75th Independence Day: Tracking India's glorious moments at the Olympics

From the gold rush in hockey to the near-misses, here are some of India's glorious moments at the Olympics as the nation celebrates its 75th Independence Day.

Balbir Singh, India's centre forward (running left foreground) is seen after he had beaten the British Custodian D.L.S. Bordie (on ground) during the final of the Olympic Hockey at Wembley stadium on August 12, 1948. India won 4-0.   -  The Hindu

August 12, 1948: The triumph of the Indian hockey team, led by Kishan Lal with the likes of Balbir Singh Sr., Randhir Singh Gentle and Leslie Claudius in its ranks, in London in 1948 was a defining moment for the newly independent country. India won gold with a resounding 4-0 win over Great Britain in the final after it had emerged unscathed from the group stage with convincing wins over Austria, Argentina and Spain. It beat the Netherlands 2-1 in the semifinals.

July 24, 1952: India, with Balbir Singh Sr., Randhir Singh Gentle and Leslie Claudius forming the crux of the side, was seeded directly into the quarterfinals. It had to play only three matches before taking its place at the top of the podium in Helsinki. The side pitted against Austria initially, easily won 4-0, before taking out Great Britain 3-1 in the semis and the Netherlands 6-1 in the final.

July 23, 1952: A day before the gold medal in hockey, Independent India struck its first-ever individual medal in the Olympic Games, as Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav wrestled his way to the bronze medal in the freestyle (bantamweight, 57kg) category at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. He participated in London in 1948 too. But having trained in mud pits back home, he was overwhelmed by the feel of the mat and finished sixth in the flyweight (49-51kg) category.

December 6, 1956: A sixth successive Olympic medal in hockey for India (the third in a row since Independence) came in Melbourne. As usual, India cruised through the league stage, beating Afghanistan (14-0), the United States (16-0) and Singapore (6-0) in style. However, it was tough in the semifinals, as India put it across Germany by a solitary goal. In the final again, the going was never easy as it played Pakistan before Gentle, playing in his third Olympics, put the match beyond Pakistan's reach with a 38th-minute strike.

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September 6, 1960: A red-letter day for Indian athletics as the legendary Milkha Singh proved what a classy quarter-miler he was even as he missed a medal in the men’s 400m in Rome by the proverbial whisker. In the final, the flying Sikh was drawn in an outside lane. Although he was slow to start with, he came roaring back midway through and was always in contention before being involved in a bunched finish along with three others. The photo finish had to be employed for the first time in Olympic history to determine the winner. After a long period of suspense, American Otis Davis was declared the winner in 44.90s ahead of Carl Kaufmann (Germany), who was also credited with the same time. Much to his agony, Milkha was left in fourth place behind South African Malcolm Spense by a hundredth of a second, 45.60s to 45.50s. Reflecting on the race later, Milkha himself would admit to slowing down at the 250m mark, unsure whether he could sustain his pace till the end. This proved to be a costly error in the end. Milkha passed away on June 18 this year.


Milkha Singh at the 1960 Rome Olympics   -  The Hindu Archives


October 23, 1964: India's reign in hockey at the Olympics had ended in Rome in 1960 when it was knocked off the pedestal by Pakistan in the final. But the Indians showed remarkable resilience to get back to the top in Tokyo 1964, defeating their arch-rival Pakistan in the gold medal match. In the semifinals, India thrashed Australia 5-1. In the final, Mohinder Lal's winner sealed the deal.

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July 29, 1980: The US-led boycott of the Moscow Olympics crippled the hockey competition, with nine of the 12 qualified teams pulling out. Cuba, Tanzania and Poland were invited to play alongside India, Spain and the Soviet Union to make up the required six teams to conduct the tournament. India went on to pick up its eighth gold medal, having been relegated to the bronze medal position in Munich in 1972 and a humiliating seventh place in Montreal 1976. With the introduction of the astroturf in 1976, hockey had a new world order. In that sense, the Moscow gold was a welcome relief, gained after a hard-fought 4-3 win over Spain in the final.

August 8, 1984: It was the foresight of her coach, O.M. Nambiar, which propelled P. T. Usha to a near world-beater. Having started as a sprinter, specialising in the 100m and 200m, Usha had moved to the 400m a year before 1984 Los Angeles. In the run-up to the Games, the Kerala athlete had her focus on the 400m hurdles, which made its debut in the quadrennial extravaganza.

Reaching the host city days before the start of the Games, Usha had the opportunity to race in a meet where she mowed down the challenge of American favourite Judi Brown. All of a sudden, the spotlight was on the Indian, then only 20.

All eight finalists had a crack at creating history. The start was marred by Australian Debbie Flintoff, who moved prematurely. Finally, as the race got underway, the class of Moroccan Nawal El Moutawakel was there for all to see, even as the Indian and three others kept themselves in the hunt.

