Kohli & Co’s series win Down Under will rank among the greatest feats; Paralympic athletes added sheen to the nation’s accomplishments
To think of India’s Olympic history in track and field is to think of two heartbreaks. At the 1960 Rome Olympics, the late Milkha Singh — who passed away this June — fell short of a podium finish in 400m by one tenth of a second. Twenty-four years later, P.T. Usha lost out in the 400m hurdles by one hundredth of a second.
This was until Neeraj Chopra, a beefy 23-year-old from Haryana, hurled a javelin over 87.58m to secure India’s first-ever Olympic track and field gold and only the second individual gold after Abhinav Bindra (Beijing 2008).
The lung-bursting run, the roar as he released the javelin and the no-look celebratory raise of the fist felt liberating, not just for him but for legions of Indian fans.
Coming as it did in the year of a devastating pandemic, Neeraj’s effort meant people could experience a momentary deadening and a brief escape from all the pain. But he was not alone in helping the populace find reprieve. India registered its best-ever tally at the Olympics with seven medals.
Badminton ace P.V. Sindhu’s halo shone even brighter as became only the first Indian woman to win multiple individual Olympic medals, adding a bronze to the silver she earned at Rio.
The Indian men’s hockey team bridged the gap with its golden past by securing the bronze, ending a 41-year wait for a medal (since Moscow 1980).
The gallant Indian women’s hockey side came agonisingly close, losing 3-4 to Great Britain in the bronze-medal playoff.
But after having finished 12th out of 12 teams at Rio, the performance in Tokyo — which included a 1-0 quarterfinal win over three-time champion Australia — will glint like gold.
Silver medals for Mirabai Chanu (weight-lifting) and Ravi Kumar Dahiya (wrestling) and bronze medals for Lovlina Borgohain (boxing) and Bajrang Punia (wrestling), ensured India had new additions to its sporting pantheon.
In the Paralympic Games that followed, the country finished with an incredible 19 medals (five gold, eight silver and six bronze), with Sumit Antil’s record-breaking spree in the javelin and teenaged Avani Lekhara’s splendid double in shooting ranking among the best.
The enduring image, though, will be of Pramod Bhagat jump-hugging his coach after becoming India’s first-ever Paralympic badminton gold medallist.
It is not often that cricket takes such a backseat, and yet, India’s series triumph in Australia in January will rank among the greatest. Rishabh Pant’s swashbuckling 89 n.o. helped India chase down a venue-record 328 on the final day in Brisbane and clinch the series 2-1.
That it came after Virat Kohli’s men were shot out for a humiliating 36 in the first Test showed their remarkable powers of recovery. It set the tone for the superlative performance in England, where they lead an unfinished series 2-1.
Thursday’s fine win over South Africa at Centurion capped off an outstanding year and has set India on course for that elusive series win in the Rainbow nation.
Smriti Mandhana’s classy century in India women’s pink-ball debut in Australia and Mithali Raj becoming the first Indian batter and second overall to score 10,000 international runs were the other notable moments.
After four years’ struggle, K. Srikanth’s return as a force to reckon with in badminton was heart-warming. The 28-year-old became the
first Indian men’s singles player to secure a world championship silver.
Equally impressive was the young Lakshya Sen’s effort, who lost to Srikanth in the last-four and settled for a bronze.
Another youngster who caught the eye was 17-year-old Shaili Singh, who won the girls’ long jump silver at the World U20 Championship.
Likewise, prodigies thrived in chess, as always, with India adding six more Grandmasters – Leon Luke Mendonca, Arjun Kalyan, Sankalp Gupta, Mitrabha Guha, Raja Rithvik and Harshit Raja – to take the number to 72.
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