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From Balbir Singh Sr to Abhinav Bindra: India’s flag-bearers at the Olympics

Eight medallists, two women and 17 athletes in total have carried the Indian flag in the opening ceremony of the Olympics.
By Rahul Venkat

Being an Olympic flag-bearer for your country is one of the highest honour an athlete can hope to achieve, perhaps only topped by winning an international medal.

A country’s flag-bearer at the Summer Games represents the values of the nation and is seen as a symbol of the Olympic ideals, one who can be an inspiration or a role model for the future.

The Olympic flag bearers for India over the years have been pioneers in their respective sports, bringing laurels to the nation with their exploits and have been recognised as some of the greatest sportspersons to emerge from India.

First Indian flag-bearer at Olympics

The first Indian to carry the national flag at the opening ceremony of the Games was 400m sprinter Purma Banerjee at the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium.

With India gaining independence in 1947, the next Olympics (London 1948) held extra significance for the country as it hoped to display its sporting capabilities at the biggest stage.

The honour of being India’s flag-bearer at the 1948 Olympics was thus given to Dr Talimeren Ao, the inspirational first captain of the men’s Indian football team.

Notable Indian flag-bearers at the Olympics

Seventeen athletes have carried the Indian flag at the opening ceremony of the Games, with eight of them being Olympic medallists.

The legendary Abhinav Bindra, the country’s only individual gold medallist, was the flag bearer of India at Rio Olympics 2016, which turned out to be his final Olympic appearance.

Other gold-medallists to carry the flag include Lal Shah Bhokhari, the captain of the victorious 1932 Olympic hockey team, wizard Dhyan Chand, legend Balbir Singh Sr and Zafar Iqbal.

Three-time Olympic gold-medallist Balbir Singh Senior is the only one to be India’s flag-bearer at the Olympics twice – in 1952 and 1956.

Sprinter Shiny-Abraham Wilson was the first Indian woman Olympic flag-bearer at Barcelona 1992. The only other woman to have had that honour so far is Anju Bobby George, who emulated Shiny at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

With Indian hockey enjoying a fine legacy at the Olympics -- having won eight golds, two silvers and three bronze medals – it is no surprise then that hockey players have carried the flag most times for India at the Olympics (six).

Leander Paes, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore and Sushil Kumar are the other Olympic medallists who have served as India’s Olympic flag-bearers.

For the first time in the Olympics, India will have two flag-bearers at the opening ceremony of the Summer Games at Tokyo 2020: Mary Kom and Manpreet Singh.

Flag bearers for India at the Olympics: Full list

1920 – Purma Banerjee (Athletics)

1932 – Lal Shah Bhokari (Hockey)

1936 – Dhyan Chand (Hockey)

1948 – Talimeren Ao (Football)

1952 – Balbir Singh Sr (Hockey)

1956 - Balbir Singh Sr (Hockey)

1964 – Gurbachan Singh Randhawa (Athletics)

1972 – Desmond-Neville Devine Jones (Boxing)

1984 – Zafar Iqbal (Hockey)

1988 – Kartar Singh Dhillon (Wrestling)

1992 – Shiny-Abraham Wilson (Athletics)

1996 – Pargat Singh (Hockey)

2000 – Leander Paes (Tennis)

2004 – Anju Bobby George (Athletics)

2008 – Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore (Shooting)

2012 – Sushil Kumar (Wrestling)

2016 – Abhinav Bindra (Shooting)

2020 - Mary Kom (Boxing) and Manpreet Singh (Hockey)