Rio de Janeiro: P.V. Sindhu became the country’s first-ever woman silver medal winner in the Olympic Games after coming second best against world champion Carolina Marin of Spain in a pulsating clash for the gold in the badminton singles on Day 14 of the Games.
However, India continued to face setbacks on the athletics track and in men’s wrestling in which Sandeep Tomar got eliminated in the first round after medal hope Narsingh Yadav was ejected from the Games Village without getting on the mat following the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruling to ban him for four years for a doping violation back home in June.
Narsingh had been exonerated by the National Anti-Doping Agency (Nada) after a hearing at home to put him on the flight to Rio but the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) challenged the verdict in the Court of Arbitration for Sports, and a marathon four-hour hearing was held before he was thrown out of the Olympics.
It was heartbreak time for Sindhu whose dream to win what would have been only the second individual gold medal for India in Olympics history was dashed as she went down with guns blazing against the world no. 1 Spaniard in the final.
The 21-year-old Indian woman’s gallant attempt to emulate the eight-year-old feat of shooter Abhinav Bindra and join him in the list of Olympic champions was foiled as the Indian world no. 10 crumbled under the tremendous pressure created by Marin to lose 21-19 12-21 15-21.
Sindhu thus became the fourth Indian to win a silver at the Olympics after shooters Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore (2004, Athens) and Vijay Kumar (2012, London) and wrestler Sushil Kumar (2012, London).
The two-time World championship bronze medallist also became the fifth woman player from India to win a medal in Olympics history and the first to clinch a silver. She is also the youngest Indian to win a medal at the Olympics.
Weightlifter Karnam Malleshwari (2000, Sydney), boxer MC Mary Kom (2012, London), shuttler Saina Nehwal (2012, London) and wrestler Sakshi Malik (Rio, 2016) are the other women players from India to clinch a medal in the quadrennial sports spectacle.
Away from Sidhu’s heroics, Tomar lost to two-time World Champion Victor Lebedev of Russia 3-7 in the 57 kg category and got ousted from the men’s freestyle wrestling when Lebedev was beaten 1-6 in his next encounter against Sabzali Hassan Rahimi of Iran.
Had Lebedev progressed to the final, Tomar would have been given a fresh lease of life to fight for the bronze through repechage, but it was not to be and he got eliminated.
In athletics the Indians, a host of whom had taken the flight to this Brazilian city through the qualification process, continued to flounder in the face of quality of competition much beyond their reach.
Race walkers Sandeep Kumar (men’s 50km walk) and Khushbir Kaur (women’s 20km walk) finished well behind the top bunch in the 34th and 54th positions clocking poor timings of 4 hours, 7 minutes and 55 seconds and one hour, 40 minutes and 33 seconds respectively.
Khushbir’s time in the 63-strong competition was more than seven minutes off her personal best of 1:33.07 that had earned the country a second place at the Incheon Asian Games in 2014.
Sandeep Kumar, who had a fourth place finish at the Asian Games, ended 35th among 49 competitors and his time was 26 minutes 57 seconds behind gold medallist Matej Toth of Slovakia.
The Army man from Haryana was nowhere close to his personal best of 3:56.22, a national record he had set in the IAAF Race Walking Team Championship in Taicang, China two years ago. Another woman walker Sapna Punia, with a personal best of 1:33.56, could not even finish.
Later, the men’s team was disqualified in the 4x400M relay and the women’s 4x400M relay team finished seventh and also failed to make the cut for the finals.
The women’s team of Nirmala Sheoran, Tintu Luka, M.R. Poovamma and Anilda Thomas clocked three minutes 29.33 seconds to finish just above Cuba in Heat 2 in a field of eight teams.
Worse was in store later in the evening when the men’s quarter-mile quartet of Muhammed Puthanpurakkal, Muhammad Anas, Ayyasamy Dharun and Rajiv Arokia was disqualified for a baton exchange violation.
India have now only five contingent members remaining in fray, including woman golfer Aditi Ashok who has dropped off to the tied 31st spot, with two others, after carding a third round show of 8 over par 79 which gave her an overall tally of two over 215 going into today’s fourth and final round of 18 holes.
In athletics India now have three marathoners left in the fray — Nitendra Singh Rawat, Kheta Ram and Gopi Thonakla as they compete on the concluding day of the Games on Sunday.
The only wrestler left in the fray is London Olympics bronze medallist Yogeshwar Dutt who will also step on the mat on the final day.