Believe it or not, there still exists huge discrepancies in facilities, income, and exposure for women athletes. They are often discouraged by the prevalence of indifference, while most people in the sporting fraternity somehow end up expecting less from them. In a similar vein, the fact that Indian sports continue to be a male-dominated spectacle perhaps makes the feats of the women athletes all the more worthwhile. The Bridge lists out the top ten women athletes of the decade who have shown us what it means to rise and start the revolution to pave the way for the rest.
#1 P V Sindhu
Ace shuttler P V Sindhu carved out a new record on August 25 this year after becoming the first-ever Indian to win the gold medal at the BWF World Championship. The shuttler scraped out an easy victory over the formidable Japanese Nozomi Okuhara to clinch the top honours. Naturally, much before even the final point, Sindhu appeared as a runaway victor. The lanky Sindhu put up a towering show that left her diminutive opponent feeling remarkably exasperated. Earlier this year, her performance graph marked a steep fall with a series of early exits in six tournaments.
The Rio Olympics silver medallist rose to a career-high rank of No. 2 in April 2017 after making her international debut in 2009. She stole the international limelight after breaking into the top 20 of the BWF World Ranking in 2012. Having won her first Superseries title at the 2016 China Open, Sindhu eventually shot up her medal kitty after winning silver each at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and 2018 Asian Games, and two bronze at the Uber Cup.
Sindhu has laid down a record of winning medals at every World Championships, the exception being of 2015. A recipient of both Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna and Padma Shri, Sindhu became the second woman in the world to win five or more medals at the World Championships.
#2 Saina Nehwal
The first Indian badminton player to have won an Olympic medal, Saina through her undying passion towards the game has shown that she is a sheer sporting genius. A former World No. 1, Saina has as many as 24 international titles, including eleven Superseries titles, added to her name. She climbed to second place in world rankings in the year 2009, while it was only in 2015 that she attained the No. 1 ranking, becoming the second Indian player, after Prakash Padukone, to achieve this feat.
She has represented India three times at the Olympics, winning a bronze medal in her second appearance. In the 2014 Uber Cup, she captained India and remained undefeated, helping India to grab the bronze medal. It was India's first medal in any BWF major team event. Nehwal became the first Indian to win two singles gold medals each in 2010 and 2018 Commonwealth Games. It is no easy feat to sustain the top position for a long time. Of late, Saina had been plagued by a series of poor performances after suffering several defeats in matches against the best players. But anyhow, her achievement is a significant milestone in India’s sporting history, one that truly deserves utmost appreciation.
#3 Rani Rampal
Leading by example, Rani Rampal has been donning the captain’s role with much authority. She represented India at the 2010 Hockey World Cup aged 15. Rani has provided a much-needed boost to the women’s team and Indian hockey in general as a player of influence and an exemplar of the team she has for long belonged to and led. There is no Indian woman to have played more internationals than her or maybe scored as many goals. The unyielding ambition of Rani has indubitably helped her team march ahead -- in terms of medals won or top-10 ranking or Olympic qualification.
Probably, she is the only member of the team to have witnessed several versions of Indian women’s hockey. She was part of the squad that missed out on the 2012 London Olympic qualification by a whisker. A narrowly missed semi-final spot in the 2018 World Cup was soon followed by a major defeat in the Commonwealth Games bronze medal match in the same year. And at every juncture, Rani has been able to pick herself up and through example, paved the way for the rest.
#4 Aditi Ashok
The biggest name in Indian women's golf, Aditi Ashok became the first Indian woman golfer to bag the 2016 Ladies European Tour in 2017, besides being the youngest contender in the field of golf at the Rio Olympics. The Lalla Aicha Tour School win eventually made her the youngest winner eligible for an international tour. She has a record of being the first and the only Indian golfer to have competed at the Asian Youth Games in 2013, Youth Olympic Games in 2014, Asian Games in 2014 and Olympic Games in 2016.
