It is that time of the year again when we celebrate the success of women in various fields. The decision to celebrate this day as International Women’s Day was taken by the United Nations in 1975, a year which was declared as International Women’s Year.
Personally, I am not a big fan of having specific days as a celebration of womanhood. However, going with the flow, it is a good day to look at a few of the top Indian women achievers from the sporting arena.
We as a nation are still far away from being called a sporting nation and the state of women sports in the country is sorry, to say the least. Hence, this list is a testimony to the courage of these women who have defied the odds and brought laurels to the nation in their respective fields.
Let’s take a look at ten Indian sportswomen who have excelled at the international level in their respective sports.
#1 P V Sindhu
A certain Pusarla Venkata Sindhu became a household name after the Rio Olympics. The reason for her rise to fame was the silver medal that she won in badminton at the Olympics. In the process, she became the first Indian woman to win an Olympic silver medal.
This, without an iota of doubt, was her biggest achievement till date, but she had been slowly making a name for herself much before her exploits in Rio. In 2013, she became the first ever Indian women’s singles player to win a medal at the Badminton World Championships.
In recognition of her achievements, in 2015, she received the fourth highest civilian honour, the Padma Shri. Incidentally, she is also the youngest recipient of this award.
#2 Mary Kom
Chungneijang Mary Kom Hmangte’s story is one of struggle, grit and determination. Mary Kom (as she is called), is a five-time World Amateur Boxing champion and an Olympic bronze medalist.
Nevertheless, she acknowledges the hardships that she has been through. According to her, the framed photographs from her boxing career in her living room are a reminder of the fact that her stardom is not a dream.
Her journey began with her victory in the 1st Women National Boxing Championship in 2001 and she hasn’t looked back ever since. But even after achieving so much, she still thinks she has more to offer to the nation. Mary Kom is training hard for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics with the dream of winning an Olympic gold medal.
#3 Karnam Malleswari
It took more than 50 years for India to produce a female Olympic medalist. And the person who broke this medal jinx was a 25-year-old weightlifter named Karnam Malleswari.
She won the bronze medal in the 69 kg category in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Prior to this, she had won the world title in the 54 kg division in 1994 and 1995.
Interestingly, it was her elder sister who was the reason behind her foray into weightlifting. Her sister was at a national training camp and the Russian coach present in that camp spotted Malleswari. Referring to Malleswari, the coach had said that she had talent and should be trained. And the rest, as they say, is history.
#4 Sakshi Malik
The fourth person on our list is Sakshi Malik, who became India’s fourth female Olympic medalist. She won the bronze medal in the 58 kg freestyle wrestling category at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Sakshi chose an interesting way to motivate herself for the Rio Olympics. She got her photograph framed with the words ‘I will win’ printed in the background. Before leaving for Rio, she did not buy her brother a rakhi. Instead, she told him, "Main tere liye medal leke aaoongi, wohi teri rakhi hogi.” (I will bring a medal for you. That will be your rakhi).
Hailing from Haryana, which is considered to be the breeding ground of Indian wrestlers, she won a silver medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and a bronze medal at the 2015 Asian Wrestling Championships in Doha.
#5 Saina Nehwal
Saina Nehwal has been the flag-bearer of Indian badminton for quite some time. She is the only Indian female badminton player to attain the World No. 1 ranking. She achieved this feat in 2015.
She also became the first Indian badminton player to win an Olympic medal when she won the bronze medal in the London Olympics in 2012. Saina is the only Indian to have won a medal in every BWF major individual event – the Olympics, the BWF World Championships and the BWF World Junior Championships.
Although she has been successful, her advice to youngsters who wish to enter the professional sports arena is to not leave their studies. She had once said, “If you want to play professional sports, make sure you maintain a balance between playing and your education.”
#6 PT Usha
Pilavullakandi Thekkeparambil Usha, nicknamed the Payyoli Express was India’s first female star in the sporting arena. Even today, she is regarded as one of the greatest athletes ever produced by the nation.
She fell short of becoming India’s first female Olympic medalist by 1/100th of a second in the 400 meters hurdle in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Remembering that missed opportunity, Usha once said that back then she did not know that the difference between 55.42 seconds and 55.41 seconds would make such a difference to her life.
Understandably, she termed it as the biggest disappointment of her life. Nevertheless, the golden girl will find a mention whenever there is a discussion of great Indian athletes.
#7 Anjali Bhagwat
Like all the other female athletes listed so far, Anjali Bhagwat is also a trendsetter. She is a professional shooter who has made India proud over the last two decades.
She became the world number one in 10m Air Rifle in 2002. Although an Olympic medal has eluded her, she has been performing consistently in other international forums.
Till date, she has won 31 gold, 23 silver and seven bronze medals in international events. In the 2003 Afro-Asian Games, she became the first Indian shooter to get a gold and a silver medal, in the Sports 3P and Air Rifle events, respectively.
#8 Sania Mirza
Sania Mirza has been India’s lone warrior in women’s tennis. She began her career as a singles player and reached a career-best ranking of 27 in 2007.
However, later on, she shifted her focus to doubles and has since then been a more-than-successful doubles player. Mirza has won the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open titles in women’s doubles as well as the Australian Open, French Open and the US Open in mixed doubles.
To aid the development of tennis in India, she established a tennis academy in her hometown, Hyderabad.
#9 Humpy Koneru
A 15-year-old Humpy Koneru made the headlines in 2002 when she became the youngest woman ever to achieve the title of Grandmaster in chess. She won three gold medals at the World Youth Chess Championship.
The origin of her name has an interesting story, it was derived from the word ‘champion’, however, owing to Russia’s dominance in chess back then, her father later changed the spelling to Humpy to have a more Russian-sounding name.
#10 Mithali Raj
In a cricket crazy nation like India, this list would have been incomplete without the mention of a cricketer. Indian women’s cricket team captain in Tests and ODIs – Mithali Raj’s exploits on the cricket field have ensured that her name does indeed make the list.
She is the second highest run-scorer in women’s international cricket. Her batting average of 51+ in both Tests and ODIs are a testimony to her talent.
She is nicknamed the “Tendulkar” of Indian women’s cricket and is currently the all-time leading run-scorer for India in all formats of the game (including T20s, a format in which Tendulkar does not hold the record).