India at the Olympics: The early years after gaining independence | Olympics - Hindustan Times
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India at the Olympics: The early years after gaining independence

Jul 08, 2024 03:42 PM IST

The 1948 London Olympics was the first edition of the Games in which India participated after gaining independence from British rule.

According to the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) records, India's Olympic journey started in Paris, and the French capital is where athletes representing the country will travel to this year. The 2024 Paris Olympics starts on July 26 and 111 athletes will be representing India across 16 sports. India's haul of seven medals at the previous edition of the Olympics in Tokyo made it the country's best performance in a single edition of the Games and the athletes will be hoping to do even better than that this time around. But before we look forward, let's take a look behind. We had previously looked at India's history at the Olympics before the country gained independence from British rule. Here we take a look at how the country has fared in each edition of the Games since August 15, 1947, when the country achieved independence, to 1980, which was the last year that the Indian men's hockey team won gold.

Milkha Singh (L) in the 400m final at the Rome 1960 Olympics.(Getty Images)
Milkha Singh (L) in the 400m final at the Rome 1960 Olympics.(Getty Images)

London 1948 - No more Dhyan Chand but hockey dominance continues

The first Olympics after the Second World War also marked the first time that India competed at the Games as an independent nation, with the tricolour being the country's flag as opposed to the British-era Civil Ensign or the Viceroy's flag. The country was represented by a total of 79 athletes in 39 events across 10 sports. All competitors were men. This was the first time that the hockey team played without Dhyan Chand and Kishan Lal was the captain. India were the dominant team in the group stage once again, scoring 19 goals in three matches and conceding one, but then faced a close contest for a change in the semi-finals, beating the Netherlands 2-1. They then beat hosts Great Britain 4-0.

Helsinki 1952 - KD Jadhav makes history

The 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland marked another important milestone for India. While the men's hockey team won their fifth consecutive gold, wrestler Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav became the first athlete from independent India to win an individual medal at the Olympics. Jadhav competed in the bantamweight freestyle category and won bronze. The men's hockey team, meanwhile, beat the Netherlands 6-1 in the final to secure gold. Great Britain won bronze after beating Pakistan 2-1.

Melbourne 1956 - Hockey reign challenged

Once again, the Indian hockey team were the sole medal winners for the country but even they felt the heat for arguably the first time since they started competing at the Olympics. They went the entire tournament without conceding a goal, pounding in 36 of their own in the group stage in just three matches. They beat Germany 1-0 in the semi-final and were pushed to the brink by Pakistan in the final. India scored the only goal of the match off a penalty corner in the third minute of the second half and won their sixth consecutive gold. The Indian men's football team managed their best-ever finish in the Olympics in 1956, reaching the semi-finals where they lost 4-1 to Yugoslavia. They then lost 3-0 to Bulgaria in the bronze medal match.

Rome 1960 - Hockey golden run ends

The 1960 Olympics marks the end of the Indian men's hockey team's golden run. The silver they won was the only medal that India got from the Olympics, but sprint great Milkha Singh came within a whisker of winning bronze in men's 400m. He finished with a time of 45.6 seconds in a photo-finish with South African Malcolm Spence, who was deemed to have managed a time of 45.5 seconds and won bronze. In hockey, India sailed through the group stage. They then beat Australia 1-0 in extra time in the quarter-finals and Great Britain by the same margin in the semis. In the final though, Pakistan beat India 1-0. It was the first time in the history of the Olympics that the Indian hockey team had been beaten and also the first time since 1920 that a team other than India had won gold in the sport. The 1960 Olympics also marked the Indian football team's last participation in the Games. They were knocked out in the first round and finished 13th.

Tokyo 1964 - Hockey gold won back

India sent a contingent of 53 athletes to Tokyo for the 1964 Olympics with hopes once again on the hockey team. They ended up taking the gold back in a dramatic final against Pakistan. Apart from this, Gurbachan Singh Randhawa notably finished fifth in men's 110m hurdles with a time of 14.09 seconds.

Mexico City 1968 - More hits for the hockey team

India sent only 25 athletes to Mexico City for the 1968 Olympics. The hockey team aced the group stage once again but were stunned in the semi-finals by Australia, marking the first time that they had lost a match to an opposition apart from Pakistan and just the second time ever that they had lost a match in the Olympics. Australia won 2-1 in a game that had to be decided in extra time. India hence faced West Germany in their first-ever bronze medal match and won 2-1. It was the only medal that came from the contingent.

Munich 1972 - 2nd consecutive hockey bronze

The tumultuous Munich Olympics marked the second consecutive year in which the Indian hockey team could only manage a bronze medal. West Germany became the first European team since 1920 to win an Olympic gold in the sport. A total of 41 athletes represented India of which only one was a woman. Kamaljeet Sandhu participated in the women's 400m, bowing out in the heats.

Montreal 1976 - The end of an era

The 1976 Montreal Olympics was, for all means and purposes, the end of an era in Indian hockey. The men's team failed to win a medal for the first time since 1928 as New Zealand won gold, Australia took silver and Pakistan won bronze. India, who so often made a joke out of group stages in prior Olympics, finished beneath the Netherlands and Australia in their pool and thus couldn't make it to the semi-finals. They then lost to West Germany in the 5-8th place semi-finals and settled for a seventh spot finish after beating Malaysia 2-0. While India would go on to win gold again at the next Games, the team's time as the most dominant team in the Olympics was done. There were no medals for the country in any other sport, meaning India drew a blank at the Olympics for the first time since 1928.

Moscow 1980 - The last hockey gold

The Moscow Olympics marks the last time when the Indian men's hockey team won gold at the Games. It also marked the debut of women's hockey, and thus, the Indian women's team also made its first appearance. The Olympics as a whole was hit by a wave of withdrawals, with 66 countries led by the USA boycotting the Games. This meant that the women's tournament ended up becoming a league, with the teams finishing in the top three getting to the podium. India finished fourth, their best finish in the Olympics which was equalled at Tokyo 2020. The Indian women's team's next Olympic appearance would only come in Rio 2016. The men's tournament was a single group stage followed by matches for the gold and bronze medals. India finished second and then beat Spain 4-3 in a tense gold medal match.

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