India down the Olympic road

By Norris Pritam

13 Medals in 104 years

Eleven medals in hockey and two other individual medals is India’s tally in the 104-year history of the Olympic Games. Eight out of eleven hockey medals are gold. The hockey team also claimed one silver and two bronze while the two individual bronze were won by wrestler K D Jadhav and tennis
star Leander Paes. India was officially represented for the first time at the Olympic Games in 1924 at Paris. But the Indian Olympic Association, as we know it today, came into being three years later and thus India became a full member of the Olympic family. This also marked the beginning of India’s close association with Olympic Movement. The 1928 Olympic Games at Amsterdam were a turning point in India’s sporting history. For, in that year, India made its debut in international hockey and won the Olympic title in a blaze of glory. Thereafter India won five consecutive Olympic hockey gold medals, completely dominating the game in the world. The first post-War Olympic Games in London, in 1948, were an important landmark in Indian sport. They marked India’s entry in the world arena as an independent nation. For the first time, the Indian participants wore their new crest, the `Ashoka Lion’, the Indian tri-colour was flown and the Indian national anthem played in the Olympic arena. India sent a large contingent to the Games and took part in eight disciplines hockey, athletics, football, boxing, wrestling, weightlifting, cycling and swimming. India retained the hockey crown for the fourth time in a row. Nineteen-year-old triple jumper Henry Rebello was unfortunate as he was forced to withdraw from the competition due to a muscle pull after qualifying for the final round. India sent a big contingent to the next Games at Helsinki in 1952. The hockey team again returned with the gold medal. But the star of the Indian contingent was freestyle wrestler K D Jadhav. He won India’s first
individual Olympic medal, a bronze, in the bantamweight category. His teammate Mangwe took fourth spot in the featherweight class. For the Melbourne Games in 1956, India sent a 76-member contingent, including a football team. In Hockey, India clashed with Pakistan for the first time in the Olympics and beat them by a solitary goal to retain the gold medal. In football, India ended up being fourth, losing to Bulgaria by three-goals-to-nil in the play off match for bronze medal. The Indian hockey team reached Rome Olympics, in 1960, as the second best in Asia, having lost the Asian Games title to Pakistan at Tokyo in 1958. And in the `Eternal City’ India finally lost its 32-year-old supremacy in hockey when Pakistan beat them by a solitary goal in the final. But Indian athletics reached its high-water mark, when Milkha Singh narrowly missed an Olympic medal. Despite performing better than the existing world record, Milkha finished at the fourth spot in 400 metres, clocking an astonishing 45.6 seconds. Four years later at Tokyo, it was again gold in hockey. Gurbachan Singh Randhawa also gave a brilliant performance finishing fifth in the 110 metres hurdles event with a timing of 14.0 seconds. In Mexico City in 1968, the hockey team failed to keep up the momentum it gained at Tokyo after regaining the gold medal. It was pushed to the third place behind Pakistan and Australia. At Montreal in 1976, Indian hockey took a major nosedive, ending up at the
seventh spot. But young Sriram Ram Singh ran a heroic race and did India proud by finishing seventh in 800 metres. On July 24, 1976, Sriram ran the race of his life as he set the pace for world’s best middle distance runners. He clocked 1:45.77 for a new Asian record. In 1980 at Moscow, Indian hockey team again came up on the golden rostrum. But elsewhere there was nothing to cheer about.
P T Usha became the first Indian woman athlete to enter an Olympic final when she ran the 400 metres hurdles at Los Angeles in 1984. But despite a gallant run, she finished fourth – missing the bronze by whiskers. The hockey team was again pulled down to the fifth spot. The next two editions of the Olympic Games were not significant from Indian point of view. At Seoul hockey team was pushed to the sixth spot while four years later at Barcelona, it went down by one more rung. In the millennium Games at Atlanta, India trailed at the eighth spot. But a young Calcutta lad kept the Indian flag flying. Leander Paes won India’ second individual Olympic medal when he got a bronze in men’s singles tennis competition. This was 44 years after K D Jadhav’s heroic deed in wrestling. Leander is again in the Indian contingent. This time, he will be the flag-bearer of the contingent, hopefully leading India to a much better show.

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