India’s saving grace at the Olympics in Rio were the daughters of the nation, who put forth some incredible performances to win the country medals and salvage pride in what was otherwise a very disappointing edition of the Games for the nation.
While Sakshi Malik and PV Sindhu spring to mind instantly for their heroics at Rio, there was a certain lady who did the same back in 2000 at Sydney where she was the lone medal winner in a country of over 1.2 billion people.
A medal for Indian women after 12 years at the Olympics was special and re-instilled belief in the fairer sex of being able to compete at the top level and getting the better of their counterparts from across the World.
Here is a look at the 5 Indian women medal winners at the Olympics who have impressed and won laurels at the world’s biggest sporting extravangza:
Women’s weightlifting was introduced for the first time in the Olympics and with it came a chance to add a medal to one’s tally. And India’s leading weightlifter, Karnam Malleswari, did not disappoint.
Competing in the 69 kg category, Malleswari lost marginally to Chinese Lin Weining and Hungarian Erzsébet Márkus. In what could have been a Gold, Malleswari failed to lift 137.5kg in her last attempt and had to settle for a Bronze.
Looking back at the event, she claimed she could have easily won Gold. Not only did she concede having lifted similar weights in training, but also put it down to some miscalculation by the coaches which saw her miss the top laurel.
A 132.5 kg lift would have also seen her clinch gold, but it was not to be.
Malleswari put in a stellar show as she lifted 110 kg in the "snatch" and130 kg in the "clean and jerk" for a total of 240 kg, which was good enough to seal a spot on the podium.
Her medal inspired a whole generation of Indian girls to take up sports seriously and showed them they could compete at the very top level.
If it was weightlifting in 2000, it was women’s boxing in the 2012 edition of the Olympics in London and the athlete was Mary Kom, who bagged a bronze in the 51 kg category.
Mary Kom used to box in the 48 kg category earlier but with the Olympics beginning with the 51 kg category for the ladies, she worked on gaining a couple of kilos and building strength to compete with her counterparts.
For those who might not know, a kilo or two makes a huge difference in a sport like boxing.
The 5-time world champion was out to cement her name in the Olympics history books as well. Being the lone Indian to be competing in Women’s boxing, the pressure was on her, and though the Manipuri couldn’t bag the gold, she did win a Bronze in her maiden appearance, going down to the eventual winner, Nicola Adams from the Great Britain.
Mary Kom took to boxing at an early age and having won three World Championships despite being from India where boxing wasn’t given enough prominence, it was was a gigantic effort from the flyweight lady.
She then gave boxing a break to go ahead with her marriage and with kids in her laps soon, she couldn’t have thought of getting back if it was not for her partner who inspired her to wear those deadly gloves again.
As destiny had it, she made an incredible comeback following some rigorous fitness regimes and returned with a World Championship in 2008 and 2010 and followed it up with an Olympic bronze.
The iron lady has been an inspiration to the women of the nation who take to household tasks and chores post marriage and give away their dreams. She allowed ladies to dream again and work towards achieving them.
In what was then the biggest moment in Indian badminton and a point that spurred a change for the sport, Saina Nehwal won Bronze at the 2012 London Olympics.
Saina etched her name in Indian sporting history as she became the first ever shuttler to get on the podium at the Olympics and the second Indian woman at that point of time to return a medal from the Olympics.
Nehwal came into the Games as the lone medal hope for India. With such pressure on her shoulders she ensured she didn’t disappoint the nation and secured a Bronze medal.
In her Bronze medal match, she was pitted against China's Xin Wang, who had to retire hurt after having hurt her ankle, handing Saina her maiden Olympic medal and a moment for India to cherish.
Throughout her campaign, the Indian shuttler did not just show a glimpe of her badminton prowess but also displayed a strong mind and never say die attitude, refusing to give up even in the worst of situations.
In hindsight, probably this was the moment that brought a lot more shuttlers on the court and a belief among them that they could take on the best in the world.
Just as the entire nation was fearing a barren return from Rio, Sakshi Malik produced an incredible performance at around 3 am India time to hand India their maiden medal of the campaign. Heading into the morning of Rakshabandhan, the nation celebrated the gift from their sister.
It was the first ever medal for an Indian female wrestler and came from a position where she seemed down and out, making it an incredible effort, one that brought the nation together and rekindled their spirits heading into the fag end of the 2016 Olympics.
From being 0-5 down to running out an 8-5 winner, Sakshi produced a herculean comeback to perfection and showcased her champion spirit as she just refused to give up.
She had gone down to Russian Valeria Koblova and got a new lease of life with the Russian making it to the finals and she made it count. Having been in the shadow of Geeta Phogat for years, Sakshi carved her niche with perfection and paved the way for a glorious future.
The biggest achievement of them all came from the youngest of the lot. At 21, PV Sindhu won a Silver medal and showcased how far we have come in the sport of Badminton in the last decade, building on the belief instilled by Saina’s medal back in 2012.
Sindhu’s effort shall be regarded the most humongous not just for the colour of the medal but for the fact that she was the least likely to get on the podium and got past top-ranked players in the Olympics in straight sets, dominating them with her aggressive play.
Her attitude and gameplay was an unseen phenomenon from any Indian athlete and made the opponents fear her. The fist pumps, talking to herself to keep herself motivated, that fire in the eyes and that hunger to do well would go down well and hopefully, prompt a change in the coming generation.
Though she was not on the top of her game in the final, she still managed to trouble the World number 1 Carolina Marin and even took the 1st game. She made Marin fight for every point in the match for the Gold medal.
Though the campaign for the Indian contingent was overall forgettable, Sindhu’s Silver shall be the most cherished moment from Rio and one that people will talk about for generations to come.
The journey of these 5 women is very inspirational and if it has helped you take up sports and fitness seriously, visit the #RiseAtRio themed store on Flipkart and start your preparation to achieving greatness today!