It would not be an exaggeration to say India have suffered more heartbreaks at the Olympics than they have won medals. Participating in the quadrennial Games has been a matter of great pride for Indian athletes but the level of competition has often throw reality checks for Indian athletes over the past decades.

However, it is not always the medals that get talked about the most. The sheer theatre on display gets plenty of attention. And even in those heartbreaks, there have been performances that have left a lasting impression for their sheer endeavour towards winning a medal, on most occasions against the odds.

Make no mistake, finishing fourth at Olympics is perhaps the most painful experience for an athlete. So near, yet so far. And India over the years have had many such close shaves.

Here’s a list of the most famous famous fourth place finishes for India:

Milkha Singh

Milkha Singh, also known as the Flying Sikh, missed out on a bronze medal during the 1960 Olympics held in Rome. Participating in the 400 metres final and touted as a medal contender, Singh is said to misjudged when to kick on in the race only to be pushed to fourth at the finish by South Africa’s Malcolm Spence, by a mere 1/10th of a second. Singh did not win an Olympic medal in the three editions that he participated in. It remained a painful memory for the legendary athlete, but his story was nonetheless inspiring for it.

Pause, rewind, play: Milkha Singh’s iconic sprint at the Rome Olympics


PT Usha

Known as the Payyoli Express, PT Usha was a household name during her athletics career. At the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, she missed the 400-metre hurdles bronze by 1/100th of a second, making it the closest-ever miss for an Indian athlete in any competition. She ended up fourth behind Romania’s Christina Cojocaru.

Pause, rewind, play: When PT Usha missed an Olympic medal by a heartbreaking margin in 1984


Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi

Arguably India’s greatest tennis doubles pair, Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi missed out on a bronze medal at the 2004 Olympics games in Athens. The Indian duo lost a marathon men’s doubles bronze-medal match to Croatia’s Mario Ancic and Ivan Ljubicic 6-7 6-4 14-16 to come fourth.

Pause, rewind, play: Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi’s Olympics heartbreak in 2004


Joydeep Karmakar

Shooter Joydeep Karmakar from Kolkata had finished fourth in rifle prone at the London Olympics. But exactly after 20 minutes, the Indian fans were all smiles as Vijay Kumar won silver in the 25-metre rapid fire pistol. However, for Karmakar, in the 50-metre rifle prone final, Slovenia’s Rajmond Debevec pushed him to fourth by 1.9 points.

Dipa Karmakar

Dipa Karmakar became the first Indian woman gymnast to compete at the Olympics when she won hearts in Rio de Janeiro. She was also the first Indian gymnast to compete at the Olympics in 52 years. However, after making the final of the women’s vault event, Karmakar finished fourth overall with a score of 15.066 and missed the bronze medal by 0.150 points.

“It’s great to see a gymnast like Dipa, who was able to inspire a generation in a country where you were only talking about cricket,” the legendary Nadia Comaneci said in conversation with

“She introduced a sport which was not popular here [in India]. It tells everybody that you don’t have to be born in United States or Romania or Russia to be a great gymnast. You can be born anywhere if you are a little gusty and you have some courage and you have a good coach next to you. Because we are all made from the same material.”


Abhinav Bindra

At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Abhinav Bindra made history by winning a gold medal in the 10m air rifle event and ended India’s wait for an individual gold medalist at the Summer Games. However, eight years later, in his final Olympic appearance, he missed the bronze medal by a whisker. It would be his farewell from the Games.

“Failure is very important,” he told an interview. “I think you can only have big achievements through failure. It makes you stronger, gives you the desperation to do well. If failure is taken in the right spirit, it will propel you to work even better and work even harder and that’s what I tried to convert my failures into. I failed certainly more times than I succeeded and I decided to use those experiences to make me a better athlete.”

Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna

Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna were one of India’s big medal hopes at Rio. After both bowed out in quick succession in their women’s and men’s doubles encounters respectively, the duo backed themselves for a medal in the mixed doubles event. However, they could not come up with their best tennis and lost 1-6 5-7 to the Czech pair of Lucie Hradecka and Radek Stepanek in the bronze medal match.


Women’s hockey team

The women’s hockey team led by Rani Rampal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics delivered the team’s best-ever performance at the Olympic Games by becoming the first Indian women’s team to reach the semi-finals in hockey.

Ranked ninth at the start of the tournament, India punched way above its weight and reached semi-final by stunning favourites Australia in the quarter-final after just about edging into the knockout stages. However, a defeat to close Argentina in the semi-final was followed by another narrow loss against Great Britain in the bronze medal match. It was however an inspirational campaign as the team repeatedly punched above their collective weight.

“...first the emotion is about losing, yeah you want to win, but really is I feel proud. I’m proud of the girls, how they again showed their fight and skills,” the team’s Dutch coach Sjoerd Marijne said.

“And I said to the girls, ‘Listen, I can’t take away your tears. No words will help for that. We didn’t win the medal, but I think we achieved something bigger, and it’s inspiring a country and make the country proud.’

“...I think the world have seen another Indian team, and I’m really proud of that.”

Marijne also lavished praised on the players for the fighting spirit they displayed throughout the competition. “And normally when Indian woman team is 2-0 behind they always went 3-0, 4-0, but now they keep fighting. We came back in the match, we even were one up. They kept fighting. I told them, ‘You just give everything you’ve got’,” he said.

Aditi Ashok

Indian golfer Aditi Ashok ranked 200th in the world went to Tokyo Olympics without any expectations. But day by day, round by round, she caught the imagination of the nation as finished in the top three of each of the first three rounds. Going into the final round placed second, Aditi made India, a nation otherwise indifferent to the sport of golf wake up in the early hours of the day and follow her. However, just when it mattered the most she slipped out of the medal places after a rain shower had interrupted the round. She missed a birdie by a whisker and finished fourth in the women’s stroke play event.

Aditi’s performance was one of the best-ever by an Indian at the Olympic Games but it wasn’t rewarded by a medal. Heartbreak!

Honourable mention:

Deepak Punia (5th in 2021) (Wrestling)

Making his Olympic debut at just 22, Deepak Punia impressed going all the way to the semi-finals where he ran into eventual gold medal winner David Taylor of USA. He lost the bout by technical superiority but then had a shot at bronze.

He led the bronze medal bout against San Marino’s Myles Amine till the final ten seconds before he gave away a takedown to lose the bout with barely any time left in the match. It was heartbreaking for Punia but he will surely learn from his debut Olympics appearance and is earmarked as one for the future.

Note that even though he lost the bronze medal bout, he will be classified as 5th by the official rules as there are two bronze medallists in wrestling.