How Leander Paes' Atlanta medal inspired India's Olympic stars

India’s most decorated sportspersons describe how Leander Paes’ 1996 Olympics bronze medal led others to develop the self-belief within themselves that they can win medals at the Games.

Leander Paes with his 1996 Atlanta Olympics bronze medal.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

India’s most decorated sportspersons describe how Leander Paes’ 1996 Olympics bronze medal led others to develop the self-belief within themselves that they can win medals at the Games.

Abhinav Bindra

India’s only individual gold medallist at the Olympics (2008 Beijing Olympics 10m air rifle)

Leander’s success in Atlanta was a reminder that we had it in us to be the best. It reinforced many athletes’ belief and aspirations. It played a big part in the roadmap for India’s success in the Olympics. I hope more athletes take heart from what icons like him have established, and push to truly make India a sporting powerhouse.

 

Amit Panghal

2019 Boxing World Championships silver medallist

Leander Paes is an inspiration for all the athletes in our country. Making our country proud by winning that coveted medal way back at the 1996 Olympic Games, and taking part in seven successive editions of the Olympics over so many years is an incredible feat. As the perfect role model, he has defied age and has shown that if you can stay focused (on your goal), hungry (for success) and dedicated (to what you do), then nothing is impossible.

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A. Sharath Kamal

Nine-time national table tennis champion and four-time Commonwealth Games gold medallist

I grew up seeing Leander Paes’ energy on the court. I vividly remember the chest thumps. I even tried it sometimes myself. Winning that medal at the 1996 Olympics was out of this world and that makes all of us dream for such miracles to happen. When ranked close to 100 in the world, he got that bronze, which makes every player aspire for that Olympic medal. I met him first time in person at the 2004 Athens Games. A great inspiring personality. I was so shattered when they lost in the semis and then the match for third and fourth positions, too. In 2008, I was there for almost every match of his. He is inspiring all of us even now.

A. Sharath Kamal.   -  K. Pichumani

 

Bajrang Punia

2018 Wrestling World Championships silver medallist and 2013 and 2019 World Championships bronze medallist

Leander Paes is a superb athlete. We have very few individual medals at the Olympics. When Paes won bronze at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, a lot of Indian athletes started dreaming of winning medals at the Games. He won that medal at a time when we had only one medal (since Independence) to inspire several athletes. After him, K. Malleswari in 2000, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore in 2004, Abhinav Bindra in 2008 (he won the first individual gold medal for the country) and it went on. You learn a lot from a top athlete who has represented the country in seven Olympics. One cannot praise Paes enough for what he has done. Such athletes are born once in several centuries. I also admire him and follow him as a role model. Like him, I also want to win a medal in the Olympics.

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B. Sai Praneeth

2019 Badminton World Championships bronze medallist

Paes is one of those inspirational figures for many Indian athletes. An Olympic medal is always special and he winning it 24 years ago is something which always made us proud and try to dream big. Yes, as I chase the goal of an Olympic medal, Paes truly stands as an inspirational figure.

Gagan Narang

2012 London Olympics 10m air rifle bronze medallist

Leander Paes is a legend. It is unheard of that a tennis professional has a top-flight career spanning three decades. It is a testament to his dedication and passion for the game. It is phenomenal how he has held on to his fitness levels, kept improving, and is still keen to have another shot at an Olympic medal after winning one in 1996.

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P. V. Sindhu

2019 Badminton World Championships gold medallist and 2016 Olympics silver medallist

Leander Paes winning the singles bronze in tennis at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics is not an ordinary feat. I was just one-year-old then. But as I grew up, I came to know more about that historic feat, which many told me inspired the younger generation to take up tennis in a big way. I had seen this kind of craze for badminton after I won the 2016 Rio Olympics silver. So, winning bronze when the expectations and support system were not on the same plane as they are now is what makes Paes’ feat more inspirational.

P. V. Sindhu.   -  K. Pichumani

 

Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore

2004 Athens Olympics silver medallist in double-trap shooting

Lee is a great example for every young sportsperson to follow. His passion and commitment for his country and his sport drive him to work hard. He has broken self-limiting boundaries which challenge anyone who sets out to achieve goals. He established new standards; the Atlanta Olympic medal was one such mark.

Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore.   -  R. V. Moorthy

 

Sushil Kumar

2012 London Olympics wrestling silver medallist and 2008 Beijing Olympics bronze medallist

Leander Paes is an iconic figure in the sporting history of our country. His bronze medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics gave a new direction to sports in our country (and after that we started winning medals in every edition of the Games). After his medal, other sportspersons too developed the self-belief within themselves that they can win medals at the Olympics. He is a fine human being and has some great qualities as an athlete. I am in regular touch with him and I get a lot of motivation from his long and glorious career and exemplary work ethics.

Vijay Kumar

2012 London Olympics silver medallist in 25m rapid-fire pistol

I was nine-years-old when Leander won the Atlanta Olympic medal. I was not even aware of sports at that time. Later on, once I got into the sports, I learnt about him and his achievements. He has done a lot for Indian sports. The Olympic medal was the beginning of many achievements.