In the home straight, Moutawakel was in front, followed by Romanian Cristieana Cojacaru and Usha, well within medal position. With hardly 30m remaining, Brown suddenly shot ahead from the outside lane to bag the silver medal. A photo-finish ensued for the bronze. Usha came fourth behind Cojacaru by one-hundredth of a second.

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August 3, 1996: Leander Paes holds the record of figuring in seven straight Games, starting Barcelona 1992 to Rio 2016, the most by an Indian and any tennis player. However, his shining moment came in Atlanta, often referred to as the Centennial Games. The Indian was not among the 16 seeded in the men’s singles, but he made steady progress through the top half of the draw before gaining a place in the semifinals against top-seeded Andre Agassi. Paes started well against Agassi but was eventually overwhelmed 6-7, 3-6. But he still had the chance to win the bronze medal against Brazilian Fernando Meligeni. Paes lost the first set rather tamely and was a break down in the second. In the fourth game of the crucial set, the Indian was again close to being broken but recouped well to win 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 and bring home India's first Olympic individual medal in 44 years.

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


September 19, 2000: The credit of opening a new chapter in the history of Indian sport belongs to weightlifter Karnam Malleswari, who, at the Sydney Games in 2000, became the first woman athlete to win an Olympic medal. Competing in the 69kg category, Malleswari, who had started her career in the 54kg class in 1990, put on a brilliant show, lifting 110kg in snatch and 130kg in clean and jerk for a total of 240kg. She finished third behind China’s Lin Weining and Hungary’s Erzsebet Markus.

August 18, 2004: Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, who later became the Union Minister of Sports, became the country’s first individual silver medal winner at the Athens Olympics.

Rathore came fifth at the end of the qualifying round, which helped him progress to the final of the men’s double trap. In the final, the Indian shot a terrific 44 and ensured the silver as he found bullseye in both of the last round targets, fired simultaneously.

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August 11, 2008: Abhinav Bindra achieved what no Indian had done until then - winning India's first individual Olympic gold medal. Participating in his third Games, Bindra, in Beijing, was at his best as he shot down the men’s 10m air rifle gold with a total of 700.5 points, beating local favourite Zhu Qinan (699.7) and Finland’s Henri Hakkinen (699.4).

August 20, 2008: India won a bronze medal in wrestling for the second time after a gap of 56 years, as Sushil Kumar grappled his way through the 66kg class and took the third position.

The Indian, directly seeded into the pre-quarterfinals, had a tough time as he lost to Ukrainian Andriy Stadnik. But he got a chance in repechage as Stadnik advanced to the final, winning his remaining two bouts.

Four years later in London, Sushil became the first Indian to win two individual Olympic medals as he improved his Beijing bronze to silver in his weight category, losing to Japan’s Tatsuhiro Yonemitsu in the final. He achieved the feat on August 12, 2012.

August 22, 2008: Vijender Singh kept his cool and subdued Carlos Gongora of Ecuador 9-4 in the quarterfinals to assure India its first Olympic boxing medal, a bronze. Vijender had finished 17th at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

August 3, 2012: With medals in two successive Games, the Indian shooters were expected to deliver again in London 2012. And they did just that, the soft-spoken Vijay Kumar taking silver in the 25m rapid-fire pistol event. The Indian army shooter finished second to Cuban Leuris Popo.

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July 30, 2012: Gagan Narang was unlucky to miss out on the final of the men’s 10m air rifle event in Beijing 2008, after being placed ninth at the end of the preliminary round. But in London 2012, he made amends and delivered a bronze.

August 8, 2012: Women’s boxing was introduced at the London Games. However, with competition limited to only three weight categories, India’s multiple world champion, M. C. Mary Kom, who normally boxes in the light flyweight category (48kg), was compelled to compete in the flyweight class (51kg). This meant she went up against heavier opponents.

Still, the classy boxer braved it out superbly and came off with the bronze medal after losing out to eventual champion Nicole Adams (Great Britain) on points.

August 4, 2012: It was another feather in the cap of Saina Nehwal as she took the bronze medal of women’s singles in badminton, fighting through a tough draw after being only ranked 40th for the event.

Saina lost to Wang Yihan (China) in the semifinals. In the bronze medal match against World No. 2 Wang Xin, Saina looked to be in trouble before luck turned in her favour. Xin leading 21-18, 1-0 was forced to retire from the match and this left the Indian with the bronze.

August 11, 2012: The pictures appearing in Indian newspapers on the morning of August 12, 2012, did show a gory picture of a bruised Yogeshwar Dutt, blood oozing out of his wounds, but still celebrating his bronze medal success in the 60 kg class of men’s freestyle wrestling in London 2012. Yogheswar’s win marked the sixth medal for India at the Games, its best-ever showing in the Olympics.

