Paris 1900 was India’s first Olympics. An already landmark year in the history of sport in India was made even sweeter with the country winning its first medal as well.
Even though representation was under the banner of British India, the edition still remains a source of great pride for the nation. Interestingly, there was only one athlete from India who featured at the 1900 Olympics – Norman Pritchard.
Early life and entry to sports
Norman was born to British parents - George Peterson Pritchard and Helen Maynard Pritchard - in Kolkata (then known as Calcutta). Residing in the plush Robinson Road locality, he studied at the prestigious St. Xavier’s College.
He excelled in sports and represented his college football team. He was always a star in the making, and one of those early markers came when he scored a hat-trick against Sovabazar FC – one of the oldest clubs in India.
But it was athletics that helped him reach unprecedented heights. Pritchard was Bengal's 100m champion for seven consecutive years, from 1894-1900, having clocked a timing of 10.0 seconds in 1898 and 1899, creating a new provincial record.
To add more laurels, Pritchard also earned top positions in 440 yards and 120m hurdles, thus paving the way for his appearance at the second edition of the Olympics, back in 1900.
The 1900 Paris Olympics
India was one of the 28 participating nations at the Paris Games, which featured nearly 1,000 athletes. The lone entrant from India, Norman Pritchard, was set to feature in the men’s 60m, 100m, 200m, 110m hurdles and 200m hurdles.
Although he failed to qualify for the main rounds of the 60m and 100m, the Kolkata-based athlete earned entry into the medal-winning rounds of the remaining three events.
Pritchard secured a second-place finish in the men’s 200m hurdles event, edging past USA’s Walter Tewksbury. USA’s Alvin Kraenzlein stood first with a timing of 25.4 seconds compared to Norman’s 26.0 seconds.
Pritchard secured a second-place finish in the men’s 200m hurdles event, narrowly edging past USA’s Walter Tewksbury, who claimed the Bronze medal. However, USA’s Alvin Kraenzlein came first, with a timing of 25.4 seconds compared to Norman’s 26.0 seconds.
Thus, 16 July 1900 came to mark one of the most iconic dates in the history of Indian sports – when the country won its first Olympic medal.
In the 200m flat, the Indian sprinter finished behind Tewksbury -- the difference 0.6 seconds -- to add another feather to his cap. It was India’s second ever medal at the Olympics.
While it took another 28 years for India to claim another medal -- when the Indian hockey team picked up gold in the 1928 Amsterdam OLympics – the country’s third individual medal came 52 years later, when wrestler Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav claimed a bronze at the 1952 Helsinki Games.
Since the 1900 Olympics, no Indian track-and-field athlete has climbed the podium at the mega event, though few have come tantalizingly close.
Milkha Singh, also known as the ‘Flying Sikh,’ featured in three editions – 1956 (Melbourne), 1960 (Rome), 1964 (Tokyo). He finished fourth in the men's 400m event in Rome, missing a medal by 0.1 seconds.
History repeated itself when PT Usha, aka the Payyoli Express, missed out on a bronze in the women’s 400m hurdles at the 1984 Los Angeles Games.
Romania’s Cristieana Cojocaru finished third with a timing of 55.41, which was 0.1 seconds faster than what Usha clocked.
Road ahead of 2021 Tokyo Olympics
So far, 1o individual Indian track-and-field athletes and one relay team have qualified for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. As far as events are concerned, the 4x400m mixed relay team is India’s best bet for a medal. Javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra will also shoulder the hopes of the nation on the track.
As far as track events are concerned, the 4*100m women’s relay race is India’s best bet to secure a medal. Meanwhile, Javellin thrower Neeraj Chopra will shoulder the hopes of the nation in the field event at the quadrennial sports extravaganza.
Other track stars such as Hima Das, Dutee Chand and Jinson Johnson are yet to seal their participation, but with some more qualifying events left, the hope is that they too will eventually make the flight to Tokyo.