From the rice fields of rural India, to the first gold medalist from India in a global sporting event, an 18-year-old A woman’s performance made us proud. She proved that cricket is the not the only game in India. But it wasn’t enough to satisfy people. That was the case with the Athletics Federation of India, which made fun of Assamese sprinter Hima Das.
The young woman who won the first ever gold medal (for her spring) for India did not reach where she is by accident. Like many people from underprivileged families, it took a lot of hard work. She did something big that no one ever imagined. Even though her parents were reluctant about her attending training, her coach was in no mood waste her talent. But she is not the only sports personality who went beyond cricket. Here is a list of sports people who made the nation proud without any external support.
The tennis player made it big in a cricket-loving nation (where people still have to Google the name of the Indian hockey team’s captain). Her silent battle against the popularity of cricket started two decades ago, when the yet-unknown 16-year-old Sania Mirza won the 2003 Wimbledon Championships Girls’ Doubles title with Alisa Kleybanova. And let’s not forget she reached the semi-finals of the 2003 US Open Girls’ Doubles, and quarterfinals of the 2002 US Open Girls’ Doubles. Her back-to-back stellar performances made her an overnight sensation. She surely deserved the praise, and a time came when she ranked as the top player in the tennis world! Need we say more?
2008 was probably the first time when India got to know more about two sports personalities who had already been in the field for a significant time. At 15, Abhinav Bindra was the youngest player to represent India at an international platform. Though he continued with his best performances by winning accolades at various international events, it was just before the Beijing Olympic in 2008 that he suffered a back injury. His condition became so bad that he was unable to lift his own rifle. But due to his determination, he went ahead and won the first ever gold medal in shooting for India. Even though he alleged that someone had tampered with his gunsight during a break, he did his best and made the nation proud.
18-year-old Saina Nehwal gave her all against the world’s fourth and fifth top badminton players, defeated them both, and reached the quarterfinals as the first Indian woman by defeating them. In the finals, she lost to Maria Kristin Yulianti (world rank 16), but had by then won the hearts of Indians, and that’s how we got to know more about her. Her achievements did not start there. She had already made a name for herself in Indian badminton by winning the World Junior Badminton Championships, the first Indian to win it. And she never looked back. Today she is a prominent face in badminton, and has even become ranked No 1. It’s pure coincidence (and a happy one at that) that both Sania and Saina earned the rank of No. 1 in April 2015.
We would never know anything about wrestling after Dara Singh, if Sushil Kumar had not arrived on the scene. As a sports person, he suffered a lot, partly due to poverty, but also for the sport he chose. His brother quit wrestling as their family was unable to support both their careers at the same time. As a wrestler, Kumar had to take great care of his nutrition, but it was difficult in a family where there was no guarantee that there would even be food at the end of the month. Despite all this, Kumar defeated all odds and won the 2010 World Wrestling Championship in Moscow. At the event, he was offered a huge sum of money from a fixer to lose the match. The fixer even tried to lure them by saying that he already reached the final so no need to worry about a medal. But he refused, instead choosing to make the nation proud. He ended up winning the gold. His achievements don’t end here. He went on to win silver at Olympics too. Even after injuries and some other controversies he never gives up, and he has won gold three consecutive times in the Commonwealth Games.
One of India’s most talented, Suni Chettri has unfortunately not played in any major international events. This is despite earning the 2nd rank in football, surpassing Lionel Messi. His bad luck didn’t end here. He had already signed a contract with the Queens Park Rangers in 2009, but was denied a work permit by the British government because India’s FIFA ranking was below 70. But he never shows a negative attitude,and that makes him one of the finest footballers of India, till now, after Bhaichung Bhutia.
The son of an Indian Army officer, Chhetri also wanted to become the cricketer but the expensive game forced to change his mind, and we could not be happier with his decision. Despite his stellar performance, we hardly knew anything about football.