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'Unlucky' India grapples for positives from Games

August 13, 2012

Boys who practice wrestling hold up a box of sweets as they celebrate Indian wrestler Sushil Kumar's win. -Photo by Reuters

NEW DELHI: India on Monday tried to look on the bright side after collecting just six medals and no golds at the Olympics, saying that the modest haul was a record and efforts were already under way to improve.

The country has a dire history at the Olympics, winning only one individual gold medal, in Beijing in 2008, and this year finishing a lowly 55th in the overall medals table, sandwiched between Venezuela and Mongolia.

But the government and media hailed the two silvers and four bronzes brought home by India, which has enjoyed rapid economic development over the past two decades and has a booming population of 1.2 billion people.

“India was unlucky as many of the players were placed in the top ten, some even fourth or fifth,” Sports Minister Ajay Maken told reporters.

“It is a proud moment for us as this is our best-ever medal haul.”

He added that improved training programmes were now in place and that India should look to win at least 25 medals by 2020.

“Tally Ho: India returns biggest-ever medal haul at the Olympics,” declared the Mail Today, while the NDTV station said the six gongs – double the collection in Beijing – had triggered nationwide celebrations.

But the Hindustan Times gave a more downbeat assessment, saying that it was a poor outcome for one of the world's most vibrant economies. Asian rival China, with a similarly vast population and growing affluence, brought home 87 medals.

“Even by the country's modest sporting standards, it is a story of under-achievement,” the newspaper wrote in an editorial.

“To make a mark at the Olympics, we need to emulate countries at par with us economically, not the ones we've left behind.”

Optimism over India's prospects in London 2012 grew after shooter Abhinav Bindra won the 10m air rifle in Beijing, making history as the country's first individual gold medallist.

Several government and privately funded schemes poured money into finding future stars, but the search turned up little to impress the world audience gathered in London.

Wrestler Sushil Kumar and pistol shooter Vijay Kumar won silvers, while wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt, rifle marksman Gagan Narang, woman boxer Mary Kom and badminton star Saina Nehwal collected bronzes.

Bindra failed to get through the qualifying round.

India's hockey team – which once dominated the Olympics with eight golds – also showed no signs of returning to the top.

“It can't get worse, our hockey is dead,” said former goalkeeper Leslie Claudius, who played in four consecutive Olympics from 1948 to 1960.

Despite the lavish cash prizes and jobs promised to medallists, the Olympics remains a low priority in a country obsessed by cricket.

One leading businessman laced his congratulations with a call for change.

“We are proud of our Olympic medallists, but enough of this humiliation of 6 medals amongst 1.2bn people,” Anand Mahindra tweeted.