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India's woman wonders at the Olympics

August 04, 2016 09:28 IST

Rediff.com presents India's Olympic wonder-women...

Women athletes have been at the forefront of India's Olympic dreams for the last three decades and more.

Medals or not, they have been inspirational for generations of Indians.

P T Usha

PT Usha

IMAGE: Superwoman PT Usha. Photograph: Reuters

It was probably the biggest Indian disappointment in recent memory.

At the age of 20, P T Usha missed out on the bronze in the 400 metres hurdles at the Los Angeles Games in 1984 by 1/100th of a second.

Earlier, she had won the semi-finals and became the first Indian woman -- and fifth Indian overall -- to reach the final of an Olympic event.

In the final, one of the competitors false started, because of which the 'Payyoli Express' did not get a perfect start. Usha caught up with the leaders, but lost out by a fraction of a second.

The announcer at the stadium said she had finished third before correcting himself

Usha showed improvement in each round, clocking 56.81 seconds in Round 1, 55.54s in the semi-finals and 55.42s in the final.

Moroccan Nawal El Moutawakel won the gold. American Judi Brown the silver. Cristieana Cojocaru, a Romanian, clocked 55.41 secs to pip Usha to the bronze.

Karnam Malleswari

Weightlifter Karnam Malleshwari

IMAGE: Weightlifter Karnam Malleshwari. Photograph: Reuters

Karnam Malleshwari became the first woman to win an Olympic medal for India, and just the third individual medallist overall, when she won the bronze in the women's 69kg category in the weightlifting event at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Malleshwari won India's lone medal at the 27th Olympiad.

In the snatch, she began with a 105k lift, moved on to 107.5, and 110k for her final effort.

Four lifters came and went, without going above 100. Then Erzebet Markus, staring at 105, doubled to 110 on her second lift and, having tied with the Indian lifter, upped the ante by going for, and lifting clean, a world record 112.5k to take the lead.

China's Weining Lin, the last lifter in the field of 15, raised visions of a new record being cracked, when she went for 107.5k on her first lift, and made it. She then raised to 110, and lifted clean. For her final try, she upped the weight to 112.5 in a bid to equal the Hungarian, but failed.

At the end of the snatch leg, Markus was a clear leader with 2.5k over her nearest rivals, while Malleshwari and Lin were tied at 112.5.

Unless one of the three messed up in the second leg, the medals were always going to be between them -- the lead over the rest of the field was too big to bridge.

The Clean and Jerk section produced a surprise, when Markus, with a world record to her name, was beaten back to second position by the Chinese girl. She went 125 and 130 in her first two lifts, then failed to hoist 137.5, ending up with an overall tally of 242.5.

Malleshwari went the same way, clearing 125 and 130 in her first two lifts before failing to clear 137.5k. Malleswari, thus, totalled 240k overall.

The surprise packet was the Chinese lifter. For her very first lift, she went for 132.5 -- and cleared it. She then tried for 137.5, failed, upped the ante still further and went for 145 on her final lift, and failed again.

It didn't matter -- she had done enough to pip the Hungarian. Lin's total was 142.5 -- the same as that of Markus. But the Chinese girl edged the Hungarian to the gold, on the basis of lesser bodyweight.

Saina Nehwal

Saina Nehwal kisses her medal at the London Games medal ceremony 

IMAGE: Saina Nehwal kisses her medal at the London Games medal ceremony. Photograph: Michael Regan/Getty Images

Saina Nehwal clinched a bronze under fortuitous circumstances at the London Olympics.

Her opponent, World No 2 Xin Wang of China, conceded the third-place play-off match, after winning the first game, because of a knee injury.

The fourth seeded Indian had saved four game points in a dramatic fightback and was down 18-20 when left-handed Xin twisted her knee while going for an acrobatic smash from the baseline.

Saina thus became the first Indian badminton player to win a medal at the Olympics. She reached the quarter-finals at the Beijing Games four years earlier.

With the victory, she became only the second Indian woman, after Karnam Malleshwari to win a medal in the world's biggest sporting event.

Mary Kom

MC Mary Kom, left, in action against Karolina Michalczuk of Poland at the 2012 Olympic Games in London

IMAGE: MC Mary Kom, left, in action against Karolina Michalczuk of Poland at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Photograph: Scott Heavey/Getty Images

M C Mary Kom's hopes of making it to the final were dashed by Great Britain's Nicola Adams at the London Games.

The British boxer outclassed the iconic Indian 11-6 in the women's flyweight (51kg) semi-finals.

The five-time World champion was no match for her British opponent, and was forced to settle for a bronze.

Mary's 5ft 2 inches frame proved her undoing as Adams used her better reach to good effect, landing punches from a distance and then staying out of the Indian's reach.

P T Usha, Shiny Abraham, M D Valsamma and Vandana Rao

India returned from the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles without a medal. But the Games will always be remembered for bringing Indian women athletes into the limelight.

While P T Usha lost the bronze in the 400 metre hurdles by 1/100th of a second, Shiny Abraham reached the 800 metres semi-finals with a personal best of 2:04.69 seconds and became the first Indian woman to reach the semi-finals of an Olympic event. She finished last in the semi-finals.

Later, the Indian women's 4x400 metre relay team of Usha, Abraham, M D Valsamma and Vandana Rao made it to the final. They finished last among the seven teams, but set an Asian record of 3:32.49 seconds.

Anjali Vedpathak-Bhagwat

India's Anjali Bhagwat

IMAGE: Anjali Bhagwat. Photograph: Craig Prentis/Getty Images

At Sydney, ace Indian shooter Anjali Vedpathak-Bhagwat became the first Indian to feature in the final of an Olympic shooting competition. She finished a highly creditable eighth in the women's 10 metre Air Rifle event.

The 30-year-old Commonwealth Games gold medallist fired a stunning score of 99.1 in the eight-woman final round to tie with South Korean markswoman Choi Dae-Young on 493.1 points. But her preliminary round score of 394.0, one less than Choi's, placed her eighth.

How close the competition was could be judged from the fact that gold medal winner Nancy Johnson of the United States tallied 497.7 and Anjali was just 4.6 points adrift.

Anjali, who earned a hardship quota to the Olympics after her consistent performance in the World Cup events in the run-up to the Games, shot confidently but achieved a modest 394 earlier in the day to make the final at the Sydney International Shooting Centre.

Rediff Sports Desk