Indian medal winners at Olympics

Feroz Khan

Words fall short when expressing the grief, agony and frustration of a nation with a billion plus population to have waited eight decades before unearthing its first individual Olympic gold medalist. Eighty excruciating years since India first officially participated in the games in 1928, the golden moment in 2008 when shooter Abhinav Bindra fired the most important shot of his career that earned India a gold medal in the Beijing Olympics. For the record, India have won 18 Olympic medals in 21 appearances. This is excluding the two medals won by the enigmatic figure Norman Pritchard who is variously considered to be the first medal winner for India. The moments of elation at the biggest sporting stage have been few but their significance hasn`t been lost. As Indian contingent readies for the London Games, takes a look at the past medal winners from India.

Hockey Team (11 medals)

1927, the first year of organised participation and the Indian hockey team struck gold. Hockey was the first sport that had the world take notice of Indian presence at Olympics. For 28 continuous years, Indian hockey team was proudly seated at the perch of world hockey and the Summer Olympics provided the grandest stage to display its superiority. The sheer dominance was accentuated by the fact that the British competed against an Indian hockey team only after it ceased to be their colony. This they did, apparently, to avoid the humiliation of getting defeated by one of their colonies. After all, 6 gold medals and a winning streak of 24 matches are of some significance. Hockey has earned India a total of 11 Olympic medals. This include eight gold, one silver and two bronze medals and the last of those, a gold medal, came way back in 1980 at the Moscow Games. The whole world gasped in awe as Dhyan Chand and his teammates displayed their magic with the hockey sticks enthralling thousands of fans all over the globe, making India the undisputable champion team.

Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav (1952 Helsinki Olympics)

Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav was independent India`s first ever Olympic medal winner. He fought official apathy and overcame financial crunch to win a bronze medal in wrestling at the 1952 Helsinki Games. Khashaba`s interest in the sport began at an early age as his father introduced him and his four elder brothers to the game. After finishing 6th at the 1948 Games, Jadhav fought his way, with the support of Maharaja of Patiala, to represent India at London Olympics. His trip was sponsored by close friends, well wishers and teachers. He defeated wrestlers from Canada, Mexico and Germany, to win bronze medal on 23rd July 1952. Thus, he created history that was to be repeated only in 1996 when an Indian again stood at the podium. The government, to honour his feat, re-christened the wrestling venue in the Indira Gandhi Sports Complex in New Delhi as K. D. Jadhav Stadium.

Leander Paes (1996 Atlanta Olympics)

After a gap of over four decades, Leander Paes had the Indian flag flying at the medal presentation ceremony at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. He won a bronze medal in the singles event of Lawn Tennis by defeating Fernando Meligeni of Brazil. His journey to the finals was brought to a halt by American great Andre Agassi who eventually won the gold medal. Paes, whom Agassi describes as a flying jumping bean, a bundle of hyperkinetic energy, has been the torch-bearer of Indian tennis since turning pro in 1991. Paes, who completed a career grand slam by winning 2012 Australian Open men`s double, is often termed as an average player who raises his game when playing for the country.

Karnam Malleswari (2000 Sydney Olympics)

Karnam Malleswari, a weightlifter from Andhra Pradesh, became the first Indian women to win an Olympic medal (individual/team) at the Sydney Games. She lifted 110kg in the snatch and 130 kg in clean and jerk for a total lift of 240 kg. In 1995, Malleswari had won the world weightlifting title in her class (54 kg) with a record, by lifting 113.0 kg. What made her achievement more commendable was the fact that the Sydney Games was her first ever international meet since moving up to 69 kg division.

Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore (2004 Athens Games)

Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore`s silver medal in men`s Double Trap at 2004 Athens Games was then the best individual performance by an Indian post independence. His exploits made him a national hero and poster boy for Indian army. The sports loving lad from Rajasthan while growing up had interest in cricket but his fate brought him to National Defence Academy and from there began his journey as an ace Indian shooter. A year before he had won gold at the 2003 world cup in Sydney as well.

Abhinav Bindra (2008 Beijing Olympics)

Abhinav Bindra`s name was forever etched in the history of Indian sports when he became the first individual Olympic gold medalist from the country. After the agony of Athens Olympics where he faltered in the final, Bindra finally won the 10-meter air rifle event in 2008 Beijing Olympics with a total of 700.5 points. He is also the current world champion in this category. Bindra was a child prodigy, and when he was 16 had already represented India at Kuala Lumpur CWG. His family backed him to the hilt, hiring a foreign coach and even building a private shooting range from him practice. For his feat, the ever smiling, calm and composed Punjabi lad has been bestowed with numerous honours and prizes.

Vijender Singh (2008 Beijing Olympics)

The first boxer from India to win an Olympic medal, tall and handsome, Vijender Singh became the pin-up boy of the Indian media post his feat at Beijing. At the 2008 Summer Olympics, Vijender booked his bronze medal defeating Carlos Góngora Mercado of Ecuador in the middleweight category. Keeping aside the scepticism raised over his increasing involvement in the world of glitz and glamour, he proved his detractors wrong with a bronze medal at 2009 World Championships in Milan.

Sushil Kumar (2008 Beijing Olympics)

Son of a bus driver, Sushil Kumar not only realised the dream his father once harboured but also put Boprala on the wrestling map of the world by winning a bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Sushil defeated Leonid Spiridonov of Kazakhstan 3:1 in the repechage round. This was the first time in 56 years that an Indian had managed to win a medal in wrestling. To prove it wasn`t just a fluke, he created history by winning a gold medal in 2010 World Wrestling Championship in Moscow.