India at the Olympics in 21st century: Records rewritten, numerous firsts - Hindustan Times
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India at the Olympics in 21st century: Records rewritten, numerous firsts

Jul 11, 2024 04:59 PM IST

Indian athletes set a new record for most medals won at an Olympics in 2008, and then went on to rewrite that record twice.

India have won more Olympic medals since the turn of this century than they did in all of their appearances before 2000. Out of the 35 medals that the country has won at the Olympics, 20 have come since the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. The 21st century for India has been a story of slow but more or less steady progress. Several athletes became first-time Indian medallists in their sport, the hockey golds have disappeared but Abhinav Bindra and Neeraj Chopra ensured that the medal returns to the country through other sports. And while it may not have been gold, the men's hockey team did win quite a dramatic bronze in the last Olympics to end a drought that went on for more than four decades. We have already looked at how India fared at the Olympics before gaining independence from British rule, the period between 1948 and 1980, which was the last time the hockey team won a gold medal, and the dry years that came after that, only ended by Leander Paes winning bronze at the 1996 Olympics. Now let's take a look at how the country fared in the current millennium.

Abhinav Bindra became the first Indian to win an individual gold in 2008 and Neeraj Chopra joined him in that club in 2024
Abhinav Bindra became the first Indian to win an individual gold in 2008 and Neeraj Chopra joined him in that club in 2024

Sydney 2000 - The first female Indian medallist

The Sydney Olympics in 2000 were significant for India, as the country sent its largest contingent yet, with 65 athletes. Karnam Malleswari made history by winning a bronze medal in weightlifting and becoming the first Indian woman to win an Olympic medal. Malleswari competed in the women's 69kg category and managed to lift a best weight of 110.0kg in snatch and 130.0kg in clean and jerk. She thus finished with a total of 240.0kg, putting herself well clear of fourth spot.

Athens 2004 - A shooting medal in the bag

Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore was India's sole medal-winner as the Olympics returned to its historic home for the first time since the first modern iteration was held in the Greek city in 1896. Rathore was the first Indian to win an individual silver. He finished with a score of 135 in the qualification round of men's trap shooting. In the final, Rathore shot 179 to finish a point above China's Wang Zheng.

Beijing 2008 - Gold returns to India

The lead-up to the Beijing Olympics was a negative one for the country as the men's hockey team failed to qualify. It meant that India weren't represented in men's hockey at the Olympics for the first time since 1928. However, the Games then turned out to be a historic one. Abhinav Bindra became the first Indian to win an individual gold medal, winning the men's 10m air rifle title. It was the first gold for India overall since the men's hockey team won the title in 1980 and the first gold for the country in a sport apart from hockey. Meanwhile, wrestler Sushil Kumar won bronze in men's freestyle 66kg while boxer Vijender Singh won bronze in men's 75kg. Sushil was the first Indian wrestler to win an Olympic medal since KD Jadhav in 1952 while Vijender was the first Indian boxer to win a Games medal.

London 2012 - A record haul

If India won three medals at the 2008 Olympics, they doubled that tally in 2012, albeit without a gold. The men's hockey team returned to the Olympic fold and were the only representatives for India in any team-based sport. Sushil Kumar became the first Indian athlete to win two individual Olympic medals, bettering his bronze medal in Beijing to silver in men's 66kg freestyle wrestling. His was one of two medals that came from the wrestling mat for India, the other being Yogeshwar Dutt, who won bronze in men's 60kg. There were two bronze shooting medals for India: Vijay Kumar, in men's 25m rapid fire pistol, and Gagan Narang in men's 10m air rifle. London 2012 also marked the first time that two female Indian athletes won individual medals. Saina Nehwal became the first Indian badminton player to win an Olympic medal by winning bronze in women's singles while Mary Kom won bronze in the first women's flyweight boxing event at the Olympics.

Rio 2016 - Sindhu and Sakshi save the day

India went in with many hopes considering their performance at London 2012 and the form of their shooting contingent going into the Olympics. However, it was a stunning barren run for India for much of the Games until Sakshi Malik won bronze in women's 58kg wrestling. She thus became the first female wrestler from India to win an Olympic medal. PV Sindhu then won silver in badminton after a sensational run to the final.

Tokyo 2020 (held in 2021) - Another gold, records broken and a hockey medal at last

There was cautious optimism going into the postponed Tokyo 2020. Neeraj Chopra had set the world on fire in javelin throw leading up to it while both the Indian men's and women's hockey teams were in fine fettle. India's badminton and shooting contingents were also in good form, and the likes of Vinesh Phogat and Bajrang Punia had won a host of wrestling medals in the run-up. The Indian contingent ended up winning a record seven medals. This included a gold for Neeraj, India's first in athletics since Norman Pritchard all the way back in 1900 and the country's second individual gold in its independent history after Abhinav Bindra in 2008. The men's hockey team beat Germany 5-4 in a thriller to win bronze, the country's first medal in the sport since 1980. Mirabai Chanu won silver in women's 49kg weightlifting. PV Sindhu became the second Indian after Sushil Kumar to become a double Olympic medallist, winning bronze in women's singles badminton. Lovlina Borgohain became the third Indian boxer to win an Olympic medal, winning bronze in women's welterweight. India won two medals in wrestling, with Ravi Dahiya taking silver in men's freestyle 57kg and Bajrang winning bronze in men's freestyle 65kg. The Indian contingent participated in a record 69 events, and earned medals across 18 athletic disciplines.

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