This Olympics is regarded as the most promising for India in terms of performance and medals. But it was more hope and prayer in the past, which is why we'll cherish these individual feats in the post-independence era. N Ananthanarayanan takes a trip back in time…
Early dose came through power
Khashaba Jadhav: He is independent India's first individual Olympic medallist. Few know this great wrestler from rural Maharashtra was a good runner and swimmer as well, and a fast mover on the mat, a rare quality even today. And that he had come sixth in the flyweight class in the 1948 London Games. Dishonest officials tried to keep him out of the trials for Finland, but he defeated their designs and won it with ease. Still, he needed his villagers to raise funds to keep his dreams alive, going on to win seven bouts before settling for the freestyle bantamweight bronze.He even overcame eventual champion Shonachi Ishi of Japan, overcoming his new technique. Jadhav was initially caught unawares but he came back to clinch the gruelling bout. However, a crucial loss pushed him down the podium. Jadhav got little recognition for his achievement from the nation. Penniless and left a broken man, he died in a road accident in 1984. It would take another 44 years for India to place an individual athlete on the Olympic
Tennis broke the jinx and got India their first medal in 44 years
Leander Paes: Few doubted his talent and the discipline he had to produce consistent results at the international level. But few could have taught him the other quality, a remarkable ability to motivate himself every time he played under the Tri-colour. A junior grand slam singles champion, who had reached the men's doubles quarterfinals with Ramesh Krishnan at Barcelona in 1992, Paes punched above his weight to land the singles bronze in Atlanta, India's lone medal, sending a nation parched for success delirious with joy and gratitude. It was a story of sheer guts. Paes took a set off eventual champion Andre Agassi in the semifinal defeat and then defeated Fernando Meligeni of Brazil in the bronze-medal playoff. It was the second medal in his family, his father Vece having won a bronze as part of the hockey team in Mexico in 1968.
Superwoman brought the only moment of cheer Down Under
Karnam Malleswari: A pioneer in her own right, Malleswari was the leader of a bunch of doughty Indian women from rural India who took up weightlifting in the 1990s and emerged world leaders. The Indian women lifters were a great advertisement as the sport took big strides before making its debut as a medal sport in the Australian Games. Having won only silver in the 1998 Asiad, where India realised how tough it would be to match China and nations like Myanmar going forward, Malleswari's task was out in Sydney. Having struggled to control her body weight, it also needed deft calculations on what weights to attempt before she could clinch the bronze in the 69kg class. The first Indian woman, and the only one to date, to win an Olympic medal was feted as a champion at home, having saved the embarrassment of India returning home empty-handed.
Not quite bullseye but enough for India’s first individual silver
RS Rathore: The army major was the best medal hope for India going into the Games in the Greek capital, and his talent, discipline and a sense of purpose were refreshing qualities, crucial to succeed at the highest level. Indian shooters had been on the rise but they had not struck it rich yet, with young rifle ace Abhinav Bindra still four years away from his moment under the sun. There were serious worries that India would struggle to avoid returning home without a medal. However, Rathore, who had won the CWG double trap gold two years earlier, was seen as a bright hope and he did not disappoint. The silver gave fresh hope that if Indians tried harder, glory was not far away.