The Tokyo Olympics, delayed by a year and hit by unexpected COVID-19 breakout, is finally set to get underway from July 23. A 228-strong Indian contingent including 119 athletes will be looking to better its tally of one silver and one bronze from the previous Olympics in Rio. A total of 117 athletes had competed in Rio, where India returned with two medals — a silver coming from PV Sindhu and a bronze by Sakshi Malik.
In its 100-year-old Olympic journey, India has bagged 28 medals at the quadrennial event, both in the individual and team events, which include nine gold, seven silver, and 12 bronze medals.
The Indian unit is set to open its campaign in Tokyo on the first day (July 23) with the archery qualification rounds. Veteran boxer MC Mary Kom and men’s hockey team skipper Manpreet Singh will be the country’s flag bearers at the opening ceremony while wrestler Bajrang Punia will be the flag bearer at the closing ceremony.
Let’s take a look at India’s triumphs in the Summer Olympics in brief:
The First Medal:
While India established its dominance in hockey in the formative years of the Games, it was Norman Pritchard who opened the medal tally for the country. However, very little is known about him. Pritchard who was of English descent, bagged two silver medals while representing British India at the 1900 Paris Olympics. He won them in the 200m and 200m hurdles, becoming the foremost Indian athlete to bag an individual Olympic medal.
Pritchard was born to an English family settled in Kolkata, India, and entered the 1900 Olympics as a private individual? So is he deemed to be an Indian? Brushing aside the enigma surrounding Pritchard’s portrayal, let’s just hail his performance at the Games. No other Indian till now has been able to replicate his feat at the showpiece. The only other Indian to have won two individual Olympic honours is wrestler Sushil Kumar, who won a Bronze and a Silver, spread over two separate Olympics.
The nation had to wait for 28 years before the Indian hockey side clinched its first Olympic gold medal in the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics. Dhyan Chand scoring 14 goals — the highest in the tournament — was a key reason behind India basking in Olympic success. The Amsterdam gold led to a series of medals as India bagged gold in 1932 (Los Angeles), 1936 (Berlin), 1948 (London) and 1952 (Helsinki), 1956 (Melbourne), 1964 (Tokyo), and 1980 (Moscow).
India’s last Olympic medal in hockey, however, came 41 years ago in 1980, denoting the country’s alarming decline in the sport. With eight golds, one silver, and two bronze medals, India will look to add a few more under their belt and end the nation’s 41-year-old medal drought in Tokyo Games. Manpreet Singh will lead the men’s hockey contingent while the women’s team will be spearheaded by Rani Rampal.
India’s individual Olympic medal drought was ended by wrestler Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav in 1952. He won bronze in the freestyle bantamweight category, giving the Independent nation its first individual Olympic medal.
However, India again had to wait for 40 years before witnessing another individual Olympic glory. Tennis star Leander Paes put a smile on all Indians in 1996 when he bagged a bronze medal in the 1996 edition in Atlanta. In the next games, Karnam Malleswari became the first Indian female athlete to win an Olympic medal by securing bronze in women’s 69 kg weightlifting event.
Since then, India’s show in individual events at the Games has evolved with every edition. Abhinav Bindra in 2008 became the first Indian athlete to bag a gold medal at the Olympics. Vijender Singh (Boxing) and Sushil Kumar (Wrestling) also won a bronze at the showpiece, taking India’s medal tally to three in the 2008 Games.
India’s best performance came four years later in London when the country witnessed six athletes securing a podium finish. Vijay Kumar (Shooting), Sushil Kumar (Wrestling), Saina Nehwal (Badminton), Mary Kom (Boxing), Gagan Narang (Shooting) and Yogeshwar Dutt (Wrestling) bagged top honours in London.
In the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, PV Sindhu (Badminton) clinched a silver medal while Sakshi Malik (Wrestling) came back with bronze.