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National Sports Day: India's World Standing in Olympic Sports

India's contingent at 2016 Olympics (Photo Credit: AP)

India's contingent at 2016 Olympics (Photo Credit: AP)

On National Sports Day, here is a look at India's history in its major Olympics sports and it's current standings.

India, in their long history at the Olympic Games, has managed to win only 28 medals with field hockey being its most successful sport. India first participated in the 1920 Summer Olympic Games and have participated in every single edition of the mega-event since then. Off the 28 Olympic medals, India have won 9 gold, 7 silver and 12 bronze. Apart from field hockey, which has garnered the country eight gold medals, Abhinav Bindra, shooting, is the only other gold India can account for. In the previous Olympic Games, which was held in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, India won only two medals - a silver by PV Sindhu in badminton and a bronze by Sakshi Malik in wrestling.

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The Tokyo Olympics was supposed to be held this year but was postponed to next year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Owing to the postponement, the qualification period for the Games is still going on. Here is a look at India’s current standing in all its major Olympic sports, along with a tinge of history.

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Despite getting medals at the World Cups and Commonwealth Games, India is yet to open its account at the Olympics. For the Tokyo Games, the men’s recourse team have booked their sport, along with Deepika Kumari being the only women. There are more quota places to be won though.


India have qualified for athletics events in the Olympics on 23 occasions but have won just two medals and both came way back at the 1900 Paris Games. Norman Pritchard, the British-Indian sportsperson, won two silver medals in men’s 200m and men’s 200m hurdles, becoming the first Asian-born athlete to win an Olympic medal. Milkha Singh famously came fourth at the Rome Olympics but none have won another medal. For the upcoming Tokyo Games, six Indian qualifications are stamped - KT Irfan (men’s 20km race walking), Avinash Sable (men’s 3000m steeplechase), Neeraj Chopra (men’s javelin throw), Bhawna Jat (women’s 20km race walking), Shivpal Singh (men’s javelin throw) and Indian team for 4×400 mixed relay.


India’s badminton history at the Olympics has two medals to show and both of them have been won by the women. It was Saina Nehwal who first broke the barrier by bagging a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics, which was bettered with a silver by PV Sindhu four years later. Since Sindhu’s medal, India has seen a rise in its stature in the sport. Badminton qualification is based on world rankings, with the limit of only two players from a single nation in the same category. According to the current rankings, only PV Sindhu is a definite qualifier. B Sai Praneeth and Kidambi Srikanth have chances to qualify as they are within top 20. India have a strong chance of qualifying in the men’s doubles category with Satwiksairaj Rankireddy-Chirag Shetty ranked 10th in the world.


India have so far made only one appearance in the sport at the Olympics, which was way back in 1980. India has never won a medal at the Games and finished 12th in their only appearance.


Boxing is one of India’s strongest bets at every quadrennial games. So far pugilists have brought back two bronze medals for India. One by MC Mary Kom in 2012 and the other by Vijender Singh four years before that. For the upcoming Olympics, as many as nine boxers have qualified so far. Mary Kom is again leading the women, whereas Amit Panghal leads the men’s team.


The Tokyo Games will for the first time see India getting represented in cycling. This happened after the Indian men’s team qualified for the elite Team sprint event at the UCI Track Cycling World Championships, which will be held in Berlin, Germany. A young team comprising Esow Albeni, Jemsh Singh, Rojit Singh, and Ronaldo Singh (18) will represent India in the Team Sprint event.


Fouaad Mirza ended India’s drought in equestrian at the Olympics by topping his group in the individual event category of the qualifiers for South East Asia and Oceanic, winning a quota for Tokyo 2020. Mirza, who won two silver medals at the Asian Games in 2018, could become India’s third equestrian participant in the Olympics, after Indrajit Lamba (Atlanta 1996) and Imtiaz Anees (Sydney 2000).


Field hockey is the one sport India’s Olympic history is famous for. Indian men’s hockey team has won a total of 11 medals at the Olympics, which makes up for 34 per cent of the country’s medal tally in the history of the Games. India leads the sport as no country has won more medals in the Games. India won the gold medal at the Olympics for six straight Games from 1928 Amsterdam to 1956 Melbourne. At 1960 Tome Olympics, India won a silver after which they won another gold in Tokyo four years later. In 1968 and 1972 Games, India won a bronze medal each, after which they directly won a gold in 1980 Moscow. That was the last of India’s hockey medals at the Games. For the upcoming Tokyo Olympics, both the Indian men’s and women’s teams have qualified. Currently, India’s men’s national team is ranked fourth in the world while the women are ninth in the FIH rankings.


Despite being one of the most played and followed sport in the country, India have never qualified in football for the Olympics. At the Olympic Games, football has an age limit of with three players over 23 years of age allowed in each squad.


So far in India’s Olympic history of gymnastics, India has qualified four times for artistics gymnastics. India had two participants in 1952, three in 1956, a record six in 1964 after which a barren qualification period of 13 Olympics came. At thr 2016 Rio Olympics, Dipa Karmakar broke the mould and even won the heart of the nation with her brave performance that only rewarded her with a fourth place finish. Currently, none have qualified for Tokyo Games in the sport.


India has been playing handball for nearly 50 years now and the national handball team’s recent exploits have been a silver medal for the men’s team and a gold medal for the women’s team at the 2019 South Asian Games. However, they are yet to leave at a footprint at the Olympics.


In the five appearances that India has made in the Olympics in the sport of rowing, none have been able to win a medal. For the last five years, India has been making it to the Olympics but in 2016, a disappointing number of just one rower, Dattu Bhokanal, made it to the Games. So far none of the rowers have qualified for the Olympics next year.


The Rugby sevens, which replaced the 15-a-side Rugby since the 2016 Olympics, is a relatively new sport in the country. India had gained an automatic qualification at the 2010 Commonwealth Games as the host nation but finished fourth. They have taken numerous baby steps since then. Their most recent feat was at the 2019 Asia Rugby Sevens Trophy, which was a qualification event for the Asian Rugby Sevens Series that in turn paved the way for the Tokyo Olympics qualification. India finished second behind Singapore after getting seeded into Pool C but were unable to qualify for the Asian Rugby Sevens Series, hence the Olympic Games.


Over the years, shooters have won four Olympic medals for India, among which is India’s only individual gold by Abhinav Bindra in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Col. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore & Vijay Kumar won silvers for India at the 2004 and 2012 Olympics, respectively. Gagan Narang bagged India’s only bronze in London. For the upcoming Olympics, a record number of 15 shooters have qualified so far.


Though Taekwondo was introduced into the Olympics as a medal sport only in 2000 at the Sydney Games, it has prevailed in India as a sport since the 1960s. India has seen steady growth in quality in the sport over the years and has been superior at the continental level. India’s most recent feat in Taekwondo came in the 2019 South Asian Games in Kathmandu, where the country won as many as nine medals across all the categories. India, however, still awaits a chance to qualify for the Olympics in Taekwondo. The Asian Olympic qualifying tournament was moved from China’s Wuxi to Jordan’s Amman owing to the escalation of coronavirus cases and the new dates are yet to be announced.


India has made eight appearances at the Summer Olympics in the sport of table tennis with 2016 Rio Olympics accounting for their joint-highest four number of participants. However, India has never won a single medal in the sport at the Games. In the current Olympic rankings, dated as of April, India have Achanta Sharath Kamal and Sathiyan Gnanasekaran in the top 35 in the men’s singles event. In the women’s singles event, Manika Batra is the highest at 63. In the mixed doubles event, Sharath-Manika are ranked 19 while Sathiyan-Archana Kamath are placed at 34. Indian men’s team is ranked eighth while the women’s team is placed at the 21st position.


India has only ever won one medal in tennis at the Olympics and that came in the form of a Leander Paes bronze at the 1996 Atlanta Games. I have a total of 10 appearances at the Olympic Games in the sport of tennis. India first participated in the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris. From 1984 Games onwards, India has qualified every single time with the 2016 Rio Olympics having four Indian participants. With Tokyo Olympics delayed, players are yet to qualify for the upcoming Games. Currently, India’s best singles player among both men and women is Sumit Nagal, who is ranked 122 in the world. In the doubles category, India’s best player Rohan Bopanna is ranked 36.


Despite a rich history at the Asian Games with three medals, India has never qualified for the Olympic Games. The Indian volleyball men and women’s teams dominated the South Asian Federation Games in the 90s and both the teams even won gold medals at the 2019 South Asian Games. However, consecutive losses to Qatar and South Korea in the Olympic Asian qualifiers meant they are out of contention.


Karnam Maleshwari won India its only weightlifting medal at the 1998 Sydney Olympics but ever since then, Indian lifters have been disappointing in every outing. For the upcoming Games, India is eligible to qualify a maximum of only 2 male lifters and 2 female lifters for Tokyo. However, all eyes will be on Youth Olympic Champion and Youth World Record holder, Jeremy Lalrinnunga and Mirabai Chanu.


India has won five medals in Olympics, one silver and 4 bronze, in the wrestling discipline. Sushil Kumar won a silver at Beijing Games and a bronze at London. The other two medals have been won by Sakshi Malik and Yogeshwar Dutt, both bronze. This time round, Vinesh Phogat, Bajrang Punia, Deepak Punia and Ravi Kumar Dahiya are already eligible to grapple at the Tokyo Olympics, making it the first time Indian wrestlers have won four Olympic quotas. With more Olympic qualification yet to be held, more wrestlers have the chance to make it to Tokyo.