In the countdown to the 2012 London Olympics, we retrace some memorable Indian moments at the quadrennial games. Today, a look at Leander Paes’ bronze medal in Atlanta.
In the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, India participated with a 49-member contingent with no hopes of a medal at all. The last Olympic medal for the country had come in Moscow 1980 through the Indian hockey team - gold. The next three Olympics in Los Angeles, Seoul and Barcelona were thoroughly disappointing with no medal to show for. So it was no surprise why the Indian public didn't expect anything of the contingent that went to Atlanta in 1996.
Leander Paes was not a big name by then. However, he became one by the time the edition saw its completion as he won a bronze against all odds. The entire country jumped into celebrations when he defeated Brazil's Fernando Meligeni to do the unthinkable. After beating American Richey Reneberg, Venezuelan Nicolas Pereira, Swede Thomas Engvist, Italian Renzo Furlan Paes crossed the gold medal favourite American Andre Agassi's path who dispatched him 7-6 6-3 in the semi-finals.
Leander Paes's bronze at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics remains one of India's greatest sporting achievements on the world stage.
So his bronze medal match against Meligeni was his last chance at redemption which he seemed to have blown by conceding the first set 6-3, but the Indian – destined to be great – turned it around to claim the next two sets 6-2 6-4 to get India's first medal since 1980 – and first individual medal since KD Jadhav won bronze at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. His tears of joy with the tricolour wrapped around him are one of the most cherished moments of Indian sport history. Paes cited the match as one of his greatest performances on the court, in part because his wrist was severely injured.