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5 Indian soldiers who have made a name for themselves at the Olympics

5 Indian soldiers who made a name for India at the Olympics
5 Indian soldiers who made a name for India at the Olympics

Less than 25 days are remaining in the Tokyo Olympics. Despite being severely affected by the COVID pandemic, the Olympics shall be held with full gusto. India is ready to send their 2nd largest contingent ever since the Rio Olympics. As of now, there are already more than 110 athletes who have qualified as of now.

Like in every Olympics, even this time the Indian armed forces are contributing in their own sweet way to the cause of the nation. From Neeraj Chopra to Vishnu Saravanan, there are at least 20 athletes from the armed forces.

The Indian Armed Forces at the Olympics

Ever since the Indian hockey team participated at the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam, the Indian armed forces have contributed to the nation's cause. Fun fact: India's first ever Olympic medalist, Norman Pritchard, was also a soldier in the British Indian Army.

Of the 28 Olympic medals earned by India, almost half of them have been given by the armed forces, including the medals earned by the hockey teams. Every Indian hockey team that earned an Olympic medal had earned at least one member from the Indian armed forces.

Even Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, who gave India's first Olympic medal in shooting, came from the Indian Army. Vijay Kumar, who opened India's medal account in pistol shooting at the Olympics, also belonged to the Dogra Regiment of the Indian Army.

Even today, some of the brightest medal prospects for the Tokyo Olympics belong to the Indian Army. Neeraj Chopra, the dashing javelin thrower, is a Subedar from the Rajputana Rifles.

Amit Kumar Panghal, the sensational boxer who created history at the 2019 World Championships, is a Subedar from the Mahar Regiment. Tejinder Pal Singh Toor, who is now a strong contender for a historic Olympic medal in athletics, belongs to the Indian Navy. Manish Kaushik, another promising boxer, is also a proud JCO from the Indian Army.

The list would be infinite, but here are some athletes whose contribution to India's small but memorable Olympic legacy is irrefutable. Their legacy is something our athletes bound for Tokyo can certainly take some inspiration from.

5) Naib Subedar Milkha Singh [Retired]

Naib Subedar Milkha Singh [Retired] - The trendsetter of Indian athletics
Naib Subedar Milkha Singh [Retired] - The trendsetter of Indian athletics

Born to a simple family in Gobindpura between 1929 and 1935 [the exact year is disputed], Milkha didn't have many dreams for himself. However, his life took a turn for the worse with India gaining freedom.

His village came on the wrong side of the border, and he lost his parents in the carnage that followed the Partition. Milkha was only twelve when he somehow saved himself and hopped onto the train bound from Multan to Delhi.

Milkha's troubles were far from over. However, he never gave up. He joined the Indian Army after three failed attempts. Once recruited in 1954, he never looked back. Milkha quickly rose in rank and talent to represent India at the Melbourne Olympics in 1956. He failed, but learnt a lot from experience.

In four years, Naib Subedar Milkha Singh transformed into a formidable athlete. He was one of the world's best by then. Gold medalist at both the Commonwealth and Asian Games, Milkha also broke the then Olympic record of 45.8 seconds in a practice meet in France.

He was all set to create history when a split second decision to slow down in the finals cost him dear. Milkha was almost leading at one point when his decision to slow down pushed him to fourth. He missed a historic Olympic medal by one tenth of a second, something he regretted till the last moment of his life.

However, the legacy he created is something no one can deny or destroy even today. He isn't called the 'Flying Sikh' just like that.

4) Colonel Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore [Retired]

Major Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore [now retired Colonel] - India's first individual Olympic silver medalist in any sport
Major Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore [now retired Colonel] - India's first individual Olympic silver medalist in any sport

Some know Norman Pritchard as the man who gave India her first medal at the Olympics. Many remember Kashaba Jadhav fondly as the Indian who gave India her first medal at the Olympics. However, Colonel Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore has been quite different from the two.

A trendsetter in his own class, Colonel Rathore has seen it all - war, adventure, loss, victory and more. He is Independent India's first sportsman to win an Olympic silver medal in any sport. What's better - he won the medal in the double trap event - which is the toughest of all disciplines in shooting.

Shooting was considered an elite sport. Except for one medal at the 1962 World Championships, India didn't fare well. However, Major Rathore decided to break the mold. He barely managed to qualify for the finals with a decent score of 135 out of 150 shots.

However, once into the finals, Major Rathore had a significant makeover. He cracked open 44 disks. This was just one disk short of the ultimate winning score of 45, made by Sheikh Ahmed al Makhtoum of UAE. Overall, Major Rathore scored 179, while Al Makhtoum scored a new Olympic record score of 189 out of 200.

Despite winning a silver medal, Major Rathore's medal was special. He created India's legacy in Olympic shooting. In the next edition, Abhinav Bindra went a step ahead, becoming India's first individual Olympic champion in the sport of shooting.