August 1, 2020: P.V. Sindhu beat China’s He Bingjiao 21-13, 21-15 to clinch the Olympic bronze medal in Tokyo. With this win, she is now the first Indian woman to clinch back-to-back medals at the Olympics and the second Indian after Sushil Kumar to win two individual Olympic medals. She had won a silver in the last Olympics in Rio after losing in the final to Carolina Marin.


August 19, 2016: India had two players in the draw of women’s singles in badminton, the London 2012 bronze medallist Saina Nehwal, seeded fifth, and P.V. Sindhu, ranked ninth.

Saina fell early, but Sindhu fought her way to the final, where she met World No. 1 Carolina Marin (Spain). In the final, the Indian won the first game 21-19, but Marin fought back to take the next two games 12-21, 15-21 and the gold medal.

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August 17, 2016: India was yet to open its medal account in Rio until Sakshi Malik won bronze in the 58kg category of women’s freestyle wrestling. The gritty grappler got to fight for bronze after she made the most of her chance through the repechage.

August 14, 2016: Ever since Dipa Karmakar won the bronze in the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, the first Indian woman gymnast to do so, she was looked upon as the next star in the making. In Rio, Dipa with her Produnova, a handspring double front vault, acknowledged as one of the toughest routines in the sport, did create waves but missed a podium finish, placing fourth. Her showing will remain one of the most creditable performances in Indian sports history.

July 24, 2021: Mirabai Chanu ensured that India began its Tokyo campaign on the right note, clinching silver in the 49kg class of women’s weightlifting. It was the first silver for the country from the sport and its second, after Karnam Malleswari’s bronze in Sydney 2000.

August 4, 2021: India’s third-ever boxing medal came from the enterprising Lovlina Borgohain in the women’s 69kg (welterweight) category. The Assam boxer came up with a bronze, after losing to World No. 1 Busenaz Surmeneli (Turkey) in the semifinals.

August 5, 2021: Ravi Kumar Dahiya was confidence personified through his entire campaign in the men’s 57kg category of men’s wrestling in Tokyo. He refused to give up. This fighting spirit helped the Haryana grappler clinch the silver.

Silver medalist India's Ravi Kumar Dahiya poses with his medal.   -  AFP


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August 5, 2021: India's men's hockey team won an Olympics medal after 41 years. A medal for the eight-time champion had eluded it through nine Olympic cycles, the gold in Moscow 1980 being the last won by the country. But the side was finally able to end the long drought, taking bronze at the expense of Germany, after trailing 1-3 at one stage.

August 6, 2021: The promise made by the captain, Rani Rampal, that her side would strive hard and return home with a medal, before leaving for Tokyo, almost turned prophetic. This, after, the Indian women’s hockey team was written off after three matches in the group stage, all of which it lost, had pushed even its ardent supporters into a state of melancholy.

After a bumpy start, India turned it around with wins against Ireland (1-0) and South Africa (4-3) and got into the quarterfinals, where it stunned Australia.

The team fought hard in the semifinals against Argentina before losing 2-1 and met Great Britain for the bronze medal match. The British had beaten India 4-1 in the league stage but found a much tougher rival in the medal match. Great Britain squeaked past India 4-3 in the end, but the Indian side won a billion hearts despite missing the bronze.

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As a teenager, she had debuted in Rio 2016, finishing 41st among the 60 allowed to tee-off. But with the experience gained from her participation in the European leg of the Ladies PGA, Aditi was better prepared for the challenges in Tokyo. Few gave the world No. 200 any chance, but the 23-year-old from Bengaluru played consistently well and came agonisingly close to winning a medal. She finished fourth, by a stroke.

Neeraj Chopra with his gold medal from the Tokyo Olympics   -  PTI


August 7, 2021: Bajrang Punia, the country’s best hope in the 65kg category of men’s freestyle wrestling, had to ignore a knee injury and fought through it. But the Indian, given his vast experience, held on brilliantly and in the end, won a bronze medal. This medal helped India match its previous best showing at the Games, in London 2012.

August 7, 2021: Young hopeful Neeraj Chopra demolished the rest of the field in the men’s javelin throw with his first two attempts in the competition and handed India its first Olympics gold medal in athletics.

Neeraj had just required one throw to qualify for the final. This by itself had given the country a lot of hope that its medal drought in track and field, after the narrow misses by Milkha Singh (Rome 1960) and P.T. Usha (Los Angeles 1984) would end.

Neeraj took control of the competition with his first two throws as favourite Johannes Vetter of Germany struggled and failed to make the best eight, who got three additional throws after the first three attempts. Neeraj had an opening effort of 87.03m and improved it to 87.58m with his second attempt.

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