India at the Olympics 2008: Striking first individual gold in Beijing
With 57 athletes, India headed to the 2008 Beijing Olympics with its biggest contingent at the time and came back with its most successful medal haul till then. It included a first-ever individual gold medal courtesy of shooter Abhinav Bindra.
Aside from the gold, India also bagged two bronze medals, thus improving on India’s two prior performances at the Olympic Games.
Beijing 2008 whetted India’s appetite for what was to come in the following edition when India would double its record with six medals.
Beijing Olympics 2008: India’s medals
Abhinav Bindra wins India’s first Olympic gold medal
For many Indians, Beijing 2008 will always stand out for rifle shooter Abhinav Bindra’s incredible gold-medal winning effort.
A two-time Commonwealth Games gold medallist heading into the event, Abhinav Bindra barely made it through the qualifying round. Once in the final, Bindra was in command, not dropping below 10 in any of the rounds, and ending the final round with a 10.8 score.
“Those 10 shots, they were magical. Stability, timing, execution, they were the best shots of my life… I knew, I could not shoot better,” said Abhinav Bindra.
Qualifying topper Henri Hakkinen of Finland managed to hang with Abhinav Bindra but floundered in the final to post a score of 9.7 in the round.
The achievement turned Bindra into an overnight sensation in households across India, a nation whose prayers for a first gold medal since 1980 had been answered.
Vijender Singh wins India’s first medal in boxing
While it would be hard to top Abhinav Bindra’s gold medal, Vijender Singh’s bronze medal effort in the middleweight category nine days later was also celebrated.
The 2006 Commonwealth Games silver-medallist briskly made his way through the rounds of 32 and 16 with convincing winning margins of 13-2 and 13-3 respectively. In the quarter-final, he outfought southpaw Carlos Gongora of Ecuador 9-4, thus assuring the first boxing Olympic medal for India.
“Not many thought I was good enough to win, And perhaps that was a blessing in disguise,” Vijender said.
Despite a valiant fight, Vijender Singh could not fend off Emilio Correa in the semi-final, losing 5-8 to the Cuban, but his bronze medal ensured a hero’s welcome back to India for the Haryanvi pugilist.
Sushil Kumar wins India’s first wrestling medal in 56 years
Sushil Kumar had won a bronze medal at the Asian Games two years earlier, and heading into the 2008 Summer Olympics, he was in trouble early after losing to Ukraine’s Andriy Stadnik in the 66kg freestyle wrestling event’s opening round.
However, Sushil made it through the first and second repechages successfully to end up at the bronze medal duel. Despite the lack of a masseur (team manager and former Asian Games medallist Kartar Singh had to fill in), Sushil Kumar dominated the proceedings on the mat to beat Kazakhstan’s ]Leonid Spiridonov 3-1, thus earning his bronze medal on the same day as Vijender Singh.
"Wrestling experts say that the Kazakhstan wrestler had 99 per cent of the bout in his favour and I had 1 per cent. I made a comeback in that one per cent and won the medal," Sushil Kumar said.
Near yet far
While Abhinav Bindra, Vijender Singh and Sushil Kumar stole the spotlight, a few others came within touching distance at the 2008 Summer Games.
The sixth-seeded women’s archery team of Dola Banerjee, Bombayala Devi and Pranitha Vardhineni made it to the quarter-finals but were narrowly denied (206-211) from moving on to the semi-finals by China.
Also denied from reaching the semi-finals were athlete Mandeep Kaur (400m) and the 4x400m relay team of Sathi Geetha, Manjeet Kaur, Sini Jose, Chitra Soman and Mandeep Kaur ranking sixth and seventh in the heats, respectively.
Then there was Saina Nehwal. Despite a strong start in her quarter-final that saw her win the opening game, Saina made it no further after losing 28-26, 14-21, 15-21 to Maria Kristin Yulianti of Indonesia.
And while Vijender Singh shone in the middleweight category, fellow boxers Jitender Kumar and Akhil Kumar, contesting the flyweight and bantamweight categories respectively, were knocked out in the quarter-finals.
Gagan Narang, like Abhinav Bindra, found the going tough in 10m Air Rifle qualifying, and while Bindra squeaked through, Gagan Narang didn’t and ended up ninth in the ranking.
Finally, the pairing of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi was also left wondering what could have been after they were defeated 2-6, 4-6 by the Swiss duo of Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka in the quarter-final.
2008 Olympics medal table: India
Gold - Abhinav Bindra - shooting
Bronze - Vijender Singh - boxing
Bronze - Sushil Kumar - wrestling