No. 10: Rajyavardhan Rathore wins silver in Athens

Qamar Sibtain/The India Today Group/Getty Images

The story till then

India sent its biggest shooting contingent to an Olympic Games in Athens 2004. Eight direct qualifications, instead of the three sent to Sydney in 2000, which had included two hardship wildcards. Of these the most invisible performer among them was Major Rajyavardhan Rathore, a serving army officer from the Nine Grenadiers who went about his Olympic campaign like it were a military mission. For the previous two years, he had spent no more than four months with his family as he trained and competed on sports ministry grants, which he earned by personally filling out government forms in quadruplicate. In the 18 months before Athens, he made the finals in every event he competed in, winning a bronze medal at the World Shotgun Championship in 2003 in Cyprus. When Athens arrived, he was ranked No. 3 in the world.

The moment
Out in an eastern Athenian suburb, Rathore was one of three Indians to make a 2004 Olympic final in four days, aware that the previous two, Anjali Bhagwat and Abhinav Bindra, had not bagged any medals. He was fifth of the six finalists, nine shots behind the leader, Ahmed Al Maktoum of the UAE, three behind the No. 2 finalist, Hakan Dahlby of Sweden. After three rounds of 50 shots each in the qualifiers, the final was one last round of 50 shots. Al Maktoum was very far ahead, but in the final round, Rathore was to come into his own. He soaked up the pressure, swallowing the lead of the rest of the finalists, scoring 44 out of 50. As other candidates fell aside, defeated by nerves, Rathore's final two shots were to seal India's first individual silver at the Olympics. While Maktoum's Olympic record was being celebrated, the Indians at the Markopoulo Olympic Shooting Centre were to recognise in Rathore's raised fist a sense of a mission completed.

The reaction
"I may have appeared calm inside, but I was dying a thousand deaths out there."
- Rajyavardhan Rathore

Expert view
"Rathore changed me. His silver ensured that gold became my possibility."
- Abhinav Bindra, Olympic shooting gold medallist

The story since
Rathore's silver medal led to a surge in shooting across the country, in national and international competitions. Within two years of his silver, India won its first World Shooting Championship titles in Zagreb 2006 - for Manavjit Singh Sandhu in trap shooting and Abhinav Bindra in the 10m air rifle. Rathore failed to make the shooting squad for the 2012 London Olympics. The following year he left the army to join active politics. He was elected MP for the Jaipur Rural constituency in 2014 and currently serves as minister for state for Information and Broadcasting. His son Manavaditya is now a competitive shooter, who won a trap gold in the International Junior Shotgun Cup held in Finland this May.