For a long time, winning medals at the Olympic Games has been a distant dream for most Indians. While some have broken through the glass ceiling to etch their names in history with medal-winning performances, others have come mighty close to standing on the podium.
Here’s a look at five such Indian athletes who missed Olympic glory by a whisker.
A second shot at glory?
While 2008 saw Abhinav Bindra break new ground by winning India’s first-ever individual gold medal with his triumph in the 10m Air Rifle event at the Beijing Olympics, eight years later at Rio 2016, the Indian great came close to becoming only the second athlete from the country, after Sushil Kumar, to win two or more individual medals post-independence.
Making it to the eight-men final at the National Shooting Centre in the Brazilian capital, Bindra showed great composure to be among the leading pack going deep into the final. At one point he even moved up to the second spot, but a few wayward shots saw him tied at third with Ukraine’s Serhiy Kulish at 163.8 after 16 shots.
In the shoot-off that followed, while Bindra managed a 10, Kulish scored 10.5 to stay alive in the competition. The Indian shooting legend, who was in his fifth and the final Olympics was thus denied a fairytale ending.
However, the shooter still cites his Rio experience as the most cherished moment in his sporting career.
Vaulting to the spotlight
Bindra was not the only Indian to miss out on an Olympic medal by a small margin at Rio 2016. The first Indian gymnast to qualify for an Olympic Games, Dipa Karmakar was on that list too.
Reaching for the vault final, Karmakar started the medal round with ‘Tsukahara’ that saw her fetch 14.866 points in her first attempt. Knowing she needed to pull something out of the ordinary to have a shot at the medal, the Indian youngster attempted the ‘Produnova’ in her second.
Though Karmakar did everything right, her landing eventually cost her the medal.
Going into the London Olympics in 2012, not much was expected of Joydeep Karmakar. In fact, it wasn’t even him who won India the quota place. But with the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) choosing to send Karmakar, the pressure was on the shooter to deliver at the Games.
And the man from Bengal did just that as he qualified for the final of the 50m Rifle Prone after a tense shoot-off and then took his game a notch higher in the final to stay in contention for a medal till the very end.
While his series of 10.1, 10.6, 10.7, 10.5, 10.7, 10.2, 10.0, 10.2, 10.7 and 10.4 in the final kept in the mix for a podium finish, a 10.4 in his final shot saw him being restricted to the fourth place as Karmakar ended with a total score of 699.1 while Slovenia’s Rajmond Debevec, the bronze medallist, scored 701.0.
“Seeing Vijay (Kumar, who won a silver at the London Games) on that podium, something inside me snapped. I started crying like a baby. At that moment, I realised what I had missed,” Karmakar would later reveal in a book entitled My Olympic Journey.
When a fraction mattered
Qualifying for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games, a lot was expected out of India’s sprint queen,
PT Usha. The Payyoli Express was coming into the Games on the back of a dominant domestic season, and her win over American Judi Brown in a pre-Olympic event also helped her boost her confidence.
This confidence was evident in the manner she began her quest for an Olympic medal in Los Angeles in the 400m hurdles. Usha finished second in her morning heats, beat Brown yet again in the semifinals and reach the final.
In the final, though she did well to stay among the leading pack till the end, Usha ended up losing a bronze by 1/100th of a second as Cristieana Cojocaru of Romania dipped ahead of her to take the podium.
A costly move
Before Rome 1960, independent India’s only Olympic medal winner in an individual event was KD Jadhav, the wrestler who managed a bronze at the 1952 Helsinki Games. But the 1960 Games looked certain to break that run as a certain Milkha Singh was eager to leave his mark on the biggest stage of them all.
Competing in the 400m, Milkha breezed through the early rounds and qualified for the final with a handsome time. And with form on his side, the Indian began well in the final as well.
But his decision to slow down around the 250-metre mark proved too costly for the Flying Sikh as he could not regain the pace in the final stretch and ended up losing the bronze by 0.1 seconds.
So near, yet so agonisingly far!