2016 was year of the Indian woman in sports
Dipa Karmakar, PV Sindhu, Sakshi Malik, Aditi Ashok - their performances meant so much to not just Indian sport but the whole nation.
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It’s that time of the year when you reflect on how the 51 weeks have rolled by. In sport, as in life, good memories remain etched for a long time with women power coming to the fore.
This is a leap year, a year when the Olympics were held in Rio de Janeiro. You can keep cribbing that for a nation with such a huge population, just two medals from the Olympics is a very poor count.
You had to be in Rio to understand how even these two medals from PV Sindhu and Sakshi Malik mean so much to not just Indian sport but the whole nation.
One by one, campaigns were falling apart for India in Rio. It was towards the fag end, the badminton hall and wrestling arena roared to life as one could finally see the Indian tricolour in its splendour as silver medallist Sindhu and bronze medallist Sakshi grabbed glory.You had to be in Rio to understand how even these two medals from PV Sindhu and Sakshi Malik mean so much to not just Indian sport but the whole nation.
Tears, emotions, pain, joy — the adjectives one uses to define moments in sport were all on full view as Sindhu and Sakshi finally put India’s name on the medal tally. It seemed like an eternal wait for this to happen.
Before that there were some so-near-and-yet-so-far efforts. From Abhinav Bindra, who signed out from international shooting with a fourth place finish in air rifle to Jitu Rai, also a fourth position in air pistol, the shooting ranges in Vila MIlitar, Rio had become an agonising venue. So much was expected from the Indian shooters and to not win one medal was distressing.
As the Rio Games and the whole year panned out, this was the year of women power for India with Dipa Karmakar achieving super stardom with her performance on the vault. No Indian woman gymnast had done anything like this before and from distant Rio to small villages in India, Dipa was the diminutive girl who defied gravity, took flight and landed with the assurance of a paratrooper on enemy soil.This was the year of women power for India with Dipa Karmakar achieving super stardom with her performance on the vault.
A fourth place did not win her a medal but she is a dreamer who dares and will be the one to watch out for in Tokyo 2020.
Just after the Rio Olympics, it was time for the Indians to roar again in Rio with high jumper Mariyappan Thangavelu winning his maiden Paralympic gold. Devendra Jhajharia was not to be left behind as he pocketed his second Para gold, the first coming in Athens 2004.
Woman power came to the fore again as Deepa Malik won silver in shot put. For a nation which still does not treat women at par with the men and having skewed sex ratios in some states, the rise of women in sporting arenas was memorable.
Lalita Babar, too, added lustre to the Indian’ performance, though she did not win a medal. She apologised to the nation for not winning a medal but her 10th place finish in the 3,000 metres steeplechase was spectacular in a world class field.
Considering that most Indian track and field performers failed to come anywhere near their personal best Lalita and Manish Rawat did justice. Manish finished 13th in the men’s 20km walk. For a man who has faced immense hardships in his life, his effort in Rio, along with that of rower Dattu Bhokanal need to be praised.
Winning medals alone does not make you a hero, so both Manish and Dattu need to be saluted for their Rio roadshow.
Talk of juniors rising to the occasion, young Neeraj Chopra did that with a gold in javelin at the junior world championship with an effort of 86.48 metres in Poland. Experts say he is the one for the future.
Glory in Indian sport can never be complete without out a mention of cricket where Test captain Virat Kohli and R Ashwin grabbed the headlines repeatedly.
The astute captain with an insatiable appetite for scoring runs and the off spin wizard have performed not just consistently but scripted India’s emphatic series wins towards the later part of the year against New Zealand and England.
Winning seven out of the eight Test matches defined India’s number one status with Karun Nair joining the triple centurion club in Chennai. With the Aussies due to come here in early 2017, Virat and Ashwin have a lot more to do.
At a time when those who run Indian cricket (BCCI) have shown themselves in poor light by wrongly deciding to take on the Supreme Court throughout 2016, the Indian cricket team has delivered.
Despite the BCCI saying its centres had no money to host Tests as the state units accounts had “dried up”, Virat and Ashwin ensured cricket politics would stay deep in the background.
Our national game hockey has continued to make waves though a sixth place finish in the Rio Olympics was short of expectations. However, the silver medal in the FIH Champions Trophy and winning the Asian Champions Trophy were top drawer stuff.
The junior team did even better by winning the junior World Cup in Lucknow recently. Not many Indians rise to the top while governing international sport. And here, the rise of Narinder Batra as the president of the international hockey federation (FIH) in November was notable.
For a sport which has been governed by Europeans for very long, a change at the top in the FIH was a vote for change. Batra has been able to show hockey is marketable in India and plans to use the same philosophy for global hockey.
Packaged for better viewing on television with more money for players to earn is a realistic target. On that count alone Batra will be judged in years to come.
The women’s cricket team, too, was not to be left behind as they capped a great year by winning the Asia Cup. The icing on the cake was beating Pakistan in the final.
In a truly global sport that golf is, the rise of Aditi Ashok was phenomenal. Here was this young girl trying very hard at the Rio Olympics. The weather conditions were not easy to handle and she realised what big pressure is.
Aditi more than made up for it by winning the Indian Open in Gurugram and the title in the Qatar ladies open. Even the international women’s golf tour (LPGA) feels she has the talent to do well. Truly path-breaking in a year where woman power made big headlines.
Last but not the least, Pankaj Advani remains the country’s top cueist by winning the world billiards title again.