These 16 charts show the gap between India's best and the world's finest athletes
India has never won a medal at the Olympics in track and field or swimming. The sports included — sprints, marathons, jumps and throws — are diverse. And the winners are a mixed group. Kenyans, Germans, Americans, Russians, Ethiopians and Jamaicans have dominated different sports with a smattering of wins by China, Morocco, Korea, Algeria etc.
Indian athletes have made it to several Olympic finals but they have always fallen short of a spot on the podium. So when was the last time India’s national records in running, swimming, jumping or throwing would have won the country a gold at the Olympics?
In 2002, Saraswati Saha broke India’s 200m national record. At 22.82 seconds, she is the fastest Indian woman to run that distance, but nearly one-and-half seconds slower than Florence Griffith-Joyner. Was her feat ever good enough for an Olympic gold?
Dharambir Singh became India’s fastest 200m sprinter when he clocked 20.45 seconds in 2016. Still, he’s more than 12m behind when Usain Bolt crosses the finish line. He would have won a gold if he ran long before 2016.
At 51.05 seconds, Manjeet Kaur holds India’s national record in 400m. That’s 1.98 seconds faster than India’s (and Nirmala Sheoran’s) latest performance in Rio. But Kaur’s 2004 record puts her far behind the winners in recent Olympic history.
Muhammad Anis Yahiya’s performance in Rio (45.95 seconds) was about half-a-second more than his 2016 national record in 400m — 45.4 seconds. Neither would have won him a gold at the last 15 Olympic games.
Tintu Lukka, India’s national record-holder in the women’s 800m, clocked just over two minutes in Rio, about a second slower than her 2010 record: 1 minute and 59 seconds. It’s been over four decades since a woman won an Olympic gold for running the 800m in two minutes.
Sriram Singh, India’s national record-holder in the men’s 800m, ran the distance in 1 minute and 45 seconds at the Olympic finals in 1976. He finished seventh, a full two seconds behind the gold medalist. That pace would have won him a gold just four years earlier: the winning time in 1972 was 1 minute 45 seconds. It could also have won him a silver four years later.
High Jump, Women
Sahana Kumari broke India’s national record with a 1.92m jump in 2012. That’s the highest by an Indian woman but just short of what is required to make it to Rio. The last time Kumari’s record would have been the winning jump was 1972.
High Jump, Men
The highest jump ever at the Olympics is 2.39m. India’s national record, set by Harishankar Roy in 2004, is 2.25m. The difference: about the length of a 100 rupee note. Yet, Roy’s jump, the highest in India, wouldn’t have won a gold after 1976. It wouldn’t even have won India a spot in 2016.
Long Jump, Women
About half-a-metre — 0.57m to be precise — separates India’s national record (6.83m) from the Olympic record (7.4m). But India’s 2004 record would not have won its best long jumper, Anju B. George, a gold after 1976. Since 1980, winning jumps have rarely been lower than 7m.
Long Jump, Men
Ankit Sharma holds the record for the longest jump in India’s history — 8.19m or nearly the length of two ambassadors parked end to end. The record-breaking leap would have earned him a gold back in 1964. He jumped about half-a-metre shorter in Rio.
Swimming 100m Freestyle, Women
This year’s Olympic gold medalists in the women’s 100m freestyle — Simone Manuel and Penny Oleksiak — also set the Olympic record: 52.7 seconds. India’s national record (by Aditi Dhumatkar in 2014) is more than six seconds slower, putting India behind the last 13 gold medalists.
Swimming 100m Freestyle, Men
At 49.47 seconds, Virdhawal Khade is India’s fastest swimmer in the 100m freestyle. He’s less than two seconds slower than Kyle Chalmers, the latest Olympic gold medalist and, yet, Khade would have been outpaced at the last eight Olympic finals.
Discus Throw, Women
In 2012, Krishna Poonia became the first woman India sent to the finals in discus, although the sport has been around since 1928 for women. Months earlier, Poonia she had set the national record with a throw of 64.76m. She didn’t win in 2012 but her record would have won her a gold at the previous Olympics in 2008.
Discus Throw, Men
Vikas Gowda’s throw in Rio (58.99m) was about seven-and-half metres short of his 2012 national record (66.28m), and nearly 10 metres shorter than the winning throw. The last time Gowda’s record would have won a gold was 1992. Since then, gold medalists have thrown further than 68m.
O.P. Jaisha, India’s national record holder in the women’s marathon, finished 89th in Rio. Her run of about 2 hours and 47 minutes was more than 13 minutes slower than her record: 2 hours and 34 minutes (a likely reason is no Indian officials were providing water at refreshment point throughout the run). Jaisha’s record, however, would never have won India a gold at the Olympics.
India’s marathon run at Rio was nearly three-and-half minutes slower than the national record — 2 hours and 12 minutes — set by Shivnath Singh. Singh’s record would have won India a gold in the men’s marathon in 1996.