From Milkha Singh to Sania Mirza, many Indian athletes have narrowly missed out on an Olympic medal.
For a long time, winning a medal at the Olympics was a distant dream for most Indians. But in recent times, a few athletes like Saina Nehwal and Sushil Kumar, along with a few others, broke the glass ceiling by winning medals at the quadrennial competition.
However, a few Indians have come mighty close to standing on the Olympic podium, but missed out on the medal by a whisker. On that note, let us take a look at five such near misses.
#1 PT Usha - 1984 Los Angeles Olympics
Commonly known as the 'Queen of Indian track and field', a lot was expected from PT Usha when she qualified for the 400m hurdles in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
Usha had become the first Indian female to reach the finals of an Olympic event after she finished second in the semi-finals.
In the finals, PT Usha (55.42 sec) performed well, but missed out on the bronze medal, as Cristieana Cojocaru of Romania dipped her head 1/100th of a second before Usha to take the podium. Nawal Moutawakal of Morocco won the gold and Ann Louise of Sweden took the silver medal.
Years later, PT Usha talked about her miss at the 1984 Olympics when she said:
"The Romanian dipped while I didn't. I was not used to lunging at the finish, as I mostly used to win with a huge lead. So, in that historic race, I didn’t lunge or dip despite my body being ahead."
#2 Milkha Singh - 1960 Rome Olympics
Arguably, Milkha Singh is India's greatest athlete of all time. Often referred to as the 'The Flying Sikh', Milkha Singh entered as one of the strongest prospects at the 1960 Rome Olympics, as he had won gold at the 1958 Commonwealth Games.
Competing in the 400m event in Rome, Milkha Singh breezed through the early rounds and qualified for the finals. However, despite leading the race at the start, he made a fatal error of looking over his shoulder midway through the race, which cost him an Olympic medal by 0.1 seconds.
Otis Davis (44.9 secs) finished tied with Carl Kaufmann. However, automatic timing ruled Davis the winner by a margin of 0.01 sec. South Africa's Malcolm Spence completed the race just 0.1 sec faster than Milkha to secure third spot.
"I knew what my fatal error was. After running perilously fast in lane five, I slowed down at 250m and could not cover the lost ground after that, and that cost me the race," said a rueful Milkha Singh later.
#3 Abhinav Bindra - 2016 Rio Olympics
While 2008 saw Abhinav Bindra become the first Indian to win the Olympic gold in an individual event, when he did so in the 10m Air Rifle at the Beijing Olympics, eight years later, in Rio he narrowly missed out on a second Olympic medal in the same event.
The shooter started well in the finals and even moved up to second spot. However, a few wayward shots meant that he ended up in a tie for third place with Ukraine’s Serhiy Kulish, with 163.8 points after 16 shots.
While Bindra shot a 10, Kulish managed a 10.5 in the shoot-off, therefore ending the Indian's fifth and final Olympics without reaching the Olympic podium.
Italy's Niccolo Campriani, who won silver in the London Olympics, won the gold, while Serhiy Kulish and Russian Vladimir Maslennikov took home the silver and bronze respectively.
"That's the way it is. Somebody had to be fourth and I am fourth. I did well. I gave it all and I am very very proud how I finished. It was a good day, a hard day. I put it all, gave what I had and ended up fourth in the world at the Olmpics to close my career. It could have been better with a medal, I came very very close. But I am very very happy," a gracious Bindra said in the aftermath of the event.
#4 Dipa Karmakar - 2016 Rio Olympics
It was not just Abhinav Bindra who missed out on an Olympic medal in Rio. Dipa Karmakar, India's first gymnast to qualify for the Olympics, was on that list too.
Karmakar reached the final of the vault event and started the medal round with a 'Tsukahara' which saw her clinch 14.866 points in her first attempt. Knowing she had to pull off something extraordinary to win an Olympic medal, she attempted the 'Produnova' in her second.
However, her landing cost her a medal, as she scored 15.066 points behind Giulia Steingruber (15.216) of Switzerland, who won the bronze. USA's Simone Biles (15.966) won the gold, while reigning world champion Maria Paseka (15.253) bagged the silver.
"I'm happy but wish I could have done a bit better. In practice, I perform way better than this," Dipa Karmakar later said.
#5 Joydeep Karmakar- 2012 London Olympics
At the 2012 London Olympics, Joydeep Karmakar qualified for the finals in the men's 50m Rifle Prone event with a score of 595.
While his series of ten shots in the finals kept him in contention for an Olympic medal, a 10.4 in his final shot restricted him to fourth place. He finished with a total score of 699.1 while, Slovenia’s Rajmond Debevec, the bronze medallist, scored 701.0.
Belarus' Sergei Martynov won the gold, Belgium's Lionel Cox took home the silver, while Slovania's Rajmond Debevec clinched bronze, with Karmakar missing out on a podium finish.
“When I saw Vijay (Kumar) receive the silver medal that day, I broke down completely. I realised what I had missed. From that day onwards, I have never attended a medal ceremony. The music they play at the ceremony haunts me till date,” Joydeep Karmakar would say later.
#Honourable Mention: Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna- 2016 Rio Olympics
In Rio 2016, Sania Mirza came closest to winning an Olympic medal, when she reached the tennis mixed doubles semi-finals with her partner,Rohan Bopanna. Seeded fourth in the competition, the Indian duo battled some stiff challenges to reach the last four.
However, the pair fell short in a closely-fought semi-final contest against Americans Venus Williams and Rajeev Ram.
In the bronze medal match, the duo suffered a 1-6 6-7 humiliation against Radek Stepanek and Lucie Hradceka of the Czech Republic, which ended their Olympic campaign without a podium finish.
“Losing in the match to go into the final at the Olympics and then losing out for the medal in the semis, when we played for bronze (is my biggest disappointment). Two days in a row,” Sania Mirza later said.