NEW DELHI: India are looking for better days ahead at the Olympics after shooter Gagan Narang picked up the country's first medal, a bronze, at the London Games.
Having drawn a blank on the first two days of competition, India finally made it to the medals board on Monday when Narang finished third in the men's 10m air rifle competition.
It was at the same event in Beijing four years ago that Abhinav Bindra won the country's first ever individual Olympic gold medal, raising hopes that there was more to Indian sport than just cricket.
Bindra failed to make the eight-man final in London, while Narang stepped on the podium after losing at the qualification stage in the previous two Olympics in Athens and Beijing.
Narang's bronze earned front-page coverage and Sports Minister Ajay Maken, who is in London, was confident the medal was just the spark India needed to make a mark.
“One medal by Gagan has totally changed the mood of the contingent! Everyone is so ecstatic and motivated!” Maken tweeted.
Maken told reporters in London that Narang, like all other Indian medal winners, would be offered a top government job as a reward for his efforts.
The entire Olympic contingent will be offered more junior coaching jobs in state-run sports institutions.
“India goes gaga over Gagan,” said The Times of India, while The Hindu newspaper wrote that the medal had “infused life into the Indian challenge”.
India had their best ever finish in Beijing in 2008 when wrestler Sushil Kumar and boxer Vijender Singh added bronze medals to Bindra's gold.
The duo spearhead the challenge of living up to the expectations of Indian Olympic officials, who had predicted a higher tally in London before the Games began.
India are looking to win medals in shooting, archery, badminton, boxing and wrestling where the main hopefuls are still in contention.
Narang has two more events left and other shooters in the fray include Ronjan Sodhi, a world record-holder in the double-trap event who won the Asian Games gold medal in Guangzhou, China in 2010.
World number five Saina Nehwal has raced through her first two matches in women's badminton, while teenager Deepika Kumari will look to justify her status as the top-ranked woman archer after failing in the team event.
Medal hopes also rest on five-time world champion Mary Kom as women's boxing makes its Olympic debut.
The field hockey team, returning to the Olympic fold after failing to qualify for Beijing, fought hard in a 2-3 defeat to the third-ranked Dutch men on Monday.