There are only a handful of athletes who are household names in India, and there is a good reason for that. For every medal, irrespective of the level, there are thousands of drops of sweat shed in training, away from the gaze of the public. What the general public sees is glory, but that is only achieved after years of slogging.
For every athlete who makes it to the next level, there are thousands who keep giving it their all but still fall short of the mark. This is one of the reasons why many who take up sports professionally in their childhood ultimately end up doing conventional jobs.
Only a few are strong enough to bear all of it and come out victorious. Those turn out to be champions. This Children’s Day, The Bridge brings you five such success stories of Indian athletes who came of age to become champions.
Abhinav Bindra was born on 28 September 1982 in Dehradun to a prosperous business family. He took a natural liking to air rifle shooting from quite an early age. Seeing his interest in the sport, his father Dr. Arpit Bindra installed a shooting range at home in Patiala to help the youngster hone his skills.
At only 15 years of age, Abhinav Bindra participated in the Commonwealth Games, the youngest participant of the tournament. Bindra returned with a bronze medal in the 2001 Munich World Cup and was earmarked for glory.
After becoming the first Indian to win a gold at the 2006 World Shooting Championships, Bindra’s moment of fame came at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing when he won gold in the Men’s 10-metre air rifle event to become the first-ever Indian athlete to win an individual Olympic gold. This also ended a 28-year period in which India had not won a gold at the Olympics.
Mary Kom aka Chungneijang was born on 1 March 1983 in Kangathei village in the Churachandpur district of Manipur. She was named Chungneijang by her parents as they worked in jhum fields.
Parents not being that well off, she began working with them at a very young age. That was also attributed to the fact that she was the eldest in the four siblings, a feeling which only the eldest brothers or sisters can fully comprehend.
When in school, she used to play several sports, including hockey, football and athletics. Interestingly, boxing did not find a place on that list. It was when Manipuri boxer Dingko Singh won a gold medal at the 1998 Asian Games that a young Mary took up boxing. These were the times when it was considered a sport played exclusively by men.
Her interest in boxing peaked so much that she left education for the sport. It was due to her perseverance that she is probably the most known face among Indian Olympic athletes and has gone on to win six gold medals at the World Boxing Championships to go along with her bronze at the 2012 Summer Olympics.
Sushil Kumar was born on 26 May 1983, in Baprola village, 25 km from New Delhi. His father Deewan Singh was a bus driver in DTC and followed wrestling keenly. His cousin was also a wrestler, and the coupled effect of both inspired him to take up wrestling. At 14 years of age, he began training at a local academy.
The 36-year-old participated at the junior levels and started winning laurels at a very young age. But, it was when the wrestler finally won a gold medal at the Asian Junior Wrestling Championship that it became increasingly clear that he would do wonders in the times to come.
Sushil did exactly that, with him winning a bronze medal in the 60-kg category at the Asian Wrestling Championship in 2003. He then went on to win the 2010 World Wrestling Championship to become the first Indian to do so. In 2012, Sushil returned with a bronze medal from the Beijing Olympics and struck silver at the 2012 London Olympics.
P V Sindhu
PV Sindhu or Pusarla Venkata Sindhu was born on 5 July 1995 in the then Andhra Pradesh’s Hyderabad. Both her parents, P. V. Ramana and P. Vijaya, had played volleyball at the national level. In fact, her father had won a bronze medal for India in the 1986 Seoul Asian Games and is an Arjuna awardee.
Amid a conducive environment for sports in the family, Sindhu, at eight, opted for badminton over volleyball due to the heroics of Pullela Gopichand at 2001 All England Open Badminton Championship.
Her victory at the sub-junior nationals gave those in the badminton circles an inkling of the talent she possessed. Sindhu made full use of it with her most prized possession, a silver medal at the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Sindhu has also won a silver at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and the 2018 Asian Games. She has found a place in the Forbes’ list of highest-paid female athletes for two successive years in 2018 and 2019 and is also the recipient of the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award and the Padma Shri.
Vijender Singh was born on 29 October 1985 in Kaluwas village, located near Haryana’s Bhiwani. His father Mahipal Singh Beniwal being a bus driver at Haryana Roadways, had to do part-time jobs in order to ensure that Singh got a good education.
His elder brother Manoj Singh had a keen interest in boxing and broke through into the Indian Army. Vijender tried to follow his footsteps and won the All India Youth Boxing Championship in 2003 to kick-start a decorated career which includes a bronze medal at the 2006 Commonwealth Games.
Vijender went on to win a bronze medal in the middle-weight category at the Beijing Olympics, becoming the first Indian boxer to win in a medal at the Olympics.
In June 2015, Vijender gave up amateur boxing for the professional circuit and had been going great guns since with an unbeaten record in his 11-match career, including eight wins via knockouts. He currently holds the WBO Oriental and Asia Pacific super middleweight titles.