Tag Archives: #olympian

India at the 1948 Olympic Games in London (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

India at the Olympics

This article is a two-part series on India’s participation in the previous Olympic games and the upcoming Olympic games. 

Like millions of others, I am eagerly looking forward to the resumption of the 2020 Olympics after an unfortunate postponement from last year due to Covid-19. It starts on July 23, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan a rare break from the quadrennial routine. Only thrice earlier (1916, 1940, and 1944) were the Games canceled and it was due to the two World Wars. 

The Modern Olympics, a brainchild of the Frenchman Baron Pierre de Coubertin, was inaugurated in Athens, Greece in 1896. The Baron was surely fired up by grandiose visions of reviving the Ancient Olympics in Greece which had come to an end in 393 AD. The venue of Athens was appropriately chosen to remind all about this ancient heritage.

The Olympic Games, which has grown into a mammoth sports spectacle, had rather humble beginnings. In the First Olympics, there were only nine sports: Athletics, Cycling, Fencing, Gymnastics, Shooting, Swimming, Tennis, Wrestling, and Weightlifting. Fourteen countries were listed (some with one competitor.). Greece had a large contingent (169), followed by France, United States, Great Britain, and Germany. In 2016, there were 11,000 competitors from 107 countries. Presently, the total number of sports stands at 28.

India, as a nation, first made its appearance in the Olympics in Antwerp in 1920*.  They sent 6 competitors: four athletes and two wrestlers. Since then, India has sent teams to all the following Olympics. It has been a particular attraction to see the Indian team march during the opening ceremonies along with all the other countries. The men in turbans and the women in sarees are a joy to watch. In 2021, India will send its largest-ever contingent of 69 men and 55 women who will compete in 18 sports, including Men’s and Women’s Field hockey and Rifle Shooting. 

*In the 1900 Paris Olympics, Norman Pritchard, a British resident of Calcutta, won two silver medals in Track and Field (200 meters and 200-meter hurdles).

India has won a total of 28 medals over the years. Its crowning glory has undoubtedly been in Field Hockey, where it won 11 medals (including 8 golds).  Its last medal was a gold in 1980.

List of Olympic Medals Won By India

Medalists at the 2012 Summer Olympics. Left to right: Sushil Kumar (silver), Akzhurek Tanatarov (bronze), Tatsuhiro Yonemitsu (gold) and Liván López (bronze). (Image by Akira Kouchiyama on Flickr and under Creative Commons License 2.0)
Medalists at the 2012 Summer Olympics. Left to right: Sushil Kumar (silver), Akzhurek Tanatarov (bronze), Tatsuhiro Yonemitsu (gold) and Liván López (bronze). (Image by Akira Kouchiyama on Flickr and under Creative Commons License 2.0)

Field Hockey: 11 (Gold: 1928 – 1936, 1948 – 1956, 1964, 1980;  Silver: 1960; Bronze:  1968, 1972) 

Freestyle Wrestling: 5 ( Silver: Sushil Kumar, 66 kg, 2012;  Bronze: K. D. Jadhav, Bantamweight, 1952; Sushil Kumar, 66 kg, 2008; Yogeshwar Dutt, 60 kg 2012; Sakshi Malik, Women’s 58 kg, 2016)

Shooting: 4 (Gold: Abhinav Bindra, Men’s 10m Rifle, 2008; Silver: Rajyavardhan Rathore, Men’s Double Trap, 2004; Vijay Kumar, Men’s 25 Rapid Fire Pistol, 2012; Bronze: Gagan Narang, Men’s 10m Air Rifle, 2012)

Track and Field: 2 (Silver: Norman Pritchard, 200 meters and 200 meters hurdles, 1900)

Badminton: 2 (Silver: PV Sindhu, Women’s Singles, 2016; Bronze: Saina Nehwal, Women’s Singles 2012)

Tennis: 1 (Bronze: Leander Paes, Men’s Singles, 1996)

Weightlifting: 1 (Bronze: Karnam Malleswari, Women’s 69kg, 2000)

Boxing: 2 (Bronze: Vijender Singh, Middleweight, 2008; Mary Kom, Women’s Flyweight, 2012)

I have also presented below a list of competitive competitors, in my opinion, but did not win a medal. They are often separated by inches, milliseconds, or the third places of decimals and on a given day, they may have made it to the podium.  