3) Honorary Captain Shankar Lakshman Shekhawat [Retired]

Honorary Captain Shankar Lakshman Shekhawat - The most unsung sports hero of independent India
Honorary Captain Shankar Lakshman Shekhawat - The most unsung sports hero of independent India

Who is 'The Wall' of Indian sports? Rahul Dravid. Wrong!

Why?

Rahul Dravid is popularly nicknamed 'The Wall'. But he was not originally the one who earned this title. A soldier, who is rather unknown even today, was once the custodian of this title.

Born as Shankar Lakshman in the Shekhawat community, the soldier joined the Indian Army. He was a part of the brass band unit in the Maratha Light Infantry. Initially, Shankar was a part of the Services football team as a goalkeeper. However, he was ultimately chosen as the goalkeeper of the Indian hockey team.

Shankar Lakshman made his debut as the goalkeeper at the Melbourne Olympics. He was instrumental in maintaining a magic clean slate. India scored a whopping 38 goals throughout. But not one rival player could score a goal into the Indian post, thanks to Shankar Lakshman.

However, the same skills could not come to the rescue at Rome Olympics. Once again India faced Pakistan in the finals. Shankar Lakshman was once again the goalkeeper. However, a minor slip caused India both a goal and the gold medal.

It took 4 years and superhuman efforts from Shankar Lakshman to bring back both the gold medal and the lost honor. He was the goalkeeper when India won back their lost honor at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. When Shankar was not selected for the Mexico Olympics in 1968, he called it quits. He died in ignominy in 2005.

2) Colonel Haripal Kaushik [Retired]

Colonel Haripal Kaushik - India's Sankatmochak, both in hockey and in war
Colonel Haripal Kaushik - India's Sankatmochak, both in hockey and in war

Another unsung hero like Shankar Lakshman is Haripal Kaushik. He was a unique hero of his own kind. He was a warrior, both on the field as well off the field. Like Shankar Lakshman, he made his debut at the Melbourne Olympics in 1956.

Haripal Kaushik further participated at the Rome Olympics in 1960. However, he was forced to settle for a silver medal. To make matters worse, he was called to action in the Indo China war of 1962.

Though he won a Vir Chakra for his actions, he was not too happy with that. He had lost many brave officers of his Sikh regiment. Some of them included Subedar Joginder Singh Sahnan, who was posthumously awarded the Param Vir Chakra for his bravery in the same.

However, Haripal took them in his stride and prepared for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. An able defender, he was equally instrumental in denying Pakistan the crucial goals they needed for another gold medal against India at the Tokyo Olympics. Had it not been for him, India would not have won back her lost honor and her prestige against Pakistan at the Tokyo Olympics.

1) Major Dhyan Chand [Retired]

Major Dhyan Chand - The man who put India on the world map of sports
Major Dhyan Chand - The man who put India on the world map of sports

However, if India is known at the Olympics today, it is because of one man and one man alone, Major Dhyan Chand. The legendary hockey wizard gave India a name for itself. His stickwork was such that the British never dared to play Olympic field hockey as long as he played on the field.

Born to Sameshwar Singh, Dhyan Singh was initially not inclined towards any sport, forget hockey. However, he developed a liking towards hockey. His father himself played hockey for the British Indian Army.

Dhyan Singh got his name Dhyan Chand owing to his affinity for playing under moonlight. When he made his debut at the Amsterdam Olympics, his stickwork dazzled the world. The organizers confiscated his stick, and broke it to check if there was a magnet inside. It was because the ball never left his stick. However, nothing was found.

Major Dhyan Chand led the Indian team when they arrived at the Berlin Olympics. They won their 3rd consecutive Olympic gold, defeating hosts Germany in the finals by 8-1. Famous cricketer Donald Bradman once himself remarked, "He scores goals like we score runs in cricket."

Honorable Mentions

The list of soldiers who made India proud at the Olympics is infinite. However, here are some honorable mentions as well -

Honorary Captain Vijay Kumar - A consistent shooter, he won a surprise silver medal in pistol shooting at the London Olympics in 2012.

Honorary Captain Mohinder Lal - Another unsung hero like Shankar Lakshman, it was this player whose heroics gave India their 7th Olympic gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. He took a penalty stroke and successfully converted it into a goal, scooping the shot past Pakistani goalkeeper Abdul Hamid.

As of now, the following disciplines from the Armed Forces shall be representing India at the Olympics:

1) Athletics

2) Boxing

3) Sailing

4) Rowing

5) Shooting

Of the above, Athletics comprise members from the Indian Army and the Indian Navy. The shooting has members from the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force. Sailing, which marks a return in 2008, has members from both the Indian Army and Indian Navy. In rowing, as well in boxing, we have members from the Indian Army.

Let us see who makes India proud, and how many medals we bring home from the Tokyo Olympics.

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Edited by Rohit Mishra
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