Experienced wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt, India’s last realistic medal hope on the concluding day of the Olympics, crashed out after losing his qualification bout as the country’s biggest-ever contingent bowed out of the Games with a paltry medal haul of two.
Dutt, bronze medal winner in the previous Games in London four years ago, failed to sign off his Olympic career with a podium finish, losing in the opening round to Mongolian Ganzorigiina Mandakhnaran whose quarterfinal defeat dashed the Indian’s hopes of a second career bronze through repechage.
The other contenders on day 15 were three male marathoners, two of whom managed to clock their personal best times.
The end of the marathon race also spelt the end of India’s campaign in this Brazilian city where they ended up with a disappointing medal tally of one silver (P V Sindhu in women’s singles in badminton) and one bronze (woman 58kg category wrestler Sakshi Malik).
In 2012 India had secured their highest medal tally from a single Games -- six, without a gold -- and there were pre-Games projections by the Sports Authority of India that the tally will be doubled here.
But all those were dashed to the ground and India were saved the blushes at the fag end of their campaign by two women who were never highlighted as medal hopes - Sindhu who got the first-ever silver in badminton after Saina Nehwal’s bronze in London and Sakshi who secured the first-ever medal in women’s wrestling.
Expectations were high from Yogeshwar after he was touted as a strong medal prospect. But he looked a pale shadow of his previous gritty self in the 0-3 loss to Mandakhnaran in the qualification round bout.
After his loss in the qualification, Yogeshwar’s only hope of making the medal round depended on his Mongolian opponent reaching the gold medal bout.
A winner of eight gold medals, the Indian men’s hockey team qualified for the quarterfinals for the first time in 36 years but could not progress further as it once again squandered a lead to go down 1-3 to Belgium.
Tennis continued to have its share of controversies when Leander Paes, an 18-time Grand Slam doubles winner making a record seventh appearance, turned up late for the men’s doubles campaign with Rohan Bopanna.
The duo’s lack of practice was evident when they made a first-round exit, and the women’s doubles pair of Sania Mirza and Prarthana Thombare also followed suit.
Later, it was the mixed doubles pair of Sania and Bopanna who lifted India’s medal hopes before losing to the Czech duo of Radek Stepanek and Lucie Hradecka in the bronze play-off.
It was a flop show in archery as Deepika Kumari once again failed to live up to the hype and made some costly blunders as the much-fancied women’s team made a quarterfinal exit losing to Russia in a shoot-off.
The biggest disappointment was in shooting which had earned India two medals in London 2012, a historic individual gold by Abhinav Bindra in Beijing 2008, in their total count of four medals from the last three editions but they drew a blank in Rio.
World No.3 Jitu Rai provided the biggest hope to open India’s medal tally in the 10m air pistol on the second day.
He started off under pressure in the 10m air pistol event and qualified for the final at sixth only to be the first to be eliminated, with an eighth position.
Next came his pet event of 50m pistol, an event in which he had won the World Cup gold in Bangkok this year, but Jitu’s hopes were blown away by the wind.
Amid the gloom, Bindra, in his fifth and final Olympics, came closest to a medal but finished fourth after being edged out by 0.5 points in the shoot-off against eventual silver-medallist Serhiy Kulish of Ukraine.
There was disappointment from another senior pro Gagan Narang, who competed in three events of 50m rifle 3P, 50m rifle prone and 10m air rifle,. But the London Olympics bronze medallist failed to make an impression in any of them.
The likes of Heena Sidhu, Ayonika Paul, and Apurvi Chandela also failed to live up to the hype losing in the elimination stage.
National Rifle Association of India president Raninder Singh admitted in making a ‘tactical blunder’ by allowing personal coaches for the athletes.
Just when the wait for a medal was becoming an intense pain and shame with four days left for the Olympics, a 23-year-old little-known wrestler from Rohtak fought like a tigress, even as others, including Yogeshwar Dutt, disappointed.