With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics finally taking place a year late, all eyes have been on Japan as we looked to see how many medals the Indian competitors could bring home with them. There are plenty of Indian athletes who have done the country proud this year and in past events across various sports.
The History of the First Indians at the Olympics
Although the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium saw the first Indian team sent to compete in these games, we need to go back 20 years earlier to find the first Indian to compete in the Olympics. This is because Norman Pritchard went to the historic Paris Olympic event in 1900 and managed to win two silver medals, although there is still some dispute over where the Kolkata-born star was representing India or Great Britain, according to India Today. More than a century later, no Indian athlete has managed to repeat Pritchard’s feat of winning two medals. He was also the first person born in Asia to win an Olympic medal, with his success coming in the 200m and the 200m hurdles.
In 1920, three athletes and two wrestlers made up the team for Antwerp. Wrestler R. Shindes did well to reach the semifinals in the bantamweight category of wrestling, while K. Nawale lost out in the first round of the lightweight wrestling competition. PurmaBannerjee finished fourth in the 100m sprint, while PhadeppaDareppaChaugule finished 19th in the marathon and came home to a hero’s welcome. Fellow marathon runner SadashirDatar didn’t manage to finish the race.
The Golden Period of Indian Hockey
As India began to send larger and better-prepared teams to the Olympics, one sport stood out as being an area that the country was particularly good at. The Indian Hockey Federation became the first from outside Europe to enter the International Hockey Federation, and in Amsterdam 1928 the men’s hockey team won India’s first gold medal. They did this by winning all four games, scoring 26 goals without conceding any. The tournament’s top scorer was the legendary Dhyan Chand, who was known as The Wizard and who won two more Olympic gold medals as well as amassing 570 goals in 185 career matches.
In the following years, the men’s hockey team was unbeaten until 1960, winning six gold medals in a row thanks to 30 consecutive victories. Among the highlights was the incredible 8-1 win over Germany in the 1936 Olympics. This remains as the highest score ever achieved in a final and marked the end of a tournament where the Indian team scored 38 goals and only conceded one. Dhyan Chand scored four times in that final, just as he had done in the semi-final where they beat France 10-0.
India at the 2020 Olympics
122 Indian competitors were sent to Tokyo, made up of 68 men and 54 women. Female weightlifter SaikhomMirabaiChanu won the country’s first medal of the 2020 games when she scooped silver in the 49kg category by lifting 202kg. Photos of her humble family home in Manipur went viral not long after and caused disbelief among social media users such as actor R Madhavan, as reported by The Indian Express in detail, although if anything it only made her achievement even more impressive. This achievement made her only the second Indian weightlifter to win an Olympic medal, following in the footsteps of KarnamMallewsari, who won bronze in Sydney 2000. Mary Kom travelled to Japan with high hopes after her qualification, but the popular boxed failed to get past the round of 16.
Both the male and female hockey teams reached the semifinal stage, with the men’s team beating Germany 5-4 to win bronze and the women’s team finishing just outside of the medal places when they lost 3-4 against Great Britain. Female badminton player P.V. Sinhdu became the second Indian to win medals in successive Olympics at an individual sport. Her silver medal at Rio 2016 was the first medal for a female Indian Olympian, and she followed this up with a bronze at Tokyo, only the fourth time in history that a woman has won a badminton medal at consecutive Olympics.
LovlinaBorgohain won a bronze medal in boxing, after she lost to eventual winner BusenazSurmeneli of Turkey in the semifinal. The only other Indian boxer to advance was super heavyweight Satish Kumar. With the Olympics now over, boxing fans will turn their attention to major upcoming fights. Anthony Joshua versus Oleksandr Usyk on September 25 is the next major fight, with the Brit the favourite as he has odds of 1.40 to win the fight on Betway, although the Ukrainian will be a tough challenge to overcome. Tyson Fury takes on Deontay Wilder on October 9 and is the heavy favourite to win the trilogy bout. Fans who enjoyed the boxing and wrestling in Tokyo might also like to see UFC 268 in November, although a venue hasn’t yet been decided as they look for the host of the Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington rematch.
Bajrang Punia picked up a bronze in the men’s freestyle 65 kg wrestling category, while Ravi Kumar Dahiya went one better by collecting silver in the 57 kg category of the same sport after battling past Kazakh wrestler NurislamSanayev in the semi-finals, although ZaurUguev proved to be too much in the final. However, it was javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra who brought home the only Indian gold medal, achieving this feat with a massive throw of 87.58 m that made him the first Indian to win a gold medal in an Olympics athletics event. Upon landing back in the country, NDTV reported that he was welcomed home by crowds at the Indira Gandhi Airport as the country’s newest sporting hero.
The 2020 event turned out to be one of the most rewarding ever for India in terms of medals. It certainly has been an interesting event, with some Indian sports stars adding their names to the long and interesting history of the country at the Olympics. The ever-popular game of cricket may return for the 2028 Olympics, which would give Indian sports fans something else to look forward to.