List of Individual Athletes Who Were Competitive But Did Not Win a Medal

Track and Field: Milkha Singh (4th in 400m, 1960); Gurbhachan Singh Randhawa (5th in 110m Hurdles, 1964);  Sriram Singh (7th  in 800m, 1976); Shivnath Singh (11th in Marathon, 1976); PT Usha (4th by one-hundredth of a second in Women’s 400m Hurdles in 1984);  Anju George (5th in Long Jump, 2000); Krishna Punia (6th in Women’s Discus Throw, 2012); Vikas Gowda (8th in Men’s Discus Throw,  2012); Lalitha Babbar (10th in Women’s 3000m Steeplechase, 2016).  

Women’ Gymnastics: Dipa Karmakar (4th in Vault, 2016)

Tennis: Sania Mirza (4th in Mixed Doubles, 2016); 

Shooting: Abhinav Bindra (4th in Men’s 10m Rifle, 2016)

Notable near misses — much-heralded fourth-place finish by the recently deceased Milkha Singh in 400m in Rome, PT Usha missing the bronze by one-hundredth of a second in the 1984 Olympics in Women’s 400m Hurdles, and Dipa Karmakar’s nearest of misses after landing the legendary Produnova Vaul — will forever be etched the memories of all Indian Olympic aficionados.

I do not recall anyone in men’s or women’s swimming making the grade, but I am aware of several wrestlers who came close to medals in the 1960s or 1970s. 

As for team sports, apart from our legendary run in Field Hockey, the only competitive team may have been the 1956 football team which finished fourth; this was back when Olympic football was still strictly limited to amateurs. 

Read the second part of this story! Other Indian Olympic candidates to look out for: Deepika Kumari and Bajrang Punia.


Partha Sircar has a BE in Civil Engineering from Bengal Engineering College in Shibpur, India, and a Ph.D. in Geotechnical Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley. He is a 53-year resident of the United States, including the last 36 years in California. He has worked in several engineering organizations over the years and is now retired for over eight years. He loves to write and can be reached by e-mail at psircar@yahoo.com.


 

India’s Shooting Star: In Talks With Deepika Kumari

With the changed dates of the Tokyo Olympics to July 23, 2021 – August 8, 2021, the livelihood of Olympians is in question. During this month of women’s empowerment, let’s underscore one of India’s most prominent female athletes.

Ranked World No. 1 archer at the tender age of 18 and at number 9 currently, India’s Deepika Kumari is an inspiration to thousands out there who dream to participate in the world championships but have practically no social or financial backing. If one breaks the mold and steps up to carry the baton of grit, determination, and achievements, many others are bound to follow. 

Kumari, on whom the award-winning documentary Ladies First was based, believes a calm mind is an archer’s biggest asset. Training at the national camp in Pune, India, with an eye on Gold at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics, she shares the sweat and toil that goes behind shooting each arrow. Excerpts of a conversation:

IC: What were your first thoughts when the nationwide lockdown happened in March 2020?

DK: I didn’t think much about it initially. About two months later, the Olympics were postponed, which was good in a way as we were unable to do much while at home. But slowly, the uncertainty of when normal life would resume started getting to me. Our first training camp started on October 1. It was a long gap. 

IC: Did you continue training during the lockdown? 

DK: In the first few weeks, I practiced at home with the portable accessories which we use. These allow a shooting range of 3-4 meters. As an outdoor shooter, my range is 70 meters. Our physical exercises and yoga continued throughout though, alongside eating a whole lot of delicious home food. I also got married (to fellow archer Atanu Das) during this period. Lockdown had both good and bad.

IC: What are your most important assets as an archer – do you have a collection of bows and arrows? 

DK: I have two sets of these: two bows and arrows. One set is for daily practice; the second for competitions. In either case, one set I’m using, the second is in reserve. We keep around 6-7 dozen arrows with us made of carbon and wood. That apart, we have accessories/equipment for saving us – helmet, arm guard for elbow, chest guard for half chest, finger tab to protect our fingers from cutting against the thin string, sling so that the bow doesn’t fall, quiver for arrows. 

