or world record breakers to remember and that usually means that despite all the hype, the event stays pretty much out of sight for most of us. The event is even now more about the United States, Russia, Australia, China and other such developed ‘sporting’ nations.
However, there have been a few performances that have allowed India to look forward to the sporting extravaganza. Here’s a list of veteran sports writer Ayaz Memon’s top ten Olympic performances:
1. Abhinav Bindra – Gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics
He is India’s first individual gold medallist at the Olympics. And truth to be told, it came out of the blue. He trained on his own and worked his way to a special, memorable triumph. At the three World Cups this year, Bindra has stayed within touching distance of the best shooters, and has been working away from the limelight with his coaches, Gaby Buhlmann and Heinz Reinkemeier. Expect him to peak around Olympics 2012 time. That’s the plan anyway.
2. Hockey – Gold at the 1936 Olympics
The Berlin Games were Dhyan Chand’s third and last Olympics at the age of 31. However, despite the Indian hockey team’s prowess — a 1-4 defeat against Germany in the warm-up games had set the alarm bells ringing. Some tinkering followed and by the time, the gold medal match was to be played, the team was in full flow. They beat Germany 8-1 to win the gold medal. In the same match, Dhyan Chand lost a tooth in a collision with Germany goalkeeper Tito Warnholtz. After returning to the field, Dhyan Chand reportedly told the players to “teach a lesson” to the Germans by not scoring. The Indians repeatedly took the ball to the German circle only to backpedal. Humiliation was complete. The hockey team have won 8 gold, 1 silver and 2 bronze medals in Olympics but this was probably their finest moment.
3. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore – Silver at the 2004 Olympics
India’s shooters are now a major force around the world. But there was a time when they were talented but not medal contenders. All that changed on August 17, 2004, when Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore won a silver medal in men’s double-trap shooting at the Olympic Games in Athens. That was the only medal India won at the Athens Games.
4. Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav – Bronze in 1952 / Sushil Kumar – Bronze in 2008
Khashaba Jadhav was independent India’s first individual Olympic medalist when he won the freestyle wrestling bronze medal at the 1952 Helsinki Games. For nearly half a century, his would remain the only individual medal for India at the Olympics until Leander Paes won a bronze in 1996. Sushil Kumar followed in KD Kadhav’s footsteps by winning a bronze medal in 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
5. Leander Paes – Bronze at the 1996 Olympics
You don’t expect Leander Paes to win a medal in the singles competition but he did and in some style. He even had Andre Agassi on the backfoot before the American found his game and victory.
6. Vijender Singh – Bronze at Beijing Olympics
The boy from Bhiwani has helped India script a boxing history that seems almost impossible to comprehend till a few years back. Indians are known to be skillful but boxing requires more than just skill and Vijender led the way with a remarkable performance.
7. Karnam Malleswari — Bronze in 2000
For a while, Indian weightlifting was on the upswing. Just like shooting, there was a lot of talent and were winning at the Asian level too. Malleswari’s bronze was a sign of how perhaps the Indian weightlifters had arrived on the world scene too. But then things went wrong with drugs scandals hitting the sport.
8. Milkha Singh — Fourth place in 400m in 1960
The Flying Sikh was a symbol for Indian athletics for years after the event. Even though he failed to get a medal by a whisper, his legend was already in place. In the final, he set off strongly but was overhauled and finished in fourth place, this being a decision that required a photo-finish. His time was 45.6 seconds. All the top finishers had broken the world record.
9. PT Usha — Fourth place in 400m hurdles in 1984
She is regarded as one of the greatest athletes India has ever produced and is often called the “queen of Indian track and field”. She is nicknamed Payyoli Express. And all the fame comes from two major performances – In almost a repeat of 1960, there was a nail-biting photo finish for the third place. Usha lost the bronze by a mere 1/100th of a second. The other performance came at the 10th Asian Games in Seoul in 1986, where she won 4 gold and 1 silver medal in the track and field events.
10. Football — Fourth place in 1956
India first met hosts Australia, winning 4–2 with Neville D’Souza becoming the first Asian to score a hat-trick in the Olympics and also making India the first Asian team to reach the Olympic semi-finals. They lost 4–1 to Yugoslavia, and lost the third place play-off match 3–0 to Bulgaria. They never again reached such heights.