Sports has a unique way of creating a lasting impression upon its loyalists — whether it is the unexpected or all-but-assured, beholding history is something that draws us to sports time and again. Blame the richness, variety, and breadth of India’s sporting history. From making steady headway in sports beyond the contours of the much-talked-about game of cricket to gradually increasing medal hauls in the international circuit, the country has opened its eyes to a multitude of sporting heroes and a series of historic feats. The Bridge retraces a rich and sumptuous history as we explore the ten significant breakthrough achievements of the decade.
#1 Dhing Express’ destination gold
Indian athletics entered a new era with the 18-year-old Hima Das scripting history by winning gold in the women’s 400-metre event at the World Under-20 Championships in Tampere, Finland on 12 July 2018. She clocked a record timing of 51.46 seconds in the final to become the first Indian track athlete to have won a gold medal at a World Championship across all age groups.
Since then, she has been a household name. The previous medallists at the World Championships were Seema Punia (bronze medal in 2002) and Navjeet Kaur Dhillon (bronze medal in 2014). Having done well in the previous rounds, Hima topped in the semi-final stage, winning her race by registering a time of 52.10 seconds.
#2 Neeraj Javelin Chopra
Rising athletics star Neeraj Chopra carved out a new Under-20 world record after clinching the gold medal in men’s javelin throw event at the IAAF World Under-20 Championships in 2016. With a masterclass opening round throw of 79.66m, he threw the javelin to a stupendous distance of 86.48m in the following round, almost two metres afar the earlier world under-20 record of 84.69m by Zigismunds Sirmais of Latvia.
He advanced to the final stage with a remarkable effort of 78.20m in the qualification round. Neeraj, then 19, became the country’s first World Under-20 Championship gold medallist. In the process, he broke the previous senior national record of 82.23m by Rajinder Singh while becoming the first Indian field athlete to have won a gold at the World Championship.
#3 Rising from bronze to silver and finally to gold
P V Sindhu became the new world champion in badminton toppling Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara in the finals of BWF World Championship 2019 in Basel, Switzerland. Sindhu bagged the elusive gold medal after her a long wait which resulted in her securing four medals earlier — bronze in 2013, 2014 and silver in 2017 and 2018.
Sindhu became the first Indian shuttler to win the World Championship, after winning the silver medal in the 2016 Rio Olympics and the BWF World Tour last year. The Hyderabadi world no. 5 shuttler’s achievement was added to the list of Indian sporting greats who have also earned the title of world champions. The 24-year-old became the 13th person from India to claim the top honours in an Olympic sport.
#4 India got her gymnastics goddess
The 23-year-old Dipa Karmakar became the first woman gymnast from India to qualify for the Olympics. She didn’t win a medal but ranked an impressive fourth position in the women’s vault finals in Rio de Janeiro on August 14, 2016. American Simone Biles walked away with the top prize with a final score of 15.966.
Dipa received a final score of 15.066 for executing one of the most dangerous feats in gymnastics, the Produnova vault. While becoming the first Indian to qualify for the vault finals in her first Olympics, Dipa was also the first Indian gymnast to have qualified for the Olympics after 52 long years.
#5 The new-found cycling prodigy
Seventeen-year-old Esow Alben made history on August 16, 2018, after clinching India’s first junior cycling World Cup silver medal in the men’s keirin event of the UCI Junior Track Cycling World Championships in Switzerland. The silver medal was his first major achievement in the international circuit. With an impressive campaign at the Asian Championships to count on, Esow had earned the No. 1 ranking in the junior sprint category that made him the first-ever Indian to claim the top spot.
Recently this year, he bagged three medals at the UCI World Junior Track Cycling Championship in Germany, including an individual sprint silver, a team gold, and keirin bronze medal.
#6 Manika’s table tennis breakthrough
Only a day after she won the silver in women’s doubles event, Manika went one up on her performance and became the first Indian woman to win a gold medal in women’s singles at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast. This was Manika’s third medal of the tournament, along with a gold medal in the women’s team event.
Manika became the second player from India after Sharath Kamal to clinch a singles medal in table tennis at the Commonwealth Games.
#7 Advent of the queen of Indian archery
In June 2012, archer Deepika Kumari 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.
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.
#8 End of 36 years’ wait for Indian women’s hockey team
Indian women’s hockey team set a new benchmark for themselves on August 29, 2015, as they qualified for the Rio Olympics 2016 to stage a comeback into the Olympics after a long gap of 36 years. India had booked the quota on the basis of its fifth-place finish in the women’s Hockey World League semi-finals in Belgium in July that year. The last time that Indian women’s hockey team featured in an Olympics was the 1980 Moscow Games, where they finished in the fourth place.
#9 The late-night surprise in Rio
Indian wrestling had its biggest moment in years when female wrestler Sakshi Malik secured India’s first medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Following a gritty performance in the 58kg battle, she clinched the bronze medal to become the first Indian female wrestler and the fourth Indian woman to win an Olympic medal. Earlier in 2012, Sakshi earned a silver medal at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games where she bagged the silver medal, followed by a bronze medal at the Incheon Asian Games.
#10 The young gun made of gold
Youngster Saurabh Chaudhary carved out a new Asian Games record after winning the men’s 10m Air Pistol event at the Asian Games 2018 in Jakarta. He finished on the top with an Asian Games record score of 240.7 to win the gold medal ahead of Japan’s Tomoyuki Matsuda. This win was followed after Saurabh set a new world record in the 10m air pistol event at the ISSF Junior World Cup in June 2018. Saurabh will be gunning for a podium finish at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, having already booked a quota place for the country.
That was a quick recap of the decade’s greatest highs in Indian sport. Which one is your favourite?