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Indians who defied world rankings to make a mark at the Olympics

Ranked 200 in the world, Aditi Ashok defied expectations as she soared to a silver medal at Tokyo 2020
By Olympic Channel Writer

In team competitions, or while representing your country at major events, you often hear athletes say that rankings matter little. It is an indicator of how you have performed in the past but not always a yardstick of how you will perform in the future.

When it comes to the Olympics, there have been a few Indian players who have defied expectations and mocked at world rankings to make a mark. We take a look:

Aditi Ashok

Aditi Ashok was ranked 178 (June 2021) in the world when she secured a place for Tokyo 2020 and had slipped to 200 by the time the Olympics came around.

But, the Indian was determined to make the most of the experience gained at Rio 2016 and make Tokyo 2020 count. She was placed at No. 2 since the Day 1, round 1 and missed out on a medal only by a whisker, finishing a stroke behind the third-placed golfer.

“I think having played the Olympics once definitely gets you more prepared, you're not as overawed by it,” she told reporters. “I mean it's still the Olympics, it's still really exciting, but, yeah, definitely more prepared for this one.”

Sakshi Malik

Sakshi Malik was unranked going into Rio 2016. But the unheralded Malik, aged 23 at the time, went on to become the first, and so far only, female wrestler from India to win a medal.

Malik had to go through the qualification round, where she edged Johanna Mattsson 5-4.

Valeria Koblova halted her run in the quarterfinals with a 9-2 win, but Malik’s campaign was revived through repechage as the Russian progressed to the final.

In repechage, the Indian overcame Purevdorjiin Orkhon 12-3 in the first round. She battled back 0-5 down against Asian champion Aisuluu Tynybekova of Kyrgyzstan to win 8-5 and clinch a bronze medal in the 58kg category.

Leander Paes

Leander Paes was ranked 126 in the world and was given a wildcard entry into Atlanta 1996. But he brought home India’s only medal at the Games as he won bronze in a star-studded men’s singles field.

He beat third seed Thomas Enqvist of Sweden 7-5, 7-5 in the third round and overcame 14th seed Renzo Furlan of Italy 6-1, 7-5 in the quarterfinals. In the semi-finals, he took on top seed Andre Agassi, who had already won three of his eight Grand Slams by then.

Paes lost the tight first set in tie-break before going down 6-7, 3-6 to the American. In the bronze medal playoff, he defeated Fernando Meligeni of Brazil 3-6, 6-2, 6-4.

It was India’s first individual medal since wrestler KD Jadhav won bronze at Helsinki 1952. Paes’ medal turned out to be a watershed moment in Indian Olympic history as the country has won at least one individual medal since his bronze finish at Atlanta 1996.

India women's hockey team

Going into Tokyo 2020, India's women's hockey team were rank outsiders for a medal. They were ninth in the world going into the Olympics. They started off in a poor way too, losing three matches on the trot against Netherlands, Great Britain and Germany.

But wins over Ireland and South Africa pushed them into the quarter-finals where they were expected to be steamrolled by powerhouses Australia. But the women in blue pulled off an upset for the ages, beating them 1-0 and reached the semifinal. Suddenly, an unlikely medal was in their sights.

Though they lost 1-2 to Argentina in the semifinal, they gave Great Britain a fight in the bronze medal play-off, losing 3-4 after a nervy game. Though the medal eluded the women's hockey team, their performances made the entire country sit up and take note.