The carnival has already started and we are into the third day of the 16-day (or more precisely 18-day if we count those two before the opening ceremony) extravaganza – dubbed as the greatest sports gala on the planet. And in this piece we discuss about the story so far for a nation that stands second among the participants in terms of population or more importantly has sent its largest ever contingent to the South American venue this time.
India was never a sporting superpower. In fact, other than 8 hockey golds at the Games, India for long could hardly boast of another Olympic sport where they dominated so emphatically. The last of our hockey gold came way back in 1980. Though the nation debuted in 1900 Games at Paris with Norman Pritchard winning two silvers in athletics, India returned to Olympics only after the First World War in 1920 and has been a regular since then.
From 1928 to 1980 with the exception of Montreal 1976, the nation never returned from the Games empty-handed – thanks to our Hockey team that won 11 medals during the period. Post 1980 with the ebb in our patent game, the nation waited 16 years till Leander Paes ended our medal drought. Since then we won a medal each in the next two editions till Beijing Olympics opened the floodgates with three – including a gold from shooter Abhinav Bindra. In London last time, our proud contingent flew back home with a total tally of six podium finishes – though none of them atop the podium.
As the deputation left for Rio Olympics, expectations were high with predictions ranging from 8 to even a dozen medals when the Games will end in a fortnight’s time. But to the dismay of many, the start was not exactly what the nation of 1.3 billion really hoped for. On the very first day and within hours of the opening ceremony, one of our medal prospects – Rohan Bopanna and Leander Paes – were knocked out in the very first round in men’s doubles tennis. In spite of having their share of pre-Games controversies regarding their partnership, the tennis pair – both big names in the country – were thought of at least going deep into the tournament even if they fail to bring a medal in the long run.
The very same day, another hot contender ended up no less tamely. The ISSF World Cup champion in 10 m air pistol shooting – Jitu Rai – kept his nerves to qualify for the finals with the very final shot in the preliminaries but failed to keep that mettle farther, thus finishing at the very bottom in the final round. In table tennis, Mouma Das and Achanta Sharath Kamal both bow out of the singles in the very first round. Though Mouma lost in straight sets in a one-sided affair, Sharath did make a mid-way recovery before going down eventually. In the women’s 48kg finale, Commonwealth silver medalist Saikhom Mirabai Chanu – who broke a national 12-year old record recently – failed to lift anything in the clean and jerk after lifting 82 kg in the snatch.
The gloom continued into the next day as well with Heena Sindhu finishing a poor 14th in the women’s 10 m air pistol shooting. The seasoned shooter who had earlier won many an accolade in many important international events was certainly counted as one of the major medal aspirants. The archer trio of Deepika Kumari, Bombayla Devi Laishram and Laxmirani Majhi fell to the eventual silver-medalists Russian counterparts in the team event at the quarterfinal stage. A win otherwise would certainly had taken them very close to a medal contention.
The third day was even more disappointing with two of our prodigies drawing a blank. While last time bronze medalist Gagan Narang failed to qualify for the 10 m air rifle finals finishing 23rd in the qualifier, 2008 Gold medalist Abhinav Bindra who was in a medal contention for the major part of the final fell agonizingly short of a podium finish at fourth. Manavjit Singh Sandhu too flattered to deceive – finishing 16th in trap shooting thus failing to make the cuts for the finals. The men’s hockey team too suffered a painful defeat against Germany thanks to a goal in the dying moments of regulation time. Archer Laxmirani Majhi bowed out meekly of individual event in the first round. Indian swimmers – Shivani Kataria and Sajan Prakash – too could not make the finals of their respective events finishing outside the top 3 in their respective heats.
There were a few silver linings – although these are in their nascent stages and far from medal contention. One such is Tripura’s Dipa Karmakar who became the first Indian in the finals of a gymnastic event at the Olympics. The girl who will turn 23 tomorrow earlier became a national sensation when she booked a ticket to the Rio and in the process became the first Indian in 52 years to do so. Yesterday, the girl who can perform the difficult and injury-prone ‘Produnova’ vault with ease sealed a spot in the finals of the vault with a score of 14.850. Earlier on day 1, the only rower at this year’s gala – Dattu Baban Bhokanal – qualified for the quarters in men’s single sculls after finishing third in his qualifying heat. Indian men’s hockey team too registered a 3-2 victory over Ireland – their first in 12 years at the Games.
Hope the trend changes to something sunnier from now on.