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Tokyo 2020

The significance of the superwomen at the Tokyo Olympics

The recently concluded Tokyo Olympics saw a gutsy performance by Indian ladies and some interesting trends emerging about ladies' participation in the Olympics.

The significance of the superwomen at the Tokyo Olympics

Ranajit Bhattacharyya

Updated: 19 Aug 2021 2:35 PM GMT

The recently concluded Tokyo Olympics not only saw some unprecedented moments for India – 1st track and field Gold, highest Olympic medal tally, some gutsy performance by our ladies but also saw some interesting trends emerging about our ladies' participation in the Olympics.

India sent its largest-ever contingent to the Olympics in Tokyo Olympics 2020. 126 participants comprising 70 men and 56 ladies participated in 18 sporting disciplines. 56 ladies to Tokyo also constituted India's largest participation of ladies in an Olympic, who participated in 16 sporting disciplines, with two new disciplines – sailing and fencing, also the highest ever!

Table 1 (Source: Wikipedia and Olympian database)

The table above depicts the total number of Indian ladies, sporting discipline-wise, who have participated in the Olympics since Independence. 256 have participated in 16 sporting disciplines up until Tokyo 2020.

From the table, we can also see that participation of Indian ladies in the summer Olympics was mostly in single-digit till 2000, we also see India did not send any ladies to 4 Olympics, post-independence – 1948, 1960, 1968 and 1976! In Moscow 1980 a 16-member hockey contingent makes the lady contingent size the largest in the last century!

Participation of our ladies in athletics has been the highest up until now. This represents in every Olympics our ladies have participated in. But we are yet to win an Olympic medal in athletics.

Many of us know that P.T. Usha came very close to winning the Bronze in 1984 at Los Angeles, she missed it by one-hundredth of a second. Los Angeles Olympics was also where our lady athletes performed reasonably well to be noticed by the world.

Shiny Abraham reached the semi-finals of 800 metres with a personal best of 2:04.69 seconds and became the first Indian lady to reach the semi-finals of an Olympic event! She finished last in the semi-final, though.

The 4x400 metre relay team of P. T. Usha, Shiny Abraham, M. D. Valsamma and Vandana Rao made it to the finals but finished last among the seven teams in the final. They set an Asian record of 3:32.49 seconds, though!

Just for the record, it will be useful to note that Nilima Ghose who ran 100 metres and 80 metres hurdles in Helsinki in 1952 was the 1st Indian lady to compete in a track and field event.

Shooting, badminton and table tennis are the next 3 disciplines in which our ladies have participated more frequently. 3 medals have already come from Badminton, 1 Silver and 2 Bronze.

Over the years, our shooting team has been very disappointing, considering many of them went to the Olympics as medal prospects and drew a blank. Tokyo Olympics 2020 was particularly disappointing in this regard.

Archery, weightlifting, boxing, wrestling, golf, gymnastics, fencing and sailing have been additions in the 21st century. Weightlifting, wrestling and boxing have been reasonably productive up until now, with our ladies giving a decent account of themselves to pick up a few Olympic medals.

Karnam Malleswari, as most of us know, was the first Indian lady to win an Olympic medal in Sydney in 2000. It was a Bronze in 69kg weightlifting. Since then, 4 more medals have been won by our ladies, 2 boxing bronze, 1 wrestling and 1 weightlifting.

In the last century, barring Moscow 1980, the participation of Indian ladies in the Olympics was just a fraction of our men. As observed earlier in this analysis, we went with an all men contingent to London 1948, Rome 1960, Mexico 1968 and Montreal 1976!

Table 2 (Source: Wikipedia and Olympian database)

In Moscow 1980 our 16-member ladies hockey team reduced the skew to a certain degree, it was roughly 1/3rd of the participating men's contingent.

Since Sydney 2000 the participation of our ladies has consistently grown, with the exception of London 2012.

Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020 saw considerable improvement and the skew towards men is close to being flattened!

After seeing the brave display of our ladies, of whom very little was known prior to the Tokyo Olympics, no one will grudge if the skew favours the ladies in Paris! Our lady Olympians are here to stay.

The fighting spirit of the likes of Grace, Salima, Nisha, Sushila, Rani, Aditi, Bhavani Devi and many more are bound to rub off on our youngsters and inspire them to reach greater heights.

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