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  • Jun
  • 21

‘The ones that were never’ – 11 Indian athletes who came agonisingly close to winning an Olympic medal

Author Image Fisto Staff



In an ideal world, we get whatever we desire. But we live in a world far from ideal where everything should be earned by diligence. The careers of remarkable athletes world over represent this fact beautifully. They may have performed brilliantly on numerous occasions during the course of their career, but faltered in crucial moments to lose out on major silverware.


Indian athletes have not tasted a lot of success in Olympics. There have been moments of glory where the entire country celebrated a gold medal with elan but they have been few and far between. We take a look at the near-misses at the Games, which on another day could have added to the medal count.


Henry Rebello at the 1948 London Olympics



Henry Rebello was the first athlete from independent India to qualify for the Olympic finals. His story is perhaps even more agonizing than Milkha Singh’s. Considered one of the best triple-jumpers of the world in 1948, Rebello was touted by former Olympic medallists as a genuine medal contender for the London Games. In a pre-Olympic meet, he had beaten all the triple-jumpers who were to participate at the Games.

He duly qualified for the Olympic finals. However as luck would have it, he was forced by the officials and coaches to make his first jump in the finals without an adequate warm-up, and suffered a terrible injury as a result. He could not participate further at the Games, a promising career cut short. He then joined the Indian Air Force and later the Sports Authority of India as an official.


Indian football team at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics



Another time India came really close to winning a medal was at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. The Indian team got two chances to win a football medal but missed out on both occasions. India lost to Yugoslavia 1-3 in the semi-finals, even after being a goal up. India then went on to lose to Bulgaria 0-3 where they were playing for the bronze medal.


Milkha Singh at 1960 Rome Olympics



Arguably India's greatest runner of all time, Milkha Singh missed out on a podium finish agonisingly in the 1960 Rome Olympics when he made a fatal error of looking over his shoulder midway through the 400-metre race which cost him a place in the podium finish despite getting off to a flying start. US' Otis Davis won the race after tying with Germany's Carl Kaufmann at 44.9 seconds, necessitating the need of a photo-finish. The automatic timing ruled Davis the winner by a margin of 0.01 seconds - 45.07 to Kaufmann's 45.08. South Africa's Malcolm Spence completed the race in 45.50 seconds, 0.1 seconds faster than Milkha, to take the third spot.


Gurbachan Singh Randhawa at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics



Gurbachan Singh Randhawa is without an iota of doubt, the most versatile athlete that India has produced. At one time, he possessed 4 National records. He was the first Asian to qualify for the final of 110-meter hurdles in the Olympics. His hurdles and decathlon records stood for 29 years and 12 years, respectively. He is also called Indian Jim Thorpe.

In 1964 Tokyo Olympics, he competed in only 110-meter hurdles. He was all set to fetch a medal. He touched 14.3 seconds in the heat. In Semi-Final, he improved it to 14.0 seconds. It paved his way to the final. He had improved his timing to 14.1 seconds. Hopes of the first Indian medal from athletics were running high.

On the day of the final, nature had something else planned. It started raining in the Japanese capital. The temperature dipped to 14 degrees and humidity exceeded to 96 percent. The athletics track was in the worst possible state.

The legend ran his heart out. Under furious conditions, athletes at 3rd, 4th, and 5th spot finished very closely. The photo finish declared that the Indian athlete had finished 5th. It was a heartbreaking moment for the nation.


T C Yohannan at the 1976 Montréal Olympics



In 1974 Asian Games in in Tehran, T C Yohannan clinched medal and also setting an Asian record with a jump of 8.07m, a record that would stand for 23 years.

He headed into the 1976 Olympics exuding plenty of confidence. However, things didn’t go as planned, and Yohanan registered a jump of just 7.67m which was way below his Asian record. East German long jumper Frank Wartenberg won the bronze medal, registering a jump of 8.02m, which was also lesser than Yohannan’s Asian record.


P.T. Usha at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics



Champion track and field runner P.T. Usha finished fourth with a time difference that was as small as one-hundredth of a second. Nawal Moutawakal (Morocco) won the gold and Ann Louise (Sweden) the silver medal as Usha later said she was forced to eat just rice porridge with pickle at the Games Village. That food without any nutrition supplement had cost her the bronze.


Limba Ram at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics



The archer represented India in three straight Olympics Games. Heading into the 1992 Barcelona Games, Ram was touted as the individual to beat in the tournament.

The previous year Ram had held the joint World Record with Japanese archer Takayoshi Matsuthista in the 30m segement. His form leading up to the Olympics made him a firm favourite to win the overall title.

However, he failed to live up to the expectations, scoring 336 points out of 360, and narrowly missing out on the bronze medal – by a solitary point.


Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes at 2004 Athens Olympics


Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes came really close to winning a bronze medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics. They were facing the Croatian pair Mario Ancic and Ivan Ljubicic for the bronze medal match. The match went down to the wire as both teams were 14-14 in the final set. At last, the match ended when Ancic smashed a forehand that Paes volleyed into the net. The final score of the match was 7-6, 4-6, 16-14.


Joydeep Karmakar at 2012 London Olympics


Shooter Joydeep Karmakar finished fourth in the 50m rifle prone event. Karmakar came into the finals with a score of 595, tied with four others. Rajmond Debevec was third with 596 points. The rules were different then as shooters scores in the finals, where they had to take 10 shots, were added to qualification tally. Karmakar's next 10 shots are all in 10s, but that one-point advantage the eventual bronze medallist, Debevec, carried over from qualification proved to be the difference.


Dipa Karmakar at 2016 Rio Olympics


Gymnast Dipa Karmakar was the cynosure of all eyes at the last Games. But along with the Tripura girl, the nation wept in despair when she missed a bronze medal by a whisker, after finishing fourth in the women's vault finals. She created history by producing the best-ever performance by an Indian gymnast at Olympic. Dipa scored an average of 15.066 points behind bronze winner Giulia Steingruber (15.216) of Switzerland.


Abhinav Bindra at 2016 Rio Olympics


Shooter Abhinav Bindra, India's only individual Olympic gold medal winner, narrowly missed out on a medal after finishing fourth in the final of the men's 10 metre air rifle final at the Olympic Shooting Centre in Rio three years back. Bindra started well, but a couple of wayward shots cost him dearly as he lost in the bronze medal play-off to finish fourth with a total score of 163.8 points.

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