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5 unluckiest Indian athletes at the Olympics

Unfavored by Lady Luck, some of the best Indian athletes have lost out on winning an Olympic medal by a whisker.

5 unluckiest Indian athletes at the Olympics

Dipa Karmakar almost won a bronze at her debut Olympics in Rio


Sohinee Basu

Updated: 20 July 2021 4:55 AM GMT

Almost. Perhaps no word in the dictionary hurts more than this and only few know the pain of losing from a point where they really could have had it all. The dream of an Olympic medal is one that is long-harbored by every athlete. Yet history has seen how some of the top-most players, well-decorated legends in their domain, have suffered from this agony of being unlucky at the Olympic Games. Unfavored by Lady Luck at the most crucial moments, these losses have been haunting for them and heart-wrenching for their fans, being such a bitter pill to swallow as it is.

In the run-up to the Tokyo Games, let's take a look at 5 Indian athletes who have been unlucky in the history of the Olympics:

Milkha Singh

Milkha Singh

For a loss which took place at the 1960 Rome Olympic Games to throb equally painfully in 2021, is a rare sight. Milkha Singh was the talk of the country and the world during the 1950's when the Flying Sikh was busy planting India's name permanently on the track and field events. A gold medallist at both the Asian and Commonwealth Games, Milkha Singh's career was perpetually well-decorated. However, one thing was glaringly amiss from his rack of medals and that was the Olympic one.

Having participated in 3 consecutive Olympics - 1956 Melbourne Olympics, 1960 Rome Olympics and finally the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Milkha Singh failed to bring home an Olympic medal in all of his hattrick outings. However, the 1960 Rome Olympics occupy a special place of heartbreak for both Milkha as well as countless Indians as the nation's most celebrated sprinter came seconds close to winning the bronze, only to lose and finish fourth in the rankings.

"I knew what my fatal error was. After running perilously fast in lane five, I slowed down at 250m and could not cover the lost ground after that, and that cost me the race," Milkha Singh was quoted by the Olympic Channel.

An error of judgment on Milkha's part during the final seconds of the 400 meter run cost the ex-Army man dearly. Having led for the first 200 meters of the race, Milkha was in a comfortable position to at least claim a bronze - before he turned back to check on the other athletes and as a result, ever so minutely dampened his momentum. Leaping onto this chance, South Africa's Malcolm Spence raced ahead to bag the bronze in 45.5 seconds while Singh drew a breath short, finishing fourth at 45.73 seconds and setting a National Record, unbroken for the next 40 years.

PT Usha

A legend par excellence in the world of track and field, PT Usha's sensational career saw her lapping up countless medals - including 10 gold medals at the Asian Championships alone. The Payyoli Express entered the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics in the 400 meter hurdles - an event that was making its debut for women at the Olympics that very year. Backed by serious preparation and an exhilarating 55.7 seconds finish at the Olympic trials, PT Usha, all of 20, was in marvelous form.

Clocking 56.81 seconds in the heats, PT Usha sprinted into the semi-finals. She improved herself immediately and became the first Indian athlete to win a semi-final at the Olympics, notching a 55.54 seconds finish on the clock and setting a Commonwealth record. Into the finals, Usha was focused on bagging a medal before one of the competitors false-started, causing the athletes to restart the match.

This somehow upset the tempo of Usha and she failed to find the rhythm during the final race, getting off to a slightly slow start. Missing out on the bronze by just 1/100th of a second, PT Usha lost out by a thread while Romania's Christina Cojocaru edged past to secure the bronze in 55.41 seconds.

#3 Joydeep Karmakar

Joydeep Karmakar

Credited to be the harbinger of rifle shooting in India, Joydeep Karmakar's tale of almost winning an Olympic medal for India is heartbreaking, to say the least. Former Asia No. 1, Karmakar has a list of laurels to his name gathered from his outings in 28 World Cups, 2 Commonwealth Games, 1 Asian Games, and 3 World Championships.

Qualifying for the 2012 London Olympics, the Calcutta-born star shooter-turned-coach represented India in the Men's 50 metre Rifle Prone event. A former World No. 4, Karmakar had to make up a huge deficit in the points to compete in the later rounds of the high-intensity event. Pulling off a spectacular comeback, Karmakar discovered that he was tied with nine others at 595 and only five of them could make it to the final.

It was at this instance that Pavel Smirnov (India's foreign pistol coach) had come up to Karmakar, asking for five rounds of ammo for Vijay Kumar, who eventually went on to win the silver medal in the 25 metre rapid fire pistol event. Karmakar obviously jumped in to help, before heading to play in the finals after making it through the shoot-off, where he scored 51.6.

Possessing cool nerves and a calm head, Karmakar battled a cramp in his right calf to fire the shots and aimed for an Olympic medal. However, the stars did not seem to align for Karmakar and he found himself losing when he fired the final shot and finished fourth, missing out on the bronze by only 1.9 points.

#2 Sania Mirza - Rohan Bopanna

Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna

The possibility of India extending their medal tally in tennis had loomed large once again during the 2016 Rio Olympics. Despite India's consistent showing at the Olympics in tennis, the tale of narrow misses reign supreme. Save for the lone bronze won by Leander Paes at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Indian tennis stars have failed to win any more prized medals at the Games.

Playing sensationally, India's most successful female tennis player, Sania Mirza and the current Indian men's doubles No. 1 player, Rohan Bopanna, had eased into the semi-finals of the mixed doubles in Rio. Seeded fourth at the Games, the Mirza-Bopanna pairing stormed past the British combine of Andy Murray - Heather Watson to set up a date with Venus Williams - Rajeev Ram in the semi-finals.

Initially getting off to a strong start, Mirza-Bopanna had even clinched the first set before Venus Williams, a former World No. 1 in both singles as well as doubles, shifted things to the next gear. Standing just a set away from claiming a silver medal for India, the match started to slip away from the Indians as the Americans powered in. Eventually, Williams - Ram dominated the remainder of the match while Mirza-Bopanna struggled to find their rhythm, losing 6-2, 2-6, 3-10.

"Tough to get over loss like this and find positives out of it. Still have a shot at a medal. Our opponents will also be coming off a loss and that's the only positive. Think we played well in the 2nd set as well," Sania was reported to have said after the loss.
Dipa Karmakar

The world sat up and took notice when Dipa Karmakar had vaulted into the limelight by becoming the first Indian woman to win a bronze medal in gymnastics at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Barely 5 feet, Karmakar nimbly made her Olympic debut at the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016. With this feat alone, she became the first female gymnast from India as well as the lone Indian gymnast to feature in the quadrennial games in 52 long years.

What followed thereafter was a fairytale as the Triupara-born athlete catapulted her way into the finals of the Women's Vault Gymnastics Event. Having scored 14.850 points in the qualifying round, Dipa attempted the Tsukahara in her first attempt at the finals. Notching 14.866 points for that, Dipa decided to considerably hike up the difficulty level and went for the famous Produnova vault.

Save for a perfect-to-the-tee landing, Dipa Karmakar aced the difficult vault which is rarely attempted by most gymnasts. However, at the grand stage of the Olympics, the slightly unbalanced landing cost Dipa, making her miss out on the bronze medal by a whisker. Scoring 15.266 in the final round, Dipa was just 0.15 points away from claiming the bronze and overtaking Switzerland's Giulia Steingruber. Honoured by the Padma Shri for her daunting performance in Rio, Dipa Karmakar's near-miss act is a source of regret for many.

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