Even before the women’s singles final of the Rio Olympic Games started on August 19 2016, PV Sindhu had already created history. No Indian woman in the history of Indian sport had won a medal better than a bronze. Irrespective of how she fared against red-hot favourite Carolina Marin, Sindhu would venture into uncharted territory.
But, thanks to the show she put on to push the Spaniard all the way before eventually losing out, the world got to witness a classic game worthy of an Olympic final.
The scoreline read 21-19, 12-21, 15-21 in favour of the Spaniard, who created history in her own right by breaking the Asian dominance at the badminton women’s singles event in Olympic Games.
After the hard-fought final, the 21-year-old Indian brought home the silver medal to become the youngest Indian individual Olympic medallist till date and the only female athlete to win a silver medal for the country. She joined shooters Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore (2004, Athens) and Vijay Kumar (2012, London) and wrestler Sushil Kumar (2012, London) as India’s silver medallists.
And, just as she did at her maiden World Championships appearance, Sindhu showed that the bigger the stage, the better she performed.
The Indian, seeded ninth, had a tough path to the final. She had to beat Tai Tzu Ying (eighth seed) in the opening round (straight games), then second seed Wang Yihan (straight games) and then sixth seed Nozomi Okuhara (straight games). The roar she let out at the end of the semi-final when she beat Okuhara was testament to how hard she fought to earn her place on the podium. Given the expectations that were on the badminton contingent before the Games and Saina Nehwal’s subsequent disappointment with injury, Sindhu gave the nation some much-needed joy.
And the world got to witness Sindhu’s big-game mentality at the biggest stage as she overcame higher-ranked players in each of the knockout rounds to reach the final.
Sindhu was taking her on the reigning world champion, she was seen as an outside bet to win gold, and even the commentators were speaking about how this has already been a good campaign for the Indian. But she was not there to make up the numbers. In a match that was befitting the occasion, Sindhu went toe-to-toe and even outplayed Marin at times during the final.
Marin’s aggression was met with Sindhu’s own brand. Marin’s delicate angles were matched by Sindhu’s will to retrieve.
But, on the day, the Spaniard proved to be just one level ahead.
It was reported that 191 million viewers tuned in to the channel to watch the Rio Games and 10 million watched the ‘live streaming’ on its digital platform.
She had, quite clearly, captured the nation’s imagination.
The best moment of the day was, arguably, at the end of the match. First Sindhu fell on her back the moment she knew the match was lost. Marin’s first reaction was one of jumping with joy before the realisation of what she achieved, hit her like a ton of bricks.
As Marin collpased on her knees on the court, inconsolably crying, Sindhu made her way towards her opponent. She held out an arm to her and as she got up, put an arm around her shoulders as the two athletes embraced each other. That moment was an image that those who witnessed live will never be able to forget for the rest of their lives.
For Pullela Gopichand, it was a matter of immense pride that his protege had stunned the field at her maiden Olympics.
“The kind of work Sindhu has put in the last few months has been tremendous...the kind of sacrifices she has made without complaining has been fantastic,” Gopichand had said.
In more than the sense of the word, she was a winner. She was satisfied with the silver at the end, but for over an hour she gave nothing but her best to win that gold.