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There isn’t a child in the world who hasn’t gone back home after a crushing Sports Day performance, told his parents he came fourth, and not seen those eyes roll. Fourth place. Is there a more soul-crushing way to end your participation in a sporting event? Ok fine, there is the “silver by a whisker" disappointment that is too much to bear. But fourth is almost as horrible. Not only did you not even get a medal or bouquet or chocolates or whatever, but even worse is the loss of credibility.

“Oh sure you came fourth. Oh yeah yeah. Sure sure. We trust you 100%. No, sure."

Fourth place at the Olympics is agony. And all of us experienced this first hand when Abhinav Bindra finished just outside the medals a couple of days ago. Shooting, though, is particularly brutal. Once eliminated you have to go and sit in a chair and watch the eventual medallists battle it out for gold. Again, all this is a bit like School Day when you take part in the Potato Race, finish 34th, and then have to spend the rest of the afternoon managing the potatoes. (Happened to a friend of mine. Not me.)

Bindra, at least, had the satisfaction of having a gold medal (from the Beijing games in 2008) to his name. What about all the other Indians before him who achieved that most agonizing of ranks at the Olympics?

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Randhir Shindes came fourth in the freestyle featherweight wrestling category at the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp. Had the result in his final match against Great Britain’s Philip Bernard gone differently Shindes, for reasons political and sporting, could have become a national hero. This was not to be.

In a remarkable coincidence, 32 years later, Keshav Magave also came third in the exact same event at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki. At the next Olympics in Melbourne the Indian football team famously came fourth in a highly limited football tournament despite winning just one match. However Neville D’Souza managed to score four goals and become joint top scorer.

The first of India’s two most famous fourth-places finishes took place at the 1960 Olympics in Rome when Milkha Singh led the 400m men’s final at the halfway mark before fading away and finishing outside the medals by a whicker. It was an agonizing end to his campaign and one that has stayed in Indian sporting memory ever since. Why did you slow down, Mikha? Why did you look over your shoulder? What if?

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The 1980 Moscow Olympics saw India’s women’s hockey team come fourth out of a very weak field they could have hoped to do better against. And then four years later came another fourth place finish that crushed the entire nation. In the first ever 400m hurdles event to be held at the Olympics P.T. Usha came in fourth, to Romania’s Cojocaru, by one-hundredth of a second. Much like Milkha Singh’s finish, this is a result that has been seared into the minds and souls of many Indian sports fans.

Beijing 2008 was the first time India won, cough, two fourth places finishes in a single Olympics. Not only did Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi come fourth in the men’s doubles, but Kunjarani Devi repeated that finish in the women’s 48 kilograms weightlifting.

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Then in London four years ago, Joydeep Karmakar lost bronze in the men’s 50 m rifle prone after the most nerve-wracking of finals. Thus Bindra’s finish was, by my reckoning, the tenth time India has come fourth at the Olympics. What hurts even more is that of all these athletes only Leander Paes and Abhinav Bindra have actually won a medal. Spare a thought for the agony of the others.

Oh, and spare a thought for Team Great Britain. At the time of writing this piece, on the morning of the 11th, Great Britain is topping the ‘fourth-place table’ at Rio with six, yes six!, finishes just outside the medals. And according an estimate quoted by the BBC they are expected to grab another 11. Ouch.

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