Between KD Jadhav and Leander Paes, India had to wait for four decades and more. We are talking of individual Olympic medals here. Both won bronze, Jadhav’s coming in the traditional sport of wrestling in Helsinki (1952) and Paes won his in 1996 (Atlanta). Since then, with each passing edition, India’s performance in the quadrennial Games has improved.
Four years after Paes, in Sydney, Karnam Malleswari became the first woman to win an individual Olympic medal, again a bronze. In Athens (2004), double-trap shooter RVS Rathore improved that to a silver. In 2008, the final frontier was breached.
Hoping for an encore
India’s best-ever performance in what is called the greatest show on earth comprised a first-ever individual gold by shooter Abhinav Bindra and a bronze each by boxer Vijender Singh and wrestler Sushil Kumar. Will the trend continue in London?
“The boxers and shooters have done pretty well in recent times. We can expect them to better Beijing in both disciplines. Archery, tennis and wrestling can also place us on the podium. We should win six to seven medals in London.”
Post Beijing, India’s performance graph in Olympic disciplines has moved north. Be it in the 2010 Commonwealth Games, the Asian Games or the World Championships, there was an improved showing. Take boxing for instance. After winning bronze in Beijing, Vijender added another first to his name by clinching bronze in the 2009 World Championship. In the next edition of the event, in 2011, Vikas Krishan won bronze.
The performance of the wrestlers too has been commendable. In the 2009 World Championship, Ramesh Kumar broke a 42-year-old jinx by winning a bronze. Next year, Sushil Kumar, the Beijing Olympic bronze medallist, made history by lifting the title.
Double-trap shooter Ronjan Sodhi won three medals, including gold, in four World Cups last year.
Gagan Narang holds the world record for the men’s 10m air rifle event. He also bagged a bronze medal in the 2010 World Championship.
“This time, most of our players won quota places with world-class performances and this motivates them to do better where it matters most,” said Ajit Pal.
Packing a punch
Even before they left for Beijing, the boxers were confident of not returning empty handed. It did seem like mission impossible then because only one from the quartet that went to Athens in 2004 had reached the second round.
Vijender’s bronze changed the scenario and now it is not about a medal but how many they would return with from London. With young pugilists like Shiva Thapa, Devendro Singh and Sumit Sangwan making a mark on the international circuit, India will be hoping they will not just be thronging the ring in numbers.
With women’s boxing making its debut, India will be expecting more than a medal. Multiple world champion MC Mary Kom, if she qualifies, will lead a strong contingent in London.