Success at the Olympic Games wasn’t easy to come by for the modern Indian sports fan. If one grew up with stories of the glorious golden days in hockey (India were unbeaten in the first six Olympic Games in the sport, winning six out of six gold medals), the more recent times were filled with more heartbreaks than success stories. After 1980, India waited till 1996 for a medal. There was again a solitary bronze in 2000, while the colour changed to silver in 2004 but the count didn’t.
Then, Beijing 2008 offered one of the greatest moments in Indian sporting history when Abhinav Bindra won the first-ever individual Olympic Games gold medal for India. Also for the first time, India finished the Games with more than two medals.
The improvement continued four years later in London, a campaign that gave Indian sports fans an unprecedented six medals to celebrate and a fair few historic firsts.
India at the Olympic Games
India's medals at 2012 Olympics
|Silver||Vijay Kumar||Shooting||Men's 25m rapid fire pistol||3 August|
|Silver||Sushil Kumar||Wrestling||Men's freestyle 66kg||12 August|
|Bronze||Gagan Narang||Shooting||Men's 10m air rifle||30 July|
|Bronze||Saina Nehwal||Badminton||Women's singles||4 August|
|Bronze||Mary Kom||Boxing||Women's flyweight||8 August|
|Bronze||Yogeshwar Dutt||Wrestling||Men's freestyle 60kg||11 August|
Gagan Narang (10m air rifle, bronze)
Looking back, it was fitting that a campaign with plenty of good memories for Indian sport started off on a feel-good note when Narang ended the long wait for an Olympic medal and added that coveted line to his glittering record.
Vijay Kumar (25m rapid fire pistol, silver)
Continuing the rich tradition of shooters delivering at the Olympic Games, India had a second medal to celebrate a few days after Narang’s bronze. After Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore’s trap silver, Abhinav Bindra and Narang’s rifle medals, it was the first pistol event medal for India.
Army-man Vijay Kumar beat back the challenge of world champion Alexei Klimov of Russia, the Chinese duo of Ding Feng and Zhang Jian, and German Christian Reitz in the 40-shot final to finish runner-up behind Cuba’s Leuris Pupo, who shot his way to the gold.
Kumar, a double gold medallist at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, shot a very impressive 30 out of 40 in the final, captialising on a strong start.
Watch the event here.
Saina Nehwal (Singles badminton, bronze)
In a career filled with one first after another, it is no surprise that Nehwal would be the first shuttler from India to win a medal at the Olympic Games. Heading into the Games as the fourth seed, Nehwal had already established herself as one of the stars on the circuit and her Indonesia Open Superseries title win in 2009 truly signified her arrival on the world stage.
But the Olympics was still the domain of the Chinese, Korean and Indonesian shuttlers in women’s singles. Winning a medal there was tough as such but Nehwal headed to London not in the best physical shape, reportedly suffering from fever in the build-up. “I was down with viral fever for almost seven days, and wasn’t sure of my performance because of all the antibiotics I had taken in,” she would reveal later.
The round of 16 and quarter-finals would prove to be stern tests for the Indian, but she still had enough in her tank to pull through them in straight games.
After a defeat in the semi-final against the top seed, the medal itself would be confirmed for Nehwal in unfortunate circumstances after Wang Xin was forced to retire due to an injury, but history would not be denied for the Indian star. And when she stood on the podium as the one Indian alongside two Chinese shuttlers, it was a moment that was rather fitting in the badminton narrative of Saina vs China.
Nehwal’s London 2012 campaign:
7/29/2012 Group E Saina Nehwal  vs Sabrina Jaquet 21-9 21-4
7/30/2012 Group E Saina Nehwal  vs Lianne Tan 21-4 21-14
8/1/2012 R16 Saina Nehwal  vs Yao Jie  21-14 21-16
8/2/2012 QF Saina Nehwal  vs Tine Baun  21-15 22-20
8/3/2012 SF Wang Yihan  vs Saina Nehwal  21-13 21-13
8/4/2012 Bronze Saina Nehwal  vs Wang Xin  18-21 0-1 Retired
MC Mary Kom (Boxing flyweight, bronze)
Much like Nehwal, Mary Kom was no stranger to blazing a trail for her field. And in the edition where women’s boxing made it’s Olympic Games debut, she would be there at hand to bring home the medal. The pressure on her was huge and the qualification campaign was not the smoothest, as she was competing in a weight category that was not her first choice. Ultimately, for the then five-time world champion, even bronze felt a little bit of an anti-climax given her own lofty expectations but it was historic nonetheless.
Read more about London 2012 bronze here.
Yogeshwar Dutt (Wrestling freestyle 60kg, bronze)
The sight of Dutt pulling off the leg-hold in the final moments of his bronze medal bout against Jong Myong Ri are now iconic in Indian sport. “I have done it from my childhood. In the Commonwealth Games, I had done it against my Canadian opponent. It helps me cover a lot of points,” he would later reveal.
After his defeat in the pre-quarterfinals against multiple world champion Russian Besik Kudukhov who would be the eventual silver medallist, Dutt fought back strongly in the repechage rounds. He notched up three successive victories in the space of less than an hour to provide India its fifth medal at the London Games and the first on the mat.
Sushil Kumar (Wrestling freestyle 66kg, silver)
The final medal of the London 2012 campaign would also from the wrestling mats. While Bindra would remain the only individual Olympics gold medallist for a while longer, Sushil Kumar gave it a good go in the men’s 66kg freestyle before losing in the final
The final was held inside three hours after his semi-final victory over Kazakhstan’s Akzhurek Tanatarov and the Indian grappler was not at his physical best, reportedly suffering from dehydration, before the gold medal bout. Japan’s Tatsuhiro Yonemitsu would prove to be a bit strong in the quest for gold but the 2008 Beijing bronze medallist went on to become the first Indian Olympian to win two individual medals.
Relive all the medal-winning moments in this video:
(With PTI inputs)
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