In 1948, when the Indian Men’s Hockey Team won its fourth consecutive Olympic gold, a 33-year-old sculptor from Bengal bagged Silver at the Games in a most unusual category – Fine Arts. It may sound unbelievable today but between 1912 and 1948, the Olympics awarded a total of 151 medals to artists in five categories – Architecture, Literature, Music, Painting and Sculpture.
It was the dream of Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympic Games, to marry aesthetics with athleticism as he believed that to be a true Olympian, one must be skilled in sport as well as the arts.
Kar, who was born in Kharagpur in British-India, went on to become one of modern India’s most noted sculptors. He attended Abanindranath Tagore’s Indian Society of Oriental Art, and studied and practiced sculpture in Paris and England from 1938 to 1956. He then returned to West Bengal, where he lived till his death in 2005. Kar had acquired British citizenship and represented Great Britain at the 1948 Games. He was, technically, not Indian.
And then there’s the curious case of Norman Pritchard.
Prichard is considered India’s first and most decorated individual Olympian to date, and the two Silver medals he won at the 1900 Paris Olympics are a part of India’s official medals tally.
The International Olympic Committee lists Pritchard as having represented India at the Games although it describes him as “controversial” since his victories are claimed by both India and Britain.
What do we know about Normal Pritchard?
Pritchard was a British-Indian born to English parents in 1877 in Kolkata. He was raised in the city, worked there in his early years, was a gifted sprinter and even set a series of national-level records in India. He had an Indian birth certificate and travelled to the Paris Olympics on an Indian travel document (the forerunner of today’s passport).
Pritchard entered the Olympics as a private individual (India was not yet a member of the Olympics), which was not unusual at the time, but he went to Paris with the British Amateur Athletics Association team. So you see how things start to get a little muddled?
Pritchard was a man of many talents. After the Paris Olympics, he returned to Kolkata and served as Secretary of the Indian Football Association. A few years later, he moved to England and then to America, where he acted in 27 silent films!
Olympics: Quick Facts
With the 2021 edition of the Olympic Games right around the corner, here are some fingertip facts:
– India’s Olympic Medals Tally: Gold: 9 / Silver: 7 / Bronze: 12
* 8 of the 9 Gold medals have been bagged by the men’s hockey team and 1 by shooter Abhinav Bindra
* Of the 28 medals, 11 have been won by the Indian hockey team (1928 to 1980)
– India’s first Olympic gold was bagged by the Indian hockey team at the 1928 Amsterdam Games.
– Independent India’s first individual Olympic medal was won by K D Jadhav, a wrestler who took Bronze at the 1952 Helsinki Games. It would be 44 years before the next individual medal was clinched, by tennis ace Leander Paes, at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
– India’s first and only individual Olympic Gold was won by shooter Abhinav Bindra at the 2008 Beijing Games.
What drove a boy from Purulia in West Bengal to become one of the greatest long-distance swimmers of all time? This is the moving story of Mihir Sen, the first Asian to cross the English Channel and a national treasure who was forsaken by his country
Rubbing shoulders with the likes of M S Swaminathan and Normal Borlaug is another hero of the Green Revolution. It was simply called ‘IR8’, a ‘miracle rice’ embraced with utter disbelief by Indian farmers in the ’60s and ’70s. Find out more about the rice that changed India’s fortunes.
Get access to weekly Live events, experiences and an exclusive repository of films, articles and books