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Indian athletes who came very close to win a medal at the Olympics

The efforts of several Indian Olympians need to be looked at to understand why and how close the country has come to winning individual medals previously.

Indian athletes who came very close to win a medal at the Olympics

C.C. Chengappa

Updated: 20 July 2021 6:12 AM GMT

"The margin for error is so small. The inches we need are everywhere around us."

There have been countless instances of India coming close to a podium finish at the Olympics. '

Close' in this regard means agonizingly close with the difference being a matter of milliseconds and centimetres. If one were to contend that India has only recently begun providing some form of competition and respectable performances at the Olympics, it would be factually wrong.

The efforts of several Indian Olympians need to be looked at to understand why and how close the country has come to winning individual medals previously.

We take a look at specific sportsmen and women who deserve a special mention for all their efforts and stellar performances at the Olympics over the past few decades.

Dipa Karmakar

Dipa Karmakar at 2016 Olympics

The ace women's gymnast from India, widely regarded as one of the best gymnasts from the country of all time. She was the first Indian to qualify for the finals of the vault event at the Olympics and did this with a score of 14.833 at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Thereafter she entered the final and was at the third position until American Champion Gymnast Simone Biles took the lead thereby sending DipaKarmakar to 4th with a score of 15.066. She missed out on a medal by 0.15 points which was truly agonizing for her and for the nation, to say the least.

Also Read:0 gymnast in Tokyo Olympics — No lesson learnt since Dipa Karmakar's feat

Dipa Karmakar has the distinct record of being 1 of 5 women in the world to have ever landed the Produnova vault, also regarded as the toughest vault to attempt. It requires a front handspring combined with two somersaults and a perfect landing.

She has overcome injuries and birth defects of a flat foot to get to where she is today and her incredible performance and efforts have done the country proud.

PT Usha

It was hers to take. If not the gold medal, at least a bronze would have been great. There are several reasons and theories accredited to PT Usha's heartbreaking loss at the finals of the 400m event in the Los Angeles Olympics. But what stands out is the timing of 0.01 seconds that cost her a place on the podium.

One of India's ace athletes at that time, she was the Asian record holder and had won silver at the 100m and 200m events in the Asian Games in 1982. The 1984 Olympics came and PT Usha had already beaten American athlete Judy Brown in the US, thereby increasing her odds of winning a medal in the 400m event. She raced through her heats and even beat Judy Brown again.

It all came down to the final and PT Usha was to be running from lane 5. A false start made all the athletes come back and this was something that PT Usha would later say affected her energy levels a bit. The main race saw her alongside the leading pack for most of the way. However, Nawal Moutawakel and Judy Brown broke off towards the end to claim gold and silver respectively and it was down to Cristieana Cojocaru and PT Usha to fight it out for the silver.

The last-ditch head dip that Cojocaru did at the finish line proved to be decisive as the result on the photo finish camera was shown to be in her favor. Despite the heartbreak, PT Usha went on to win several accolades at various Asian events years later and finally retired in 2002 with her head high and the nation behind her with full support.

Milkha Singh

He needs no introduction. The Flying Sikh was the first Indian to ever win a Commonwealth Games Gold medal. However what remains as his closest and most hopeful victory till date is what transpired in the 400m event at the 1960 Rome Olympics.

Coming in to the event Singh had been deemed as a favourite given his reputation in Asia and his performances in the heats. Barring Otis Davis, Milkha Singh had beaten all other competitors in the heats and was raring to go in the final.

At the 250 m mark, however, he slowed down and made the grave mistake of looking around at where the other racers were. This action of his, which he later came to regret profoundly, would cost him a medal at the finish line.

Otis Davis and Carl Kaufmann sped to the first and second position and in doing so they broke the record with 44.9 seconds. Coming in behind them was Malcolm Spence and Milkha Singh both of whom also broke the world record with a time of 45.9. However, the photo finish that was done at the end adjudged Singh to be in the fourth position despite breaking the world record.

Indian Football Team

Indian Football Team at 1956 Olympics

In the 1950s and 60s, India was a force to be reckoned with on the football front. The famous story of the Indian team qualifying for the World Cup but refusing to play with shoes is one that still does the rounds at times. It was in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics however that the country nearly won a bronze medal. After being the home team by a score of 4-2, India reached the semi-finals where it was up against Yugoslavia.

They, unfortunately, lost 4-1 despite leading 1-0 at the beginning of the second half. There was still an opportunity to win a bronze medal in the semi-final match against Bulgaria but lost out again by a score of 3-0. Neville D'souza was the top scorer of the tournament.

