But what followed left Indian fans quite disappointed.
Saina, who appeared in her third successive Olympics, made an exit at the group stage while Yogeshwar suffered a shock defeat at the hands of Mongolian Ganzorigiina Mandakhnaran in the opening round. Narang also surprised fans with his below par performances, as he failed to qualify for the finals of the three events he participated in.
In our countdown to the Tokyo Olympics, we bring you a recap of what transpired for India at the Rio Olympics five years ago in 2016. The highs, the lows and the near misses.
SAKSHI MALIK AND THE UNEXPECTED BRONZE
Sakshi Malik (AP Photo)
Wrestler Sakshi Malik ended India’s agonising wait for an elusive medal at the Rio Olympics after the big medal contenders drew a blank. She burst onto the scene when the chips were down for India. Sakshi qualified for the repechage round after her conqueror in the quarterfinals Russian wrestler Valerie Koblova reached the final of the 58kg category final. First, she outclassed Orkhon Purevdorj of Mongolia 12-3. Then she was up against Kyrgyzstan’s Aisuluu Tynybekova in the bronze medal match. Sakshi was trailing 0-5 after the first period, but bounced back superbly in the second period to clinch a 8-5 win and became the first Indian female wrestler to win an Olympic medal.
VINESH PHOGAT’S UGLY INJURY – THE BIGGEST HEARTBREAK
Vinesh Phogat (Reuters Photo)
Vinesh Phogat was one of the brightest medal prospects for India at the Rio Games, but the stars didn’t align for her. Instead things went very wrong for her. After winning her pre-quarterfinal bout by technical superiority, Vinesh sustained a ligament injury midway through her quarterfinal fight against China’s Sun Yanan and had to be stretchered off. She had torn the ACL in her right knee. Vinesh lay on the mat, with tears rolling down her cheeks. Eventually she had to be stretchered off. Her campaign was over. The seriousness of the injury in fact left a big question mark on her career overall. But that was not enough to deter. Vinesh made a remarkable comeback to qualify for a second Olympics in a row. She qualified for the Tokyo Games with a maiden World Championships medal. Five years later, Vinesh stands on the cusp of history as she will enter the Tokyo Games not just as one of India’s medal hopes but as the World’s No.1 wrestler and top seed in the 53kg category.
PV SINDHU’S HISTORIC SILVER MEDAL
PV Sindhu (AFP Photo)
PV Sindhu won India’s second medal of the Rio Olympics when she went down fighting against Spain’s Carolina Marin 21-19, 12-21, 15-21 in the final to settle for a historic silver. Sindhu became the second Indian badminton player after Saina Nehwal (bronze in 2012) to win an Olympic medal. Sindhu might not have won the gold, but her spirited performance in the final helped India to further stake a claim as a modern powerhouse of badminton.
DIPA’S UNFORGETTABLE PERFORMANCE – MISSING BRONZE BY A WHISKER
Dipa Karmakar (AP Photo)
Gymnast Dipa Karmakar did not win a medal at the Rio Games, but she did become one of the biggest stars for India at the Games. Her performance earned her accolades from every quarter of the country. She missed a bronze medal by a whisker to finish fourth in the women’s vault finals, but still made history by producing the best-ever performance by an Indian gymnast at the Olympics. Dipa, who had become the first Indian female gymnast to qualify for the Olympics, scored an average of 15.066 points, a mere 0.15 less than the eventual bronze medal winner Giulia Steingruber (15.216) of Switzerland.
ABHINAV BINDRA – MISSING A SECOND OLYMPICS MEDAL NARROWLY
Abhinav Bindra (Reuters Photo)
Hopes were high from India’s lone individual Olympic gold medallist Abhinav Bindra at the Rio Games, but he fell heartbreakingly short of a bronze medal. He missed a medal by a whisker in a tense shoot-off in the men’s 10m air rifle event final. Bindra, who was participating in his fifth and final Olympics, lost the shoot-off against Ukrainian Serhiy Kulish, after both shooters were tied for third place at 163.8 points after 16 shots.
NO MEDALS FROM SHOOTING
Since Rajyavardhan Rathore’s silver medal at the Athens Olympics in 2004, Indian shooters are considered to be big medal contenders at the Games. From the 2004 to the 2012 Games, shooting contributed to India’s medal tally. But India’s shooting campaign at the Rio Olympics ended without a single medal. This was considered to be quite a disappointment, especially after two shooters – Gagan Narang (bronze) and Vijay Kumar (silver) had won medals for India in London 2012.
THE BOXERS RETURNED HOME EMPTY HANDED TOO
Shiva Thapa after losing his bout at Rio Olympics (Reuters Photo)
Like shooters, the Indian boxing contingent’s performance was also disappointing. Only three Indian boxers qualified for Rio – Shiva Thapa, Vikas Krishan and Manoj Kumar. Vikas only managed to reach the quarterfinals. It was the second successive edition in which the Indian male boxers failed to secure a medal. In the 2012 edition, a bronze had been won by MC Mary Kom (51kg) in the women’s draw. Vijender Singh (75kg) thus remains the first and only Indian male boxer to have secured an Olympic medal.
LEANDER PAES’ RECORD SEVENTH OLYMPIC APPEARANCE
Leander Paes (AP Photo)
Indian tennis star and 1996 Olympics bronze medallist Leander Paes achieved a personal milestone by competing at his record seventh successive Olympics. But his campaign was cut short when he lost in the men’s doubles first round along with partner Rohan Bopanna. Sania Mirza and Bopanna kept India’s hopes for a rare tennis medal alive by reaching the bronze medal play-off. But the pair suffered a straight-sets defeat against Radek Stepanek and Lucie Hradecka.