Setting sights on Rio

India’s hero… Sushil Kumar (right) grapples with Tatsuhiro Yonemitsu of Japan in the 66kg freestyle final at the London Olympics. Sushil showed tremendous courage and determination.-PTI India’s hero… Sushil Kumar (right) grapples with Tatsuhiro Yonemitsu of Japan in the 66kg freestyle final at the London Olympics. Sushil showed tremendous courage and determination.

With its best haul of medals in the Olympics so far, India promises to do better in the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro. By Kamesh Srinivasan.

It was India’s best performance in the Olympics. After achieving the gold standard in Beijing thanks to the rifle ace, Abhinav Bindra, India slipped a bit in London, but the six medals, including two silver, did shine brightly.

India’s performance in the 2012 Olympics was not unexpected. In fact, the nation fell below its expected standards.

There were many potential champions such as the world No.1 woman archer, Deepika Kumari, and the Asian Games gold medallist double-trap shooter, Ronjan Sodhi, along with a clutch of others who returned empty handed. However, the performances of Vijay Kumar and Gagan Narang (shooting), Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt (wrestling), Mary Kom (boxing) and Saina Nehwal (badminton) thrilled the entire nation.

The haul of six medals was a rich one indeed for a nation that had not won a medal in three successive Olympics in Los Angeles (1984), Seoul (1988) and Barcelona (1992).

Doing India proud... wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt kisses the bronze medal on the podium.-PTI

After tennis star Leander Paes won the singles bronze in Atlanta in 1996 and Karnam Malleswari the women’s weightlifting bronze in Sydney in 2000, Indian sport began to believe in itself a lot better than before. Thereafter, when shooter Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore won the silver medal in double-trap in Athens (2004), the birth-place of the Modern Olympics, Indian sport took another big step forward. Sushil Kumar and boxer Vijender Singh won bronze medals to complement the gold by Abhinav Bindra in Beijing (2008) to underline India as an emerging sporting nation.

The followers of Indian sport had grown tired chronicling the eight gold medals won in hockey, and it was time to rewrite the history of Indian sport at the Olympics.

The hero of India was undoubtedly Sushil Kumar. The former world champion had built on his performance in the Beijing Games to become the first Indian to win two individual Olympic medals. His courage and determination when on the brink of defeat was only matched by fellow wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt, who came through the repechage to grab the bronze medal.

For someone who had spent many months in South Africa recovering from a surgery, after he had given a hint of his potential by making the quarterfinals in the Beijing Games, it was a tremendous effort by Yogeshwar. Vijay Kumar was the dark horse in the rapid-fire pistol event that was unique as it featured all the six finalists starting on zero and competing in a knockout format. This rule was later incorporated in all other shooting events by the world body following the remarkable success of the format at the London Olympics.

It was pure nerves of steel and his fierce focus on the target that helped Army man Vijay Kumar to win the silver medal in the event where world champion Alexei Klimov of Russia failed to win a medal after shooting a world record in qualification. Vijay was capable of winning the gold, but in the last series, his opponent Leuris Pupo of Cuba took an unbeatable lead.

Gagan Narang, who won the bronze, and gold medallist Alin George Moldoveanu of Romania greet each other at the end of the 10m air-rifle event at the Olympic Games.-PTI

It may be recalled that the shooters fire at five targets in one sequence within four seconds in the final of the rapid-fire pistol. Vijay did it eight times and had started with a perfect five. In the qualifiers, they had to shoot 60 in all, in 8-second, 6-second and 4-second series.

Unlike Vijay, who emulated Rathore in winning an Olympic silver medal on debut, Gagan Narang was better known, thanks to his exploits on the international stage (the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, Asian Championships, World Cups and World Cup Finals). A world record holder with a perfect 600 against his name, Narang had also won a bronze medal at the World Championship.

He came close to winning the gold but could not get the best shots towards the end. His bronze medal was a big breakthrough after the heartbreak he suffered at the Beijing Games when he missed the final with a score of 595 in air rifle. Others had made it to the final with that score on the count-back then. Bindra had won the gold with a qualification score of 596 as he shot a brilliant final. Narang’s 598 in qualification in London showed his strong character and his ability to deliver a high score on the big stage.

Nerves of steel... shooter Vijay Kumar with his Olympic silver medal arrives to a warm welcome at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi.-PTI

Five-time world champion Mary Kom was the toast of India in women’s boxing. A mother of twin sons, the Manipuri fought her way to the bronze medal. She was outclassed in the semifinals by the eventual champion, Nicola Adams of Britain. By beating the former world champion Karolina Michalczuk of Poland in the first round, Mary Kom, despite being past her prime, had promised to win a medal. She sealed it by beating Maroua Rahali of Tunisia in the second round.

Saina Nehwal had asserted herself as one of the top three women badminton players in world in the last few years, though she did not have a medal from the Asian Games or the World Championship or the All England Championship to speak for her prowess. The Hyderabad lass finally won an Olympic medal, though she was lucky to some extent.

Fortune favours the brave, and the Chinese Wang Xin was leading 21-18, 1-0 in the contest for the third place when she retired with a knee injury, handing the bronze medal to Saina. With its best haul of medals in the Olympics so far, India promises to do better in the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.