Some prominent names who are still active feature on the list.
Sports has always been a major part of India’s culture. From the dominance in Hockey for the majority of the 20th century to the shift towards cricket towards the end, Indians’ interest in sports has been ever-present. Over the years the country has produced many talents across different fields, from Olympic gold medalists to World Champions.
Here is a look at the top 12 greatest Indian athletes of all time:
Sushil Kumar (Wrestling)
Sushil Kumar’s career has been full of controversies and dominant performances. It is difficult to think of names who were as dominant in his sport as the two-time Olympic medalist and yet threw all his reputation away the way Sushil Kumar did. Sushil Kumar has won a bronze and a silver in the Olympics game and is still the only wrestler from the country to have ever been crowned as the World Champion in his sport. Controversies aside, his career has been full of achievements.
Neeraj Chopra (Javelin Throw)
25-year-old Neeraj Chopra is already considered to be one of the greatest athletes that India has produced. Neeraj won Gold in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in Javelin throw. His win made him the first Indian to win Gold in a track and field event in the Olympics. Apart from that Neeraj has also won gold medals in the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games.
The 25-year-old recently won the silver medal in the 2022 World Athletics Championship making him only the second Indian to win a medal in the World Athletics Championships. Neeraj is still at the peak of his career and undoubtedly he will add a lot to his already long list of achievements.
Kapil Dev (Cricket)
In 1983 Kapil Dev led India to their maiden World Cup victory in cricket and registered his name in Indian history. The Haryana Hurricane led his team by example and was one of the major reasons behind India’s triumph against all odds. Kapil Dev was an all-rounder who has more than 5000 test runs to his name. He has also taken more than 400 test wickets. The former Indian captain was named Indian Cricketer of the Century in 2002. Kapil Dev dominated the game during his time and made several records, some have been broken since his retirement. However, some records still stand.
PT Usha (Track and Field)
PT Usha is often regarded as the Queen of Indian track and Field. The sprinter has won four Asian Gold medals and seven silver medals in an illustrious career. She has also won multiple gold medals in Asian Championships. PT Usha came fourth at the 400m hurdles in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, missing out on the bronze medal by 1/100th of a second. The track and field legend was a pioneer in her field and inspired many in the succeeding generations
Pankaj Advani (Billiards)
Pankaj Advani is the only non-Olympic sportsperson on the list of the greatest Indian athletes who is not a cricketer as well. He is a multiple-time World Champion in Billiards. The 37-year-old is a 25-time IBSF World Champion. He has also won 17 billiards World titles and 16 IBSF World Billiard Championships. Apart from that, he also won gold in the 2006 and 2010 Asian Games. Pankaj later went on to become a professional Snooker player. In Snooker he became the first Indian to reach the quarter-final stage of a ranking event, which he achieved in the 2013 Welsh Open.
Leander Paes (Lawn Tennis)
Leander Paes is considered one of the greatest doubles tennis players of all time. Paes has won eight men’s doubles and ten mixed doubles Grand Slam titles. The former World No.1 won both in men’s doubles and mixed doubles in the 1999 Wimbledon. Paes is one of only two men to have won Wimbledon in three different decades. He also holds the record for the most number of doubles wins in Davis Cup. The 49-year-old is undoubtedly the best tennis player that India has produced.
PV Sindhu (Badminton)
PV Sindhu is India’s most decorated Badminton player. The 27-year-old is the only Indian to have become the Badminton World Champion. Sindhu’s back-to-back medal wins in the 2016 and 2020 Olympics also made her the only Indian female to win two Olympic medals. The shuttler has won five medals in the BWF World Championships including a Gold medal in 2019. Apart from that the former World No. 2 has won multiple medals in the Asian and Commonwealth Games. PV Sindhu is still at the peak of her career and is expected to win a lot more.
How can the list of greatest Indian athletes be complete without the inclusion of the first-ever Olympic gold medalist for the country in an individual event? Abhinav Bindra did the unthinkable in the Beijing Olympics 2008 and since then has been only joined by Neeraj Chopra in the list of gold medalists for India in individual events at the Olympics. Abhinav Bindra is thus the only Indian to have been concurrent World and Olympic champion in Shooting. The 40-year-old had almost won the country a second medal when he finished fourth in the final of the 10m Rifle event at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Mary Kom (Boxing)
Mary Kom is the most decorated female boxer in the world when it comes to female boxing. She has won the World Amateur Boxing Championship for a record six times. The former World No.1 is also the only boxer (male & female) to have won eight World Championship medals. Apart from that Mary Kom was the first Indian female boxer to win an Olympic medal. She achieved that in the 2012 London Olympics, where she won the bronze medal. The former World Champion has also Gold in the Asian and Commonwealth Games.
Balbir Singh Sr (Hockey)
India dominated the Hockey scene for most of the twentieth century, winning eight Olympic Gold medals. Balbir Singh Sr led India to win three of those. The centre-forward made 61 appearances for India and went on to score 246 goals. He played a major role in re-establishing India’s dominance in the Olympics after the gap of the Second World War. Singh holds the record for the most goals scored in the Olympics Men’s Hockey final. He made this record when he scored five goals in India’s 6-1 win against the Netherlands in the final of the 1952 Olympic games. After retiring as a player Balbir Singh Sr led India to their only World Cup win as a coach in 1975.
Dhyan Chand (Hockey)
Dhyan Chand is the second hockey player to feature on the list of the greatest Indian athletes of all time. He is widely considered to be the greatest hockey player in history. Such is his legacy that India’s highest sporting honour has been named after him. The Wizard, as he was popularly known, had led India to win three consecutive Olympic gold medals. Dhyan Chand dominated the field of hockey as he went on to score 570 goals in 185 appearances for India throughout his career. In the three Olympics that he played in, he scored a total of 33 goals in 12 matches. Dhyan Chand’s contribution to Indian Hockey was immense. He played a big part in turning India into a powerhouse in hockey in the 20th century.
Sachin Tendulkar (Cricket)
While Dhyan Chand is considered one of the greatest ever in Hockey, the same can be said about Sachin Tendulkar in cricket. The little master as he is popularly known is the highest run-scorer in both ODI and Test Cricket. He is also the only cricketer in the World to have scored 100 centuries. The former Indian captain is also a World Cup winner with India, winning the tournament in 2011. He was the highest run-scorer in the tournament. Tendulkar is also a recipient of the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award. With multiple records to his name and often quoted as the “God Of Cricket”, Tendulkar is arguably the greatest athlete that India has produced.
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