These stars etched their name in Indian sporting folklore with their respective achievements.
The year 2021 is about to end in a few days’ time. It has been a year that literally brought the revival of sports in a way after the disastrous COVID-19 pandemic. With the pandemic rocking the world in 2020, many sporting events were shut down, while others were pushed back to future dates, the Olympics being one of the prime examples. It was due to the COVID situation that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics actually took place a year later. Other than that, there were also multiple other events to look forward to across different sports. The Indian athletes too had some memorable sporting moments in 2021 and came out on top on several occasions.
Today, we round off the year and look into some of the athletes who had a great calendar year. Here is a look at the top 10 Indian athletes of 2021 in relevance to their achievements:
10. Bajrang Punia (Wrestler)
The year 2021 brought probably one of the best Olympic events for India in recent times. India captured seven medals at the Summer Games this year. One of them belonged to Bajrang Punia, as he won bronze in the 65kg category. He defeated Daulet Niyazbekov 8-0 to claim his medal.
Apart from that, he also won silver at the Asian Wrestling Championship in Almaty, Kazakhstan. In addition, he also won gold in the Matteo Pellicone Ranking Series, defeating Mongolia’s Tulga Tumur Ochir.
9. Anshu Malik (Wrestler)
Fellow wrestler Anshu Malik made some fond memories this year. Malik had previously won bronze and silver at the 2020 Asian Wrestling Championship and the 2020 Individual Wrestling World Cup respectively. But, this year she struck gold.
She bettered her result from last year at the Asian Wrestling Championship, when she won bronze, with a gold this year. Anshu became a champion in the 57kg category, beating Mongolia’s Altantsetsegiin Battsetseg in the final.
8. Srikanth Kidambi (Badminton)
Indian shuttler Srikanth Kidambi would definitely look back on 2021 with a smile on his face. The year gave him one of his most defining career moments. Despite facing some snags this year, after crashing out of the All England Open in 2021 and getting knocked out in the 2021 French Open again in the first round, he came back strong. Srikanth entered the 2021 Orleans Masters as the No. 1 seed and made it to the quarter-finals.
He also made it to the semi-finals of the 2021 Hylo Open and 2021 Indonesia Masters. On top of that, he also finished fifth in the BWF World Tour Finals in Bali, Indonesia. But, his most successful moment came this month, as Kidambi won a historic silver medal at the 2021 BWF World Championships. This remarkable feat made him the first Indian men’s singles player to reach the finals.
Ironically Srikanth defeated compatriot Lakshya Sen in the semis to reach the finals. The final scoreline of the match read 17-21,21-14,21-17.
7. Rani Rampal (Hockey)
Indian women’s hockey captain Rani Rampal had a special year in 2021. It was under her captaincy that the Indian women’s team reached the semi-finals of the Olympics for the first time. The Haryana girl showed great resilience and determination.
India were literally on the verge of a group stage exit after losing their first three games against the Netherlands (5-1), Germany (2-0) and Great Britain (4-1). However, being the determined leader that she is, Rani’s team managed to turn things around against Ireland (1-0) and South Africa (4-3), earning a spot in the quarter-finals. India then went on to beat Australia (1-0) to move on to the semi-finals for the first time. Rani’s strike partnership with Vandana Katariya upfront did wonders for the side. She also nicked a goal against the Netherlands in the opening game.
6. Harmanpreet Singh (Hockey)
Indian hockey’s prime drag-flick specialist Harmanpreet Singh won a bronze at the Tokyo Olympics this year. The defender gave a sublime performance. He managed the defence perfectly and converted the penalty-corners effectively. Singh scored six goals in the tournament and was tied with Tom Wickham as the third-highest goalscorer.
But, Harman was not done yet and neither was the year. Harman carried his good form from the Olympics to the Men’s Asian Champions Trophy as well. Even though India made a surprising exit in the semis, his performance was the highlight. Singh became the second-highest goalscorer in that event, with eight goals to his credit.
5. PV Sindhu (Badminton)
PV Sindhu doubled her Olympics medal tally as she won bronze at the Tokyo Olympics. She played against China’s He Bingjao in the semi-finals and beat her in straight sets (21-13,21-15). The victory made her the first Indian woman and only the fourth player in women’s singles badminton to claim medals at two consecutive Olympic games.
Moreover, she also won a silver medal at the BWF World Tour Finals in Bali, Indonesia. Sindhu defeated Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi to reach the finals and secured a silver medal for herself.
4. Lovlina Borgohain (Boxing)
Lovlina Borgohain‘s life came full circle as she won the bronze at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. In spite of her financial hardships which saw her father struggling to fund her training, she made it right to the top, that too in her debut at the Olympics.
Borgohain defeated Chinese Taipei’s Chen Nien-chin in the quarter-finals to assure herself of a medal. Moreover, she also won another bronze at the 2021 Asian Amateur Boxing Championships in Dubai in the 69 kg category.
3. Ravi Kumar Dahiya (Wrestling)
The second Indian man to come close to a gold medal this year. Infact, the nation watched with bated breath as Ravi battled Zavur Uguev in the 57kg freestyle wrestling finals. But, it was not to be as Dahiya lost that bout 4-7. However, he ensured an Olympic silver medal for his nation. His match in the quarter-finals against Kazakh wrestler Nurislam Sanayev will rank as one of the best comebacks ever.
Dahiya was trailing 2-9 at one stage and then went on to win a couple of points, before finally pinning the Kazakh wrestler to leave the Indian fans around the globe in a frenzy. Additionally, Ravi Kumar is also a gold medalist at the Asian Wrestling Championship held in Kazakhstan this year.
2. Mirabai Chanu (Weightlifting)
Indian weightlifting found a new icon after Karnam Malleswari at this year’s Tokyo Olympics. Saikhom Mirabai Chanu proved to be her able successor. Chanu became the first Indian weightlifter to win silver at the Olympics and also opened India’s account at the grand event. Moreover, she was the only Indian weightlifter to qualify. The 49kg division saw her lifting a total weight of 202kgs.
Not only did she register a silver in the process, but she also set a new clean and jerk record with a successful lift of 115kgs. Her other achievement this year includes a bronze medal at the Asian Weightlifting Championship in Tashkent. She also made a record here by lifting 119kgs in the clean and jerk. Lifting a total of 202kgs that also included 86kgs in the snatch event.
1. Neeraj Chopra (Javelin)
Finally, we come down to the man who became an overnight heartthrob. From a top-caliber prospect to the ultimate champion. The man, who the nation recognizes and who is hard to miss. None other than India’s golden boy javelin ace Neeraj Chopra.
Chopra became the first Indian Olympian to win a gold in athletics and the second individual gold medal winner after Abhinav Bindra. Infact, it was Neeraj’s final medal that allowed India to win seven medals, bettering their previous best of six. Neeraj’s throw of 87.58m in his second attempt proved to be the clincher. No other athlete managed to come close to that distance.