India’s top ten Olympic moments of the decade

Lack of motivation won't be an issue for Indian athletes atTokyo 2020, especially after the blueprint laid down over the last decade.

By Subhayan Dutta ·

Without a shred of doubt, India's best run at the Olympics came in the decade gone by.

In particular, India really flourished at the London 2012 Games and subsequently at Rio 2016.

So let's take a look back at some of those moments that inspired an entire generation in its wake.

The great stone off Gagan Narang’s chest

Rightly describing the win as a ‘great stone’ coming off his chest, Gagan Narang had to dig deep to win India’s first medal at the 2012 London Olympics.

After exchanging places in the build-up to the last round of the shooting in the final, Narang eventually finished behind Romania’s Alin George Moldonveanu and Italy’s Niccolo Campriani on the podium as he clinched the bronze medal in the men’s 10m air rifle. His win was also like a balm over the nationwide frustration of Abhinav Bindra missing the last eight that year.

“This is the only medal I didn’t have in my cabinet, so now I can pin it on there. I am glad I came, I could have easily retired after Beijing,” said Narang after capturing his precious bronze medal.

Gagan Narang (R) poses with his bronze medal at London 2012

Vijay Kumar and his sharp shooting

Coming into the Olympics on the back of three gold and one silver at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, Vijay Kumar was one of the favourites going into the 2012 Games. And the army man stood up to the expectations by winning the silver in the 25m rapid fire pistol event.

The ISSF’s newly changed format in rapid events that year, but it hardly mattered for Vijay whose unflinching focus was on display as he scored 585 out of 600 in the preliminary phase to qualify for the final.

In the medal round, though, Cuba's Leuris Pupo proved to be a hurdle too far for Vinay to cross as he settled for a silver.

Saina Nehwal’s historic first

Saina Nehwal had already established herself as the blue-eyed girl of Indian badminton prior to the 2012 Olympics by winning the Swiss Open and the Thailand Open and reaching the semi-finals of Malaysia Open as well.

She was one of India’s bigger hopefuls at London 2012 and she rode on those expectations to breeze through to the semi-finals, where she was up against China’s Xin Wang.

India had never won an Olympic medal in badminton before, which only added to the pressure on Nehwal ahead of the match. And facing the then World No. 2 meant that the Indian had to punch above her weight for the bronze medal.

Saina Nehwal at London 2012

Nehwal posed an intense fight in the first game of the match which saw the Chinese shuttler giving her all to win it 21-18. However, the intensity got the better of her as she twisted her right knee and was eventually forced to limp out conceding the bronze medal to the Indian.

Mary Kom adds Olympic medal to her kitty

Like the late amendments in the rapid category for shooters, Mary Kom also had to make adjustments after boxing's governing body announced that they would be allowing only three weight categories in the Olympics, thereby eliminating the lower weight classes.

That meant the Manipur pugilist had to shift from her favoured 46kg and 48kg categories to 51kg, which required her to bulk up.

However, it posed little challenge for India’s ‘Magnificent Mary’ who breezed past Poland’s Karolina Michalczuk and Tunisia’s Maroua Rahali to set up a clash against Nicola Adams of Great Britain. And although the local favourite eventually emerged victorious by a decision of 11-6, India had found a legend of the sport in Mary Kom.

"I am very happy to be the first Indian woman boxer to get a bronze medal but I am sad that I could not convert it into gold. I don't know what happened during my semifinal bout. My body was not moving the way I would have liked and I felt as if I could not do anything. I was very much confused," said Mary after returning from London.

Kom's road to Olympic bronze medal

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Sushil Kumar's bad luck at London 2012

After bagging a bronze medal in the 2008 Olympics, a confident Sushil Kumar was one of the favourites to better his Olympic record four years later.

Kumar performed remarkably well to bag silver at the 2012 Games, but was remembered by many for the devastated figure he cut after getting beaten by Japan’s Tatsuhiro Yonemitsu in the final.

Sushil Kumar leads the Indian athletes during the Opening Ceremony at London 2012

It was later revealed that the wrestler was laid low with a stomach bug following the semis that forced him to go to the restroom around six times before the final.

It took a massive toll on his strength and weight and perhaps explained why Yonemitsu was seen picking the bulky wrestler up in the air and pinning him down on the mat on his way to victory.

PV Sindhu unites nation with her silver run

If Saina Nehwal had become a household name in 2012, a young PV Sindhu took the badminton world by storm in 2016. If not a big hope, Sindhu was definitely turning heads with her achievements in Malaysia and the way she led Chennai Smashers to the 2016 Premier Badminton League semi-finals.

Handed a kinder draw in the group stages, she used her easy wins to gain momentum against the trickier likes of Chinese Taipei's Tai Tzu Ying, Wang Yihan, and Nozomi Okuhara to reach the final.

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However, her winning streak eventually fell short against a top-seeded Carolina Marín, who eventually got the better of Sindhu in a gruelling 83-minute match. Consequently, Sindhu became the youngest and first Indian woman to bag an Olympic silver medal.

"I didn't think I would have an Olympic medal at 21, but I knew I would give my best and play my game. I just viewed it as my first Olympics, and that I would take it one match at a time, but to bring a silver home made me very, very happy," Sindhu said after the historic feat.

Sakshi Malik stuns all to land historic bronze

Like Yogeshwar Dutt in 2012, Sakshi Maliks 2016 Olympic stint was bumpy but the Haryana girl showed unbelievable grit to win a bronze even when everything seemed a lost cause.

Qualifying for the Games after a win over the former world champion Zhang Lan of China at the Olympic World Qualifying Tournament, Malik was seen by many as a flash in a pan. But she started changing that perception by handsome wins in the initial rounds of the competition at Rio 2016.

Her dream run, however, was abruptly stopped by Valeria Koblova of Russia. But with Koblova making it to the final, Malik was handed a lease of life with another shot at an Olympic medal through the repechage rounds.

The Indian ensured that she made the most of it as she breezed her way into the bronze medal round before bringing her best to the mat in the dying moments against the reigning Asian champion Aisuluu Tynybekova of Kyrgyzstan to hand India its first-ever medal in women’s wrestling.

Dipa Karmakar executes ‘vault of death’

Before PV Sindhu and Sakshi Malik could etch their names in the history of the competition forever, it was Dipa Karmakar who had sent India into raptures in Rio.

Karmakar was hardly one of the favourites going into an event that had been dominated by the USA and Russia for decades. But, after she was done, the world stopped to take notice of the fearless gymnast who became one of only five to perform the Produnova Vault, aka ‘the vault of death’.

However, she finished fourth with 15.006 points, behind Russia’s Aliya Mustafina, who clinched the bronze medal with 15.100. Though she didn’t win a medal, it inspired a generation of gymnasts to dream bigger in a sport not primarily dominated by India.

You can see more of Dipa and her journey to become one of India's most loved gymnasts here.

Abhinav Bindra retires his rifle

Eight years since winning the gold medal at the Beijing Olympics, Abhinav Bindra had stepped onto the world stage for one last time in Rio. Having already announced his plan of retirement ahead of the 2016 Games, Bindra not only had the public sentiment by his side but also their huge expectations, given his gold-winning feats at the 2010 and 2014 Commonwealth Games.

However, the build-up could do very little for the 33-year-old veteran. Despite a good start with scores of 29.9 and 30.2 in the first two series, which placed him amongst the top three, the third series saw him performing poorly to fall out of it. Though he compensated for the same in the fourth series, it wasn’t the same anymore as he let pressure get the better of him.

Abhinav Bindra 

Bindra was still in contention until the 14th shot before a couple of poor attempts saw him tied at fourth with Ukrainian Serhiy Kulish after the 16th shot, but was relegated to the fourth place in the knockout, thus ending an illustrious career.

"You have to accept it. Sport teaches you to accept things. You go through some highs and a lot of lows and it teaches you to not to resist reality. Just accept it. Fourth place, taken into perspective, fourth best in the world. It's not that bad... better than fifth," Bindra explained.

Joydeep Karmakar, so close yet so far

The 1994 junior national champion was a promising name on India’s list of probables in the 2012 Olympics in the 50m rifle prone event. The West Bengal marksman had won a silver medal in the ISSF World Cup in Sydney two years prior and was approaching the London Games on a string of good performances.

Joydeep Karmakar came to the Olympics finals with a score of 595 which saw him tie with four other shooters and end up one spot behind Slovenia’s Rajmond Debevec, who had 596 points.

 India’s Joydeep Karmakar can agonisingly close to winning an Olympic medal but finished fourth in the 50m Rifle Prone.

The previous rules asserted that shooters could take as many as 10 shots, the scores of which would have added to the qualification tally. And although all of Karmakar's next 10 shots were in 10s, it was that one point deficit in the very beginning that came back to haunt him. Debevec went on to the next round and clinched the bronze medal.