The youngster has had many firsts in her golf career. She won the 2016 Hero Women's Indian Open to become the first Indian to win a Ladies European Tour title. Her surprising victory garnered a lot of attention for the sport. Only two weeks later, Aditi picked up a second win at the Qatar Ladies Open and finished second on the Order of Merit. She also attained an LPGA Tour card for 2017 by competing at the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament. She also became the first-ever Indian LPGA player and finished in the eighth position in the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year rankings table.
#5 Mary Kom
When it comes to women’s boxing, there is perhaps no name bigger than that of Mary Kom. At the World Championships on October 12, Mary settled for a bronze medal after losing to Turkey’s Busenaz Cakiroglu in an intense semifinal bout. Despite the defeat, it was a stupendous campaign for the 36-year-old that added to her long list of accomplishments. In doing so, she secured an unprecedented eighth world medal, thus improving her own record as the most successful boxer in the history of the tournament. Besides an impressive haul of six world titles, her career is also studded with an Olympic bronze medal (2012), five Asian titles, gold medals at the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games, besides numerous other international top finishes.
She is the only Indian female boxer to win an Olympic medal. She clinched a bronze medal in 51 kg category in 2012, defeating Britain’s Nicola Adams. Her first World Championship medal was a sliver in the 48kg category. She followed it up with a gold medal in 2002. She won gold in both 2005 and 2006 after which she went on to add to her tally in 2008, 2010 and 2018.
#6 Vinesh Phogat
One of India’s top wrestlers, Vinesh Phogat has brought laurels for the country from international competitions in and around the world. In 2013, she embarked on her international wrestling career at 19 and went on to clinch a bronze medal at the Asian Wrestling Championship in 51kg category. She followed it up with silver at the Commonwealth Championship in South Africa in the same year.
Perhaps, her breakthrough achievement came in 2014 when she moved from her usual 51kg to 48kg category and defeated England in the finals to clinch the gold medal at the Glasglow Commonwealth Games. Yet more medals were to follow after this win, as Vinesh continued to impress in the international circuit. She continued her fine form at the 2015 Asian Championships in Doha winning a silver medal before bagging the Olympic qualification tournament in Istanbul.
With her career on a steep rise at that point, her campaign at the 2016 Rio Olympics ended due to a knee injury. She forged a comeback into the mat in 2018 with a silver medal at the Asian Championships in Kyrgyzstan. She bagged a maiden World Championship medal this year in the women's 53kg category after pinning Maria Prevolaraki in the bronze medal match. She became the first Indian wrestler to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics 2020 by virtue of her top-six finish. The first Indian woman wrestler to win gold in both Commonwealth and Asian Games, Vinesh next aims to gun for a greater glory at the Tokyo Olympics next year.
#7 Dutee Chand
From belonging to a poverty-stricken background to aiming for something big in life -- star Indian sprinter Dutee Chand’s road to glory had many pit stops. She overcame a roadblock of scandals but stayed strong to script her own narrative. Her breakthrough achievement came in the year 2012 when she timed 11.8 seconds in the 100 metres category to set a national record. Dutee accomplished this feat at the National Youth U-18 Junior Athletics Championships in Bengaluru.
Dutee bagged a bronze medal in the 200 metres category at the 2013 Asian Athletics championships. The Athletics World Youth Championships in the same year saw Dutee set an unprecedented record for India. She became the first Indian to reach the final of 100 meters category. In the same year, she emerged as the national champion in the 100 metres and 200 metres at the National Senior Athletics Championships in Ranchi. In June of 2014, Dutee showed sheer dominance at the Asian Junior Athletics Championships held in Taipei, Republic of China, winning two gold medals each in the 200 metres category and in the 4 X 400 metres relay.
