Jinx of the Fourth
A medal is a badge of honour for an athlete and nothing is greater than an Olympic medal. The athletes toil for years in the hope of an Olympic medal but when one misses out on that laurel by just a baby step (comes fourth), the pain is simply unbearable. On Wednesday night, Sakshi Malik finally ended India’s medal drought at the Rio Olympics and got home a bronze medal. Shuttler PV Sindhu is still in contention for a gold medal after paving her way beautifully for an assured silver this year. The sight of Indian athletes falling just short of a medal has broken a billion hearts.
Following is a look at the Indian athletes who have been stung by the bee of the fourth spot.
Milkha Singh: The most celebrated Indian sprinter, Milkha Singh – fondly referred to as the ‘Flying Sikh’ – was a favourite to win the 400m event at the 1960 Rome Olympics. Probably the most painful of all the losses that India suffered at the Olympics all these years, Milkha Singh, despite leading the race for 250m, slowed down mid-way and eventually lost the medal by a whisker. The biopic Bhaag Milkha showed that he had visions of his traumatic childhood days that led to his slowdown but nevertheless, the most prized Indian athlete returned home without a medal, a picture that leaves one misty-eyed.
P T Usha: Two decades later, Indian athletics sprang back to life again with the arrival of PT Usha. Often referred to as the ‘queen of Indian track and field’ and the ‘Payyoli Express’, Usha probably came the closest to getting India an athletics medal. Usha became the first Indian woman to make it to the finals of an Olympic event when she managed to qualify for the finals of the 400m hurdles event. She had even won the semi-final race of the event and medal hopes soared only to be shattered yet again when Usha missed the bronze by 1/100th of a second. Her loss brought back painful memories of Milkha Singh’s 1960 defeat.
Men’s Football team: The most surprising entry to the list is the Indian men’s football team. There was a time, in the 1950s, when the Indians were a force to reckon with in football. In the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, Indian football team made to the semi-final only to be able to be a part of the list of the Indian fourths that would come into existence much later. After getting a walk-over in the first round game against Hungary, India beat Australia 4-2 to reach the semi-final but faced a Yugoslavian rampage to go down 4-1. Eventually, in the bronze medal match also, they lost to Bulgaria 3-0 and missed the chance to grab an Olympic medal for the country.
Leander Paes-Mahesh Bhupathi: Leander Paes only recently made a record seventh appearance in the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro only to bow out after the very first men’s doubles match. Apart from the fact that Paes did win an individual bronze in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, he came agonisingly close to winning another in the men’s doubles category along with Mahesh Bhupathi in the 2004 Athens Games. They were fondly called the ‘Indian Express’ and after defeating the biggies like Mardy Fish-Andy Roddick and Yves Allegro-Roger Federer, they went down to the German pair of Nicholas Kiefer and Rainer Schuttler in the semi-final. Following the semi-final defeat, Paes and Bhupathi fought hard against the Croatian team of Mario Ancic and Ivan Ljubicic in the bronze medal match but lost 6-7, 6-4, 14-16 and missed out on the medal narrowly. Coming to the ones who came out fourth in the Rio Olympics 2016; the jinx of missing out on a medal by a whisker continued.
Dipa Karmakar: Dipa became an overnight sensation after she became the first Indian female gymnast to reach the final of an Olympic event. The ‘Produnova’ – also called the ‘vault of death’ – that she specialises in started being searched for and discussed. She became the hero of the nation for just entering the finals because probably only for her, the nation sat in front of the television and watched the sport of gymnastics hoping that Dipa would end India’s medal drought. Dipa did her best; she produced her best score of 15.066 and was at the third spot, in contention for a bronze. But others came and scored just slightly better than her pushing her to the fourth spot, only to make her and all Indians feel heartbroken.
Abhinav Bindra: The only Indian to have won an individual gold medal was looking for a spectacular end to his Olympic career when he came to Rio 2016. Bindra is probably the most celebrated Indian Olympian for his heroics at the Beijing Games in 2008 he achieved what the country hadn’t dreamt of, won a gold medal and stood at the top of the podium as the Indian national anthem was played. This time around, Bindra missed out on a bronze by a mere 0.5 points. He came fourth after he lost to Ukrainian marksman S Kulish in the shoot-out. The Indian marksman did shoot a 10 but unfortunately for him, Kulish shot a 10.5 and Bindra had to end his Olympic career on a disappointing note.
Sania Mirza-Rohan Bopanna: Both Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna had lost at Rio in the women’s doubles and men’s doubles respectively becoming coming together for the mixed doubles event. They stormed into the semi-finals after defeating Australia 7-5, 6-4 and Great Britain 6-4, 6-4 and looked in sparkling form. They got the nation very close to their first Rio medal playing a strong first set in the semi-final match against USA’s Venus Williams and Rajeev Ram only to let the American duo off the hook. The medal hopes were still alive when they were to play for the bronze where they put up a dismal performance against the Czechs losing the match 1-6, 5-7 and yet again, India came out fourth.
Undoubtedly, the jinx of fourth seems strong especially this year at the Rio Olympics. Though these athletes have been unable to bring home a medal, the fact that they gave it their all made the nation proud. On the podium or not, they will always be India’s Olympic heroes.