Olympics 2012: India Celebrates Historic Medal Haul

Sushil Kumar - P 2012
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Indian media celebrate the country's largest-ever Olympics contingent and biggest medal haul.

NEW DELHI – India spent a nail-biting Sunday afternoon watching wrestler Sushil Kumar storm into the finals of the men's freestyle 66 kilogram battle . While his dream was to win a gold – his Japanese rival Tatsuhiro Yonemitsu in the finals was quick on the attack – Kumar's silver medal win nevertheless turned him into an instant icon. He is the first Indian individual athlete to win back to back Olympic medals after he picked up a bronze in Beijing in 2008.

In a country mostly obsessed with cricket, the traditional sport of wrestling has always been in the sidelines. But Kumar and another medal winning wrestling team-mate - Yogeshwar Dutt who won a bronze in the 60 kilogram category – have given not just wrestling, but India's sporting culture a much-needed boost. With 81 athletes, India sent its highest Olympics contingent ever which won six medals in London (two silver and four bronze), double the three won in Beijing (one gold and two bronze).

“It was bronze in Beijing, and now it's a silver. So we are gradually going up and maybe in the next Olympics, I will be able to win the gold medal,” the 29-year-old Kumar was quoted stating.

Following his win, Indian news networks went into overdrive with channels telecasting live from Kumar's home in a village just outside Delhi where hundreds of family members and friends had gathered to watch the bout.

“My heart was beating very fast when I saw him on the television screen,” Kumar's mother Kamala Devi told a sea of reporters after the match. “I am very proud of my son and I am waiting for him to come home so we can all celebrate.”

While a six-medal haul for a country of over a billion people still leaves a lot to be desired, India's performance at London could be a shot in the arm for the future. And especially for sports women. The first ever Olympic win by an Indian female boxer – a bronze for five-time world women's boxing champion Mary Kom – and a bronze by badminton star Saina Nehwal brought girl power to the fore.

But as a plethora of TV debates on news networks Sunday night pointed out, India's athletes still need more government backing. “Unless we have a well-developed sports science support sytem, talent can only come up to a certain level,” admitted Sports Minister Ajay Maken. Given that some sports officials have held positions for decades leaving little room for new administrators, Maken added that “there should be transparency and efficiency in the functioning of federations.” Setting the pace for the future, in an interview with news network CNN-IBN, Maken said that India should target 25 medals for the 2020 games which could include “five or ten gold medals.”