The 23-year-old, however, fought a long battle for her right to race after undergoing the pain of humiliating gender tests. The career of the double silver medallist at the Jakarta Asian Games 2018 took a major blow in 2014, when she was dropped from the Commonwealth Games for high levels of testosterone in her body that exceeded the guidelines laid down for female athletes. While she was one step away from bidding goodbye to her athletics career, a determined Dutee decided to take on the IAAF’s hyperandrogenism clause in the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Dutee also won gold in the 100m race at the 2019 Summer Universiade in Napoli this year, becoming the first Indian woman sprinter to win gold at the Universiade.
#8 Bala Devi Ngangom
In her long overwhelming stint with Indian football, Indian women’s team’s mercurial striker Bala Devi has been in the spotlight from the tender age of 12 and has represented India at various age levels while scoring goals for fun. Perhaps, the most significant highlight of her career came when she scored four goals in the 6-0 rout of Nepal in the SAFF Championship final to help India win its third successive title. She has represented the country at the senior level since 2005.
In her long underwhelming career, Devi has made peace with losses and pale disappointments Despite being a part of the 2010 winning team, Devi was not included in the India squad. However, she returned to the team for the 2014 AFC Women's Asian Cup qualifiers in May 2013 but India failed to qualify. She participated in the 2014 SAFF Women's Championship, her first SAFF Championship since 2010. She started the tournament in fantastic form finishing the group stage with an impressive haul of eleven goals from three matches. With a total of sixteen goals from only five matches, Devi was awarded the Women's Player of the Year award by the AIFF.
She captained her side in 2016 SAFF Women's Championship that went on to clinch the title first time as a captain. She is presently undergoing a one-week trial at Rangers WFC, after securing a fourth-place finish in 2018 in the Scottish Women’s Premier League.
#9 Deepika Kumari
Deepika Kumari is one of the top archers in the country. She was the second Indian to win the title after Palton Hansda won the junior compound competition at the 2006 Archery World Cup in Mérida, Mexico. At 15, Deepika registered a win at the 11th Youth World Archery Championship held in USA in 2009. She also won a gold medal in the same competition in the women's team recurve event, alongside Dola Banerjee and Bombayala Devi.
She was honoured with the ‘Outstanding Performance at CWG’ (Female) Award at the 2010 Sahara Sports Awards ceremony for winning two gold medals, one in the individual event and the other in the women's team recurve event at the Delhi Commonwealth Games in that year.
In June 2012, Deepika reached the top spot in the world FITA rankings in archery ahead of South Korea’s Bo Bae Ki. She became the second Indian woman archer after Dola Banerjee to have achieved this feat. Deepika had won her first World Cup individual recurve gold medal in May 2012 in Antalya. In the following year, Deepika again won a gold medal at Archery World Cup Stage-3 in Colombia with India finishing in the fourth position.
Having taken her elevation to the World No. 1 ranking as a routine happening, Deepika also recently won gold in the finals of women’s recurve archery event at the Asian Continental Qualification Tournament in Bangkok. She made it to the last four to comfortably secure an individual recurve women’s Olympic berth for next year.
#10 Mithali Raj
Having made her debut back in 1999 against Ireland at Milton Keynes, Indian women’s cricket ODI team skipper Mithali Raj’s consistency has played a huge hand in the growth of cricket in the country. Amassing a total of 6720 runs in 183 innings thus far to be the leading run-getter in the format, she became the first woman cricketer to turn out in 200 ODI games. She had played a total of 89 T20Is before announcing her retirement this year. With 2364 T20I runs, she is the leading run-scorer for India in the format with Harmanpreet behind her with 2004 runs. Mithali also had the highest score for the country in T20Is, an unbeaten 97, till Harman broke the record and got India’s maiden ton in the shortest format.
Mithali shares the feat of playing for 20 years with other stalwarts of the game like Sachin Tendulkar, Javed Miandad and Sanath Jayasuriya. She played as many as 109 consecutive games between 2004 and 2013 for her country – the longest streak for any player in the format. With an unmatched combination of skill and accuracy, Mithali has scripted and rewritten various records over her international career thus far.