Joydeep Karmakar

Joydeep Karmakar at 2012 Olympics

At one point during qualifications, Joydeep Karmakar was at 30 out of a total field of 50 shooters. He had dropped 5 points and had realised what his chances were after a total of 40 shots had taken place. He had to claw his way back anyhow and in the remaining 20 odd shots, he did not drop a single point. At the end of it he had made his way into the top 9 shooters all of whom were tied at 595 points.

There had to be a shoot-off amongst them to determine those who would make it to the final and Joydeep scored a total of 51.6 to ensure his qualification by finishing 7th. The final medal tally would be decided with a cumulative score of the qualification round as well as the final round. He shot 104.1 which brought him to a total score of 699.1.

This was to be the biggest heartbreak that would see him finish 1 point behind third place shooter Rajmond Debevec. Credit to Joydeep for making such a phenomenal comeback and fighting on till the end to prove all his doubters wrong.

Anju Bobby George

Anju Bobby George at 2004 Olympics

The only Indian to have ever won a medal at the World Athletics Championships, Anju Bobby George was one of India's athletics hopefuls at the Olympics in 2004. However, it was another story of 'so close yet so far' for an Indian athlete at the Olympics. Back in 2003 she had finished at third place in the World Athletics Champions and was high on confidence the following year given the consistency that she had maintained.

She finished her qualification round with ease in 9th place with a best jump of 6.69. The finals would however be tough given that her competitors included world champions such as Jade Johnson and Tatyana Kotova. Her first jump proved to be the best with a score of 6.83 putting her in third place after round 1.

However, her jump distance diminished after that and it included 2 disqualifications as well that resulted in her slipping from third place to fifth. Numerically, she missed out on a bronze medal by a mere 23 centimetres. Agonizingly close yet again.

Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes

Mahesh Bhupati and Leander Paes in 2004 Olympics

Another set of sportspersons who were medal hopefuls at the 2004 Athens Olympics was the Indian tennis duo. They never dropped a set till the semi-finals and even defeated ace tennis players like Mardy Fish- Andy Roddick and Yves Allegro- Roger Federer in the first two rounds. It was to be their dream run to the podium but was, unfortunately, to end empty-handed. They faltered in the semi-finals where they lost 2-6, 3-6.

Thereafter in the bronze medal playoff they fought another gruelling encounter with Mario Ancic and Ivan Ljubicic but lost 6-7, 6-4, 14-16. Both these defeats were surprising considering the Indian duo were one of the top ranked teams in the entire tournament and were playing exceptional tennis till the semi-finals.

Kunjarani Devi

Kunjarani Devi at 2004 Olympics

While she did finish 4th Kunjarani Devi was not statistically close to winning a medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics as her final score was way off third place. However, she did attempt the 112 kg Clean and Jerk category and successfully cleared it. Her score at the end off all the rounds was 190 points that put her in fourth place behind Aree Wiratthaworn of Thailand who finished with 200 points.

Rohan Bopanna and Sania Mirza

Rohan Bopanna and Sania Mirza at 2016 Olympics

The equation for the mixed doubles event at the Rio Olympics was that a team had to win 3 matches in order to guarantee themselves a medal. There were a total of 16 teams competing out of which the Indian duo was among the favourites having won two consecutive matches to reach the semi-final. They were up against the Czech combo of Radek Stephanek and Lucie Hradceka. In the contest that lasted one hour and thirteen minutes, Rohan Bopanna and Sania Mirza were outclassed 1-6,6-7.

At one point, they were losing 0-5 in the opening set before they managed to save two consecutive set points. Hopes were high in the second set when they led 3-1 but repetitive faults from both Sania and Rohan Bopanna cost them the lead and subsequently the entire match. It was not to be the fairy tale ending that India had waited for since Leander Paes last won a bronze medal at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996.

Indian women's hockey team

Given that top teams such as Great Britain, USA, Netherlands and West Germany were not competing in the event, the Indian eves had a great chance at winning a medal at the 1980 Olympics. They beat Poland and Austria soundly in the initial stages of the tournament.

However, they suffered a set back with a 1-1 draw against Zimbabwe and a 2-0 loss to Czechoslovakia. This put them on course to meet USSR where the minimum requirement to win a medal was a draw. Defeat ensued the team which lost 3-1 and thereby resulted in them finishing fourth overall. This was their first and final show at the Olympics before turning again in 2016.

There are many more such instances where Indians have dominated, been favourites or have been world champions but have come away with no medals at the Olympics despite brilliant performances. Wrestlers such as Prem Kumar 1972, Mangwe Jadhav 1952, Sudesh Nath 1972 and Rajinder Singh in 1984 along with the Indian Hockey in 2004 who deserve special mentions for their efforts that went in vain.

Call it with fate entwined with bad luck, all the athletes have done the nation proud and deserve to be where they are today. Because if not for them, countless others would have probably never been inspired to take up sports and bring glory to the nation in the years to come.

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