Silver opening, golden closing in Olympics as Neeraj Chopra emerges new poster boy of Indian athletics
New Delhi, August 9, 2021
India opened and closed its participation in the Tokyo Olympics in a dramatic and classy fashion, the like of which the country has never done before in these Quadrangular Games.
The country won a medal on the first day of the Games -- a silver by Mirabhai Chanu in weightlifting, an unheard of achievement till then and closed it with its first ever Olympic athletic gold convincingly won by javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra.
In between, India won a silver and a bronze in wrestling, and a bronze each in boxing, badminton and men’s hockey.
The country claimed seven medals -- 1 gold, 2 silver, four bronze, its highest tally in any Olympics so far. Neeraj Chopra (gold), Mirabhai Chanu, Ravi Dahiya (Silver each) Lovlina Borgohain, P V Sindhu, Bajrang Punia, and Men’s hockey team (bronze) were the medal winners.
Half an hour before Neeraj Chopra's javelin final, wrestler Bajrang Punia risked a career-threatening injury to beat Kazakh wrestler Daulet Niyazbekov to win a bronze.
That medal took the Indian tally to six but before that, in the morning of the last day, golfer Aditi Ashok finished fourth after being in the contention till the end of the four rounds.
Aditi, ranked 200th in the world, with her mother as caddie, came up with stunning form and missed out on a bronze medal by just one stroke in a world class field.
Till Neeraj won the gold, India, despite having six medals in its kitty, was lying at 60th place and the one yellow medal propelled it into the 50 club. This shows how valuable the gold medal is in the Olympics.
Though Chanu gave India an unprecedented start at Tokyo, the Indian campaign lost steam the same day with high-profiled shooters failing to deliver. Though there were expectations from the lone weightlifter, all excitement and hopes were focused on the shooters but pistol marksman Saurabh Chaudhary and rifle ace Elavenil Valarivan flopped.
The 26-year-old Manipur lifter assured herself and the country the first medal with a total lift of 202kg. This was India's second medal in weightlifting after Karnam Malleswari's bronze in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
As one shooter after another -- there were 15 in total -- failed to produce their much-vaunted world-class form, despair was visible in the Indian camp. At the end of the tenth day of the Games, the Indians earned their third medal while the same day Jamaica won three medals in women’s 100 m and a cynical reporter put it this way: “What India did in ten days, Jamaicans did in ten seconds.” Very harsh but to the point.
Pre-Olympic hype was built on the expected medal rush, including one or two golds from the shooters who were gunning down records after records in the World Cups. The archers were another disappointment,
Participants in ten other sports went by the script that participation in the Olympics is more important than winning. Judo, Gymnastics, Fencing, Rowing Sailing, Table Tennis, Swimming, Tennis and Equestrian expectedly produced no results except few a slightly better showings here and there.
Sindhu beat China’s He Bingjiao for a bronze, her second at the Olympics after the silver at 2016 Rio , and that lifted the morale of the contingent.
Dahiya made it to 57kg freestyle final with ease and though he lost the final to two-time world champion, his courageous display was very impressive. Lovlina gave her best to win a bronze.
The men's hockey team bagged a bronze -- a medal in hockey after a gap of 41 years, fighting back to beat Germany in a close encounter. It was the country's 12th Olympic medal in the sport.
After the initial debacle which saw the team being thrashed 7-1 by Australia in their second game, Manpreet Singh and his men made a strong comeback only losing to eventual champions Belgium. Goalkeeper P R Sreejesh stood like a wall when the opposition mounted an attack.
Though some genuine medal hopes, wrestler Vinesh Phogat, boxer Amit Panghal and archer Deepika Kumari disappointed. Some others produced extra ordinary performances which made every sports buff in India proud.
In the super-heavyweight category, injured boxer Satish Kumar with stitches above his eye and on his chin put up a tremendous fight against world No. 1 Bakhodir Jalolov of Uzbekistan and even in defeat he came out of the ring with his head held high.
Rani Rampaul led women's hockey team, created history by defeating top ranked Australia 1-0 but went down 3-4 to Great Britain in the bronze medal contest.
In athletics, discus thrower Kanwalpreet Kaur made it to the final while the 4x400m men’s relay team broke the Asian record
The golden moment for India came at the very end of the penultimate day of games when after 13 years, javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra broke the jinx and became the first Indian track and field athlete in history to win a gold medal.
Neeraj Chopra and the Subedar with 4 Rajputana Rifles created history by hurling the spear to a distance of 87.58 metres.
Beijing Olympic gold medalist Abhinav Bindra welcomed Chopra to "the Club". "It is not the most happening of places yet and needs more members, but I feel your entry is going to pave the way for many more deserving athletes," Bindra tweeted.
A look back at the performance of India in the Olympics at the start of this century shows that in 2000 at Sydney Olympics India, with one bronze medal, finished joint 71 on medal table, moved up sixth place to be at 65th, with one silver at 2004 Athens, climbed to 51st place at Beijing with one gold and two bronze.
At London, India had the best haul of six medals (till then) (two silver, 4 bronze) but still slipped to 57th place. In 2016, India had only two medals to show (a silver and a bronze and hurtled down to 67 places and now at Tokyo with its best ever haul medal haul of 7 medals one gold, two silver and four bronze) in the Olympics. India finished 48th and moved up to top fifty club.
Not talking about the sports powerhouse nations like USA (133 medals including 39 gold), China (88 medals - 38 gold), Japan (58 medals - 27 gold), and Great Britain (65 medals-22 gold).
Nations ahead of India were tiny Jamaica (21) with 9 medals -- 4 gold, Serbia (28th), Uzbekistan (32), Uganda (36), Israel (39th), Kosovo and Bahamas (joint 42) to name a few.
This time, India sent its largest 228-member contingent (127 sportspersons 111 officials and support staff) to the Olympics for 18 events
In 2016 at Rio, 117 athletes participated in 15 sports and ended with two medals. In 2012 at London, an 83-member Indian contingent took part in 13 sports for six medals.
The 2008 Beijing Olympic was historic for India for three reasons. It was first time since 1928 that the Indian men’s hockey failed to qualify for the Games, second, shooter Abhinav Bindra became the first sportsperson from the country to win an Olympic individual gold and also the country won more than one medal in the Games.