Indian Olympic firsts which helped shape the future

In 2004, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore won India's first Olympic shooting medal. Exactly 12 years later, Sakshi Malik became the first Indian woman wrestler to make the podium.

By Naveen Peter ·

They have been pioneers in their chosen fields; athletes who have shown great will and determination in pressure situations.

For India, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore and Sakshi Malik are not only two Olympic medal-winning athletes but also trailblazers for future generations to look up to.

As the two Indian sporting icons celebrate the anniversaries of their big day on the Olympic stage (August 17), we look back at the two moments which went on to define not just their careers but also reshape a nation’s outlook to sports.

The carnival

The expectation in India was palpable ahead of Rio 2016.

The nation boasted its biggest ever contingent for an Olympics with the shooters - a group that had bagged medals in the previous three Games - in top form.

But, as the Games unfolded, the hype and excitement soon made way for nervous energy and disappointment as the wait for a medal kept growing.

The Indian hockey team was once again a victim of an old foe - late goals - at Rio 2016

Talk about pressure

The shooters had failed to impress, while the men’s hockey team was once again a victim of its old foe - late goals. It was amid this backdrop that Sakshi Malik came to the mat.

As well as the expectations that come with performing at the Olympics, Malik had to see her compatriot Vinesh Phogat stretchered off during her bout.

Malik had no answers to Valeria Koblova in the quarter-finals. But with the Russian making the final, the Indian grappler went through to the repechage with a chance of a medal.

Mongolia’s Orkhon Purvedorj was swept aside by the Rohtak-born wrestler 12-3.

Then came Kyrgyzstan’s Aisuluu Tynybekova in the bronze or nothing match.

It looked very much like being nothing for Malik as Tynybekova's superior technical expertise saw her lead 5-0 at the end of the first round.

Malik's defence-first approach fell flat as she was penalised for being too defensive before her opponent registered two takedowns.

Down, but not out

But just when all looked lost, Malik produced one of the finest comebacks of her career to clinch India’s first medal at the Rio Games.

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Knowing nothing less than takedowns and points would suffice, Malik went for Tynybekova’s leg and almost hoisted her.

She then took her down and turned her around to draw level on points, before surging into the lead with a freak move just seconds before the end of the contest.

And just like that, when everyone thought the mat too would disappoint, a relatively unknown wrestler rose from the shadows of her much-celebrated compatriots to win India its first medal in women’s wrestling.

Shot at glory

While Malik enjoyed her moment under the Rio sun, let’s rewind to 2004 when Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore brought glory to the nation at the birthplace of the modern Olympics - Athens, Greece.

Having finishing fifth in qualification to make the double trap final, the Indian delivered when it mattered to bring down the clays and put himself on course for a medal.

Rathore missed four targets in the elimination round in windy conditions at the Markópoulo Olympic Shooting Centre, but he had enough in reserve to stay in contention.

Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore became independent India's first-ever individual Olympic silver medallist at Athens 2004

Down to the wire

With Ahmed Al Maktoum all but assured of UAE's first Olympic gold, the silver medal came down to a fight between Rathore and China's Wang Cheng.

In the end, Rathore was left needing to make both of his final two shots to take silver.

For a man who looked nervous during qualification, the then 34-year-old gave the appearance of calmness personified as he destroyed both targets before punching the air in celebration.

He said afterwards, "I may have appeared calm inside, but I was dying a thousand deaths out there."

The win saw Rathore not only become independent India’s first-ever Olympic silver medallist in an individual event, but also kick-started a trend which saw Indian shooting ascend to greater heights.