Atanu (my husband) has made my finger tab in leather – our desi jugaad. The string used on our bows is prepared by us in about 35 minutes using thread and wax. 

One bow lasts for about 1.5 years. It has various parts – the grip, arrow rest, clicker, limb (refer to picture attached) – which we purchase and assemble as per requirement. Different parts have varying lifespan. Limb lasts 6 months, string for 3 months, etc. We thus keep spares for replacement. Once used completely, we give the bow to other needy kids, sell it or throw it. 

We shoot about 450-500 arrows everyday during practice. We cut these arrows ourselves and assemble its various parts – fletch, feather, large and small points and nock. Each and every part of my gear is thus dear to me. 

Archer, Deepika Kumari

IC: Tell us something about your daily routine – what kind of workout and training you are undergoing daily before the Olympics? 

DK: We have our physical (exercises) from 6.30-7.30 every morning. And from 8.30 am-12 noon we practice shooting. We shoot anything between 350-450 arrows in this time and then it’s rest time. Again in the evening, we do physical from 6-7.30 pm, followed by short practice. We take complete rest on Wednesdays and Sundays. I watch movies, listen to songs, sleep, clean my room, wash clothes, and at times play cricket too!    

IC: Does the number of arrows you shoot in a day matter? 

DK: No, especially before competition, as quality matters more than quantity. We have to control the bow, draw the string as many times as the number of arrows shot. It needs physical power, called poundage. It’s significant to maintain that else you wouldn’t be able to shoot that big a distance in windy outdoor conditions. Continuous practice without long breaks is also critical in maintaining the poundage – something that didn’t happen during lockdown.

IC: Which parts of the body do you work on most rigorously? 

DK: The shoulder, since we have to pull a lot. But we require the whole body in archery. Your core should be stable to draw the string. You need energy to breathe through a match/session without gasping. Focusing with one eye is integral to this sport. Thus staying away from eye straining activities like smartphones is a prerequisite in daily life. And finally, mental training. 

IC: Concentration on the target – at what age did you first start this and how do you attain it day in day out? 

(Starts laughing) I am still a baby in this respect. I started mental training only three years ago. I strongly recommend kids should start focus and concentration exercises early in life. It is paradoxical: we run to sports for fun. And now, when as athletes or commoners we are given focus training, we find it challenging/boring. As a child, no one realizes that they are concentrating while playing. You are given a target; you use your gear, hit, and win! But now, as a competitive player, when your experience and expectations have increased tremendously and you are playing for long hours daily, there is pressure from family, media and even your own self to perform, you don’t know how to handle it all. Now I am learning this technique – mental training. Not allowing the mind to jump around like a monkey with hits and misses requires mental training. 

IC: Which skills matter the most in archery according to you? 

DK: You gain skills as a sportsperson, but get drained mentally. The skill that matters the most is being calm.  

IC: Do you think Indian archers need sports psychologists?

DK: Definitely. I started playing 12 years ago. Had I got this support at that time, I would have perhaps achieved much more… now, Olympic Gold Quest (a not-for-profit organization) is giving us mental training. 

IC: Tokyo Olympics would be your first big game since your wedding and you are participating as a couple in it. Excited?

It’s a rare happening for sure. And, perhaps, the first time in the history of Olympics archery at least! I am happy about it. We are each other’s pillar of strength. We want the team to win. 

IC: Which is your favorite match so far in your career? 

DK: I played (and won gold at) the Delhi Commonwealth Games (2010) when I was just starting out in my career. When I went to play the match, I was not aware of how significant a platform it was. My opponent in the finals Alison Williamson had already played six Olympics. It was an electrifying setting. People were cheering for me and there was wind too. The commentary was in perfect Hindi and with every arrow, my morale was getting higher. I had enjoyed it a lot. And I didn’t know or care that time about winning. But I did.

We look forward to a safe and successful 2021 Summer Olympics and send our best to Deepika Kumari on her upcoming competitions!


Suruchi Tulsyan is an experienced Features Writer. She has been on a break for the past few years since the birth of her kids.

Image by Bill Hails and under the Creative Commons License.