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Few Hits and Many Misses in India's Olympic Saga

September 2008
Few Hits and Many Misses in India's Olympic Saga

For Indian Americans who watched the Beijing Olympics, it’s quite likely that Michael Phelps, with his breathtaking haul of eight gold medals, overshadowed Abhinav Bindra. Not so in India, where Bindra’s gold medal in the 10 meters air rifle event catapulted him to the stratosphere of national fame. India’s last Olympic gold medal was for field hockey in 1980. But that had been a team medal, making Bindra’s historic achievement even more impressive. In Beijing, India also won two bronze medals. India’s pitiful record in the Olympics is widely known. What’s not common knowledge is a tidbit that writers Boria Majumdar and Nalin Mehta dug up: at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, only two nations—India and the U.S.—refused to give the raised-arm salute to Hitler.

Another Olympic achiever this year was Indian American Raj Bhavsar, who bagged a bronze medal for the States in artistic gymnastics. Badminton player Rajiv Kumar Rai, who grew up in Atlanta, was another Indian American participant in Beijing. Incidentally, Alexi Grewal was the first Indian American to win an Olympic medal (gold, no less)—which he got for cycling in 1984. Mohini Bharadwaj received a team silver medal in artistic gymnastics at the 2004 Olympics.

India’s Olympic success in field hockey lasted from 1928 to 1980. Of the 11 medals it won during that period, six goldwere gold, awarded consecutively between 1928 and 1956. Sadly, the Indian hockey tem did not even qualify this time. So far, India’s only other Olympic victory in shooting was a silver medal in 2004. Bindra’s gold brings India’s overall Olympic medal total in the modern era to 20 (9 gold, 4 silver, 7 bronze). More encouragingly, at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, India’s medal tally for shooting events alone was 27, of which 16 were gold.

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