The world had turned upside-down in the year 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic gripped us with its treacherous claws. The virus that took the toll of millions of lives still haunts our day-to-day happenings initially, driven the earth into a void of uncertainties. Sports being one of the major victims of this virus, saw hundreds of tournaments being called off, postponed bringing fans to the point of dejection.
The grand quadrennial event of the Olympics and Paralympics got deferred for another year leaving Indian sports fans waiting to see their favourite sports stars shine at the Games. More than one year down the line, the Indian contingent shows a terrific display of mettle at both the Olympic and Paralympic Games, registering their best-ever medal haul, thus making 2021 the brightest year for Indian sports so far.
The fervour that began in Tokyo on July 23 comes to a close on September 5 after seven medals at the Olympics
and 19 at the Paralympics
. India never attained this level of success before the Tokyo Games. In the London 2012 Games, India had pulled off a haul of six medals in the Olympics, whereas India's best medal haul at Paralympics was four registered during the Rio 2016 Games and 1984 New York Games.
Let's take a look at what made 2021 such a big year for Indian sports:
A dream-come-true medal in athletics
Neeraj Chopra became an Olympic champion! The 23-year-old created history on August 7 as the only second Indian to win an individual Olympic gold by winning the men's javelin throw final at Tokyo 2020. Neeraj ended India's 121-year wait for an athletics medal with his gold in the javelin final. Chopra threw the javelin 87.03m in his first throw and bettered it with 87.58m, which turned out to be better than the rest and enough to secure the gold for India. Neeraj dominated the javelin final just like he did in the qualification round when he threw the javelin 86.65m to qualify for the final with his first threw.
Avani Lekhara setting the milestone higher
Shooter Avani Lekhara scripted history as she became the first Indian woman to win a gold medal at the Paralympics, firing her way to the top of the podium in the R-2 women's 10m Air Rifle Standing SH1 event at Tokyo Paralympics. The 19-year-old from Jaipur, who sustained spinal cord injuries in a car accident in 2012, finished with a world record-equalling total of 249.6, which was also a new Paralympic record. She was only the fourth Indian athlete to win a Paralympics gold after swimmer Murlikant Petkar (1972), javelin thrower Devendra Jhajharia (2004 and 2016), and high jumper Mariyappan Thangavelu (2016). She also became the first Indian shooter to win a medal at Paralympic Games. Avani bettered her record by becoming the first Indian woman to win two Paralympic medals by claiming the 50m Rifle 3 Position SH1 bronze to add to an unprecedented gold. In the fiercely contested finals, Lekhara totalled 445.9 to finish ahead of Ukraine's Iryna Shchetnik, who let slip her grip on the medal spot with a poor third shot of 9.9 in the elimination.
Apart from Lekhara, Manish Narwal won a gold medal in Mixed 50m Pistol SH1, Singhraj Adhana capped off two medals - a silver in Mixed 50m Pistol SH1 and a bronze in Men's 10m Air Pistol SH 1. A total of five medals in shooting at the Paralympics was quite a redemption from India's shooting team's performance at the Olympics, where they failed to secure a medal.
PV Sindhu sealed her place as India's badminton GOAT
PV Sindhu ensured that her name would be written in bold letters in the annals of Indian sporting history. The shuttler-par-excellence became the first Indian woman athlete to win two individual Olympic medals. She beat China's He Bing Jiao to win the bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics. She had earlier won the silver medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Sindhu won the match 21-13, 21-15 and completely dominated her opponent.
Sindhu, who had lost the women's singles semi-final to Chinese Taipei's Tai Tzu-Ying 18-21, 12-21, controlled the match from the beginning and used her powerful smashes to subdue the Chinese opponent. She thus became the fourth woman to win a singles medal in consecutive Olympic Games. With two Olympic medals and a gold medal in World Championships, Sindhu has sealed her position as the Greatest of All Time in Indian badminton.
India's epic badminton debut at Paralympics
Para badminton made its debut at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics, already paving the road for Indian top shuttlers to shine at the sport. And as expected, India capped off its badminton performance at the Tokyo Paralympics with a total of four medals, including two golds. World Champion and Asian Champion para shuttler Pramod Bhagat etched himself as the goat in men's singles para shuttler by winning the gold medal in the SL3 category. He was joined by Krishna Nagar, who picked up another gold for India in the men's singles SH6 event.
IAS officer posted as District Magistrate of Gautam Buddha Nagar, Suhas Tahiraj claimed the silver medal in badminton men's singles (SL4) in Tokyo on Sunday. Yathiraj showed great spirit in the final but was eventually beaten by world no.1 Lucas Mazur of France. Manoj Sarkar won a bronze medal after defeating Japan's Daisuke Fujihara in the men's singles SL3 event.
The resurgence of Indian hockey
A resolute Indian men's hockey team rewrote history as it claimed an Olympics medal after 41 years, defeating a plucky Germany 5-4 to win the bronze medal at Tokyo Olympics. The eight-time former gold winners, who battled a heartbreaking slump in the last four decades, made the resurgence of the last couple of years count in the best way possible with an Olympics medal. Their bronze, which is worth its weight in gold for the sheer emotion and nostalgia that hockey invokes in the country, added to India's record-shattering medal tally at the Games. There were tears and hugs on the field as the Indians led by Manpreet Singh and coached by Australian Graham Reid savoured the moment. It is India's third hockey bronze medal in the history of the Olympics. The other two came at the 1968 Mexico City and the 1972 Munich Games. All In all, the country now has 12 medals, of which eight are gold.
The Indian women's hockey team might have just missed a historic bronze medal, but they won everyone's hearts. The staunchest of critics were made to sit up and applaud. This was just the third time in the history of the Games that the Indian women's hockey team was making an appearance. They made it through to the semifinals for the first time and finished fourth in the final standings of women's hockey.
India's first-ever medal in archery
Harvinder Singh made history by becoming the first-ever Indian archer to medal at the Paralympics by beating South Korea's Su Min Kim 6-5 in the bronze medal playoff in the men's individual recurve open event Tokyo Paralympics. Singh, 31, was leading 5-3 in the bronze playoff, before the Korean clinched the fifth set shooting a perfect 10 to force a shoot-off where the Indian responded in style, shooting a perfect 10 against Kim's 8 for a 6-5 (26-24, 27-29, 28-25, 25-25, 26-27) (10-8) win. World No.23 Singh was the first athlete from India to win a gold medal at a major para competition in the 2018 Asian Games.
Bhavina's historic table tennis medal
Indian table tennis player Bhavinaben Patel signed off with a historic silver medal in her maiden Paralympic Games after going down 0-3 to world number one Chinese paddler Ying Zhou in the women's singles class 4 final. The 34-year-old Patel's impressive run at the Games ended with a 7-11 5-11 6-11 loss to Zhou. Nevertheless, Patel, diagnosed with polio when she was 12 months old, had defeated world no 3 Miao Zhang of China 7-11 11-7 11-4 9-11 11-8 in the semifinal showdown on Saturday. In the quarterfinal on Friday, Patel had defeated 2016 Rio Paralympics gold medallist and world number two Borislava Peric Rankovic of Serbia to assure a medal and script history.
Aditi Ashok teaching Indians golf
The most miraculous sporting story of India this year was of golfer Aditi Ashok, who was on the brink of making history but fell just short of winning a medal at the Tokyo Olympics. She would have been the first Indian to win an Olympic medal in golf, but it wasn't to be for the 23-year-old, finishing a remarkable fourth in Tokyo. It was because of Aditi, Indians woke up at 4 in the morning to watch a sport like golf. Many Indians even learnt the sport for the first time to lend their support to Aditi. She finished just two shots behind gold medal winner Nelly Korda of the USA and just a shot behind Mone Inami of Japan and New Zealand's Lydia Ko, who won silver and bronze, respectively. Going into the competition, Aditi Ashok, ranked 200 in the world in women's golf, wasn't even in the reckoning for a medal in Tokyo. However, the Indian produced scintillating performances on all four days of the competition, going toe-to-toe with some of the world's best.
With the Tokyo Games coming to a close, Indian fans will again be waiting for the big-ticket events like the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games, which are slated to be held in 2022. With just three years left for the Paris 2024 Games, India would again be eyeing to better their records of Tokyo.