India is known to be home for some of the finest sportsmen not just in cricket, but also from hockey, tennis, wrestling and boxing among other sports. These individuals have become iconic not simply for winning medals and trophies but also for popularizing a particular sport which many times gets overshadowed by other highly celebrated sports in India. Carrying forward from our previous articles a few weeks ago, this article celebrates a few more of our Indian iconic sports influencers and their achievements.
Major Dhyan Chand is a well celebrated and respected Indian sports personality known for his contribution in the sport of Hockey. Chand is known as the greatest field hockey player in history for his exemplary control of the ball and goal scoring talent. During the golden years of Indian hockey, he was part of the winning Indian team at the Olympics for many years. Winning three gold medals in 1928, 1932 and 1936.
Known as The Wizard or The Magician of hockey, thanks to his superb skills with ball control on field, Chand has been known for his strong influence on the sport. He scored 570 goals from 1926- 1949 in 185 matches in his international career and over 1000 goals in his overall career. BBC ( news company) has been noted to quote him as ‘Hockey’s equivalent of Muhammad Ali’.
He was honored and awarded with Padma Bhusan in 1956. Today, his birthday – 29th August is marked as National Sports Day in the country to celebrate his achievements and the country’s highest sporting honour is named after him, Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna Award.
One of the strongest contributors from India towards the sport of Tennis is Ramanthan Krishnan. A sport which had almost no representation from India, lawn tennis – was where Krishnan excelled. He was the first Indian to reach the men’s singles semi-finals for both the 1960 and 1961 Wimbledon Open.
Krishnan is known to have defeated 12 time Grand Slam Champion ( as an amateur) – Roy Emerson. He also defeated Rod Laver in Davis Cup who won Grand Slam both as an amateur and open eras. He is known to have reached rank number 6 in world ranking of tennis in 1960 and 1961 and became the first Asian Player ( Indian Origin) to win the boys single title at Wimbledon.
Ramanthan Krishnan received the Arjuna Award in 1961 for his performance and contribution to Tennis, the Padma Shri in 1962 and finally the Padma Bhushan in 1967.
The first ever F1 driver from India, Narain not only made a strong name for himself but also inspired the nation to reach out for their dream. A country where field sports overpower, bringing Formula One to the forefront and showcasing the power of the sport – he became an icon.
The country saw a sports sensation and icon in Narain especially when this young racer represented India at a global front. First ever Indian to become Formula One’s motor racing driver and compete in F1, Narain set a bold example for many to follow.
He won multiple races in A1GP, British F3, AutoGP, Formula Asia, British Formula Ford and a few others as a single seater career. Naraina won the British Formula Ford Winter series in 1994 and also went on to win the Formula Asia Championship in 1996. He debuted at Formula One in 2005 with the Jordan team and was also a test driver with Williams F1 from 2006-2007. Moving to stock car racing for Wyler Racing in 2010. In 2011, he returned to F1 with the HRT team and later raced in the Japanese Super Formula Series from 2014-2018. He ended his career by joining the SuperGT series in Japan in 2019.
Following Karthikeyan’s footsteps, Karun Chandok too joined the sport and with both their presence building the momentum up for the country, there is now an Indian F1 team and an Indian Grand Prix circuit.
He is known to be awarded and honored with Padma Shri in 2010.
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Winning the gold at Asian games in women’s 48-51kg boxing, Mary Kom became a sensation in India. She is known to be fierce in her game and humble at heart. This victory was more special since she had returned to the ring after 2 years of break, after delivering her third baby.
Kom is known to be the only woman to win the World Amateur Boxing Championship six times and the only female to have won a medal each one of the first seven World Championships. To add to her achievements, she is also the only boxer – male or female – to win eight World Championship medals. With her nickname, Magnificent Mary, she is ranked world’s no. 1 female-flyweight by the International Boxing Association (amateur).
Kom is also the first Indian female boxer to win a gold medal and the first Indian female boxer to win gold at Commonwealth games in 2018. