Looking back at our unsung London Olympic heroes
They might not have won medals for us but they had pulled off some gutsy as well as amazing feats in London. There were many firsts for India in this Olympics. Apart from the fact that we won a record 6 medals (thanks to Gagan, Vijay, Saina, Mary, Yogeshwar and Sushil), we could hear some unheralded names and even sporting categories.
Our performance in track and field events left everyone amazed. Before London, we had made only 5 finals in athletics (with Milkha Singh and P.T. Usha missing out on the medals after coming agonizingly close) in the entire history of the Olympics. This year, we made it to 2 finals – both in discus throw. In fact, Krishna Poonia’s entry into the final was a 1st for India in discus. The CWG gold medallist finished a creditable 7th ahead of Beijing Olympics champion Stephanie Brown and Aussie Dani Samuels. Vikas Gowda, who made the men’s final category, finished 8th. The biggest surprise was Irfan Thodi, who ended the 20km walk race in 10th position. In fact, we may consider him as the 3rd finalist in athletics as there was only 1 round. The army man didn’t have proper shoes for the Olympics until some film star helped him. Not to forget Usha’s protege, Tintu Luka, who reached the semis in 800m and despite coming with her season’s best timing, missed the final.
Apart from getting our 1st Olympic medal in badminton, the sport got a huge boost from the heartening shows by Parupalli Kashyap and Jwala/Ashwini. Kashyap became the 1st Indian male to make it to the last 8 at the Olympics. His loss came against the world no. 1, Lee Chong Wei. Jwala/Ashwini, who were the 1st Indian women’s doubles team to qualify for the Games, won 2 of their 3 group matches and narrowly missed a quarters berth.
Shooting had its share of major disappointments (Ronjon, Abhinav, Heena) as well as pleasant surprises (Vijay and Joydeep). Joydeep Karmakar, the virtually unknown Calcuttan who had struggled earlier to get his equipment, made an incredible top 4 finish in his event. His scores in the final put him in the 2nd position. However, as the qualifying points were also taken into account, he ended up being 4th, thereby missing out on a medal.
Apart from the medal-winners, Amit Kumar and Geeta Phogat put up a good show. Geeta lost a close bout to the eventual silver medallist. She, however, couldn’t do much in the repechage rounds. Amit made a surprise quarters appearance and then ended up being a bit unlucky in the repechage rounds for bronze.
Our male boxers failed to win a medal despite a record 7 boxers qualifying for the Games. But Devendro Singh was clearly THE FIND of men’s boxing, reaching the quarters. Vijender just missed out too, after losing in the last 8. And yes, there were many controversial decisions with Vikas Krishan’s win in round 16 being overturned! Manoj Kumar and Sumit Sangwan were also victims of poor judging. Hope Mary Kom inspires them to do better next time.
The 3-member squad put up a fine show, with Swaran Singh even making it to the quarter final.
True, our players have come under a lot of flak after returning medal-less. But then, all our main doubles pairs lost to tough teams who ultimately finished on the podium. Above all, Vishnu Vardhan proved to be one of the surprises of the Games. The selection controversy came as a blessing for him. Not only did he get selected to play his 1st Olympics with Paes, but also ended up playing in men’s singles! A word for Sania/Paes too. They never played a single competitive match together, let alone playing in a grand slam (and yet, they were sent by AITA as “India’s best bet” in Olympic tennis). They still managed to win 1 round and went down fighting to the eventual gold medallists.
Not many seem to have noticed that Soniya Ngangbam Chanu finished 7th in the 46 kg category. She lifted a total of 171 kg. The last medallist lifted 192. This was another Manipuri woman doing us proud.
From West Bengal’s point of view, this was an important event, with both the paddlers, Ankita Das and Soumyajit Ghosh, hailing from the state. The latter made it to round 2 in singles.
Hope these worthy performances transform into medals at Rio!