India's sporting icons who led from the front

There is no greater honour than carrying the flag at the Opening Ceremony of an Olympic Games. Here are some of athletes who have done so with pride.

By Bhaktvatsal Sharma ·

If representing one’s country at the Olympic Games is a matter of pride and honour for an athlete, then being the flagbearer of the contingent at the Opening Ceremony takes it a notch or two higher.

From hockey wizard Major Dhyan Chand to wrestling hero Sushil Kumar, the Indian flag has been carried by a worthy athlete at every Olympics.

As India celebrates its Independence Day, we list a few notable Indians who had the opportunity and honour of leading not just their fellow athletes but also the dreams of a billion people back home.

Balbir Singh Sr

One of India’s most prominent hockey team captains, Balbir Singh Sr. won Olympic gold at the 1948, 1952 and 1956 Games. The cynosure of all eyes in the Indian contingent, he carried the Indian flag twice - during the 1952 and 1956 Olympic Games - with pride and grace.

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The Punjab-born veteran stayed true to his style leading his side to magnificent victories at these Games resulting in gold medals. He also went on to set the record of scoring the most number of goals in an Olympic final when he scored past the Netherlands defence five times in a 6-1 rout.

Leander Paes

India’s only Olympic bronze medallist in tennis, Leander Paes has been an inspiration for many - appearing seven times in the quadrennial sporting showcase.

His unforgettable achievement in the sport didn’t go unnoticed as he led the country at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, four years after he won a historic bronze at the Atlanta Games.

Anju Bobby George

While the 1992 Barcelona Olympics saw Shiny Abraham-Wilson become the first woman to lead the Indian contingent at the Olympic Games, the nation had to wait till the 2004 edition in Athens for a second.

At the birthplace of the modern Olympic Games, it was India’s long jump sensation Anju Bobby George who led the Indian athletes out onto the field during the Opening Ceremony.

Anju Bobby George is the second woman to lead the Indian contingent at the Olympics

One year prior to these Games, George had become the first Indian to win a medal at the IAAF World Championships with her bronze-medal performance in Paris. And the Indian Olympic Association duly recognised her achievement and named her the flagbearer for the Summer Games in 2004.

Abhinav Bindra

India’s lone Olympic gold medallist in an individual sport, Abhinav Bindra is one of the country’s most celebrated sportspersons.

The 10m air rifle specialist’s display in the 2008 Beijing Olympics was felicitated nationwide followed by several accolades that came his way.

Bindra brings India's first individual gold

Abhinav Bindra registers India's first-ever individual Olympic Games gold m...

His last performance was at the 2016 Olympics in Rio where he was India’s flag bearer and led another highly competitive contingent at the Olympics.

Sushil Kumar

A two-time Olympic medallist, Sushil Kumar gave Indian wrestling a new direction. Being the highest achiever in his chosen field, he too had the opportunity to hold the Indian tricolour aloft at the 2012 London Olympics.

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

Going into the London Games, Sushil was a very nervous man. Not only did he have jitters of performing at the grandest stage of all, but was also consumed by a rumour that flag bearers usually returned home empty-handed. 

The grappler, however, didn’t let the thought distract him and went on to clinch the silver medal.