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India Thrilled After Bindra Wins Country's First-Ever Individual Olympic Gold Medal

Indians have joyously greeted the news of the country's first-ever Olympic gold medal in an individual event. The milestone at the Olympic Games in Beijing has resulted in an outpouring of national pride. Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi that India has long agonized over its failure to make a mark in international sports.

Indian television Monday was dominated by the news that Abhinav Bindra had claimed the men's 10-meter air rifle shooting title at the Beijing Olympics.

From the President and Prime Minister to people on the street, everyone lauded Bindra for securing the country's first-ever gold medal in an individual event on Monday.

Sports Minister M.S. Gill told Indian television it was a big step forward for Indian athletics.

"They feel I think one foot taller today, and every Indian does. This is something very big and very special, " Gill said.

India has reason to celebrate. The eight Olympic gold medals it has were won years ago in hockey. Even in that sport it has faded away - its hockey team failed to qualify for Beijing.

Before Bindra's win, India had only four individual Olympic medals - the latest a silver in Athens in 2004.

The dismal performance raised an agonized cry every four years - why does a nation of a billion plus people, which has produced world class professionals and technocrats, fail to achieve in sports?

Commentators offered many reasons: India's spending on sports is meager -- less than one percent of gross domestic product. Much of this money is spent on administration rather than training talent. The country has not built adequate sports infrastructure. There is an overall indifference to sports, with academics getting far greater priority. And no sport, except for cricket, gets national attention.

The result: a failure to produce world class sportsmen and athletes. The Indian contingent at the Beijing Games is just 57 strong - no larger than that of many small countries.

Sports columnist V. Sri Vatsa says India lacks a sports culture, and needs to put in place a system to identify and nurture talent.

"First of all we should become a country of sporting culture," he said. "So far sports administrators are thinking that only when we organize all these mega events like Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, Olympic Games, then only you can galvanize the country. I am not so sure about that. Unless you spend the same amount of money in promoting sportsmen, I think that will create a better impact."

Many hope Bindra's gold will encourage a greater emphasis on sports in a country which has the world's largest population of young people.