Mumbai, Dec 29 : Excellence in non-cricket sports in India has always been measured in terms of medals won at the Olympic Games.
The quadrennial Games have been the pinnacle of success that only a few Indians have achieved, because in over a century of participation in the Olympic Games since making their debut at Stockholm in 1912, India have won only 35 medals — 10 gold, nine silver and 16 bronze.
Of these, field hockey has contributed 12 medals — eight gold, one silver and three bronze.
After being also-rans for decades, except in hockey for more than 10 editions, Indian athletes nowadays go to the Olympics as medal contenders, especially in shooting, badminton, wrestling, boxing, weightlifting and athletics.
It is with this newfound success, confidence and skills that the Indian sportspersons will be going to the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, to be held from July 26 to August 10, as title contenders in many events.
As India will be competing in Paris after achieving their best medal tally in the Olympics at the Tokyo Games and post crossing the 100-medal mark in the Asian Games for the first time in Hangzhou this year (107 — 28 gold, 38 silver and 31 bronze), there are huge expectations that the country will achieve another high in Paris, bagging a record medal haul in the French capital.
In three consecutive Olympics starting with the 1984 edition in Los Angeles, India had failed to win a single medal in the quadrennial Games, returning empty-handed from the 1984,1988 and 1992 editions.
It was at the 1976 Games in Montreal that the world’s second most populous country had, for the first time since 1928 when it won its first gold medal in hockey, failed to win a single medal at the Olympic Games.
Till that time, India had won seven gold, one silver and three bronze medals in hockey. In Montreal, they failed to win a medal in hockey, as artificial turf replaced natural grass at the mega event.
India did win their eighth gold in hockey at the boycott-marred Moscow Olympics in 1980, but what followed was a medal drought for 12 years.
India’s fortunes changed from the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, United States, with Leander Paes winning the bronze in men’s singles tennis.
Since then, India has returned from every edition of the Olympic Games with at least one medal. It was at the Beijing Games that India won multiple medals since the 1952 Games in Helsinki when K.D. Jadhav had won a bronze medal in wrestling.
In Tokyo in 2021, the Games postponed by one year from 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, India surpassed its best-ever medal haul so far and returned with seven medals, including a gold won by the country’s biggest superstar — Neeraj Chopra — in javelin throw.
India won one gold, two silver and four bronze medals in Tokyo.
So, going by the record so far, India will, in all probability, win medals in Paris. But the question that the fans would like to be answered is whether India will be able to surpass its seven-medal haul achieved in Tokyo in 2021.
Crores of people and most experts believe that India will return from Paris with many medals — if not bag full, at least take the tally into double figures for the first time in the history of the Games.
Though many of India’s stars are yet to qualify for the Games as the qualifying period is still continuing, a clearer picture will emerge when the full strength of the squad is revealed.
In Tokyo, Neeraj Chopra became the first Indian to win a gold medal in athletics. It was also a historic occasion as India won an Olympic medal for the first time in men’s hockey in four decades — a bronze coming for the first time since the gold in the 1980 edition.
Also in Tokyo, P.V. Sindhu became the first woman sportsperson to win multiple medals for India at the Olympics — adding a bronze in women’s singles badminton to the silver she won in Rio de Janeiro in 2018.
In Paris, Neeraj Chopra will get the opportunity to add another medal to his tally. He is the best medal prospect for India to win a medal considering that since winning the gold in Tokyo, Neeraj has won gold at the Diamond League Finals, the World Championships, Hangzhou Asian Games and has surpassed his personal best, going from strength to strength.
Reigning World Champion boxer Nikhat Zareen, Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist pugilist Lovlina Borgohain, U20 World Champion wrestler Antim Panghal, besides shooters like Rudrankksh Patil, Anish Bhanwala, Manu Bhaker, Sift Kaur Samra and top weightlifter Mirabai Chanu will be among the medal contenders in Paris.
The list is expected to grow further with many more qualification berths available across disciplines.
If all goes as per plan, India can take their medal count to double-digits for the first time, thus helping the country achieve its best and most successful medal haul in Paris.