Several Indian participants have been denied glory by a whisker.

“A winner is not only those who win medals but also those who win hearts.” As the countdown to the Tokyo Olympics continues, we take a look at the five Indian individuals who have inspired us over the years with their performance on the world’s grandest stage.

They may have narrowly missed out on an Olympic medal but they ensured that people will continue to speak about their feat for generations back home.

Here are five individuals who made India proud with their performance at the Olympics but failed to secure a medal:

5. Anju Bobby George (Athens, 2004)

At the World Athletics Championships in Paris in 2003, Anju Bobby George claimed the bronze medal in the long jump event. In doing so, she became the first-ever Indian to win a medal in the World Athletics Championships.

Hence, hopes were high when she arrived in Athens for the Summer Olympics the following year. She easily cleared the qualification round with a jump of 6.69. But the finals would be an altogether different challenge.

George started brightly with a jump of 6.83, which put her in third place after Round 1. However, things soon deteriorated. She faced two disqualifications that eventually resulted in her slipping from third place to fifth and missing out on an Olympic medal by just 23 centimetres.

4. Joydeep Karmakar (London, 2012)

Not much was expected from Joydeep Karmakar going into the London Olympics in 2012. It was not him who had won a quota for the Games. The National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) had decided to send him. So, the pressure was clearly on the talented shooter from Bengal.

After a tense qualifying round, Joydeep made it to the final round with a total score of 51.7, finishing in the seventh spot. However, the final medal tally decided by a cumulative score of both the final rounds and the qualifying round.

He shot above the 10 marks with each of his final ten shots, accumulating a total of 104.1, and a total score of 699.1. Slovenia’s Rajmond Debevac finished third with a total of 701.0 after his qualification scores were added. Heartbreak for Joydeep, but he proved his doubters wrong with his fighting spirit in London.

3. Dipa Karmakar (Rio, 2016)

Dipa Karmakar won a bronze medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. She became the first Indian female gymnast to do so in the history of the Games.     

The Indian athlete came into the Rio Olympics as India’s ace women’s gymnast and achieved a score of 14.833 to qualify for the finals of the vault event. Dipa started the medal round with ‘Tsukahara’ that saw her gain 14.866 points in her first attempt. However, American gymnast Simone Biles took the lead with a score of 15.066 which sent Dipa to fourth place.

Dipa missed out on a medal by an agonizing 0.15 points. She even successfully performed the Produnova vault in Rio, becoming only the fifth woman in gymnastics history to do so. Produnova is by far considered the toughest vault in women’s artistic gymnastics and is dubbed as the ‘vault of death’.

The sensational efforts of the Tripura girl didn’t go unnoticed and she received the Padma Shri award in 2017.

2. Milkha Singh (Rome, 1960)

“The Flying Sikh” was the first-ever Indian to win a Commonwealth Games gold medal and was considered as one of the favourites for the 400m event at the 1960 Rome Olympics.

Singh took off like a tracer bullet grabbing the lead in the early stages but at around the 250m mark, he made the fatal mistake of slowing down. In doing so, Otis Davis and Carl Kaufmann overtook him for the first and second positions with a timing of 44.9 seconds. Milkha Singh and Malcolm Spence also broke the pre-Olympic record with a timing of 45.6 and 45.5 seconds, respectively. It ultimately needed a photo-finish to determine the bronze medal winner, with the Indian athlete losing out by 0.1 seconds.

One of India’s finest ever athlete thus had to leave Rome empty-handed because of a movement that continues to haunt him to date.  

1. P.T. Usha (Los Angeles, 1984)

The outcome of the 400m hurdles at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics was heart-wrenching.

One of India’s star athletes at that time, PT Usha was the Asian record holder and had won silver at both the 100 and the 200m events at the Asian Games in 1982 at New Delhi. She beat ace American athlete Judy Brown in the heats, and defeating her in front of her home crowd gave her the confidence that she could go on and claim an Olympic medal in the finals.

A false start by one of the competitors affected her energy levels a bit, but she managed to stay alongside the leading pack for most of the time. Towards the end, Morocco’s Nawal El Moutawakel and USA’s Judy Brown edged in front leaving Usha and Romania’s Cristieana Cojocaru fighting for the final podium place.

Cojocaru performed a clever last-ditch head dip that ultimately proved decisive, and the photo finish confirmed that she had just finished ahead of Usha. Everyone’s beloved “Payyoli Express” missed out on an Olympic podium by just 0.01 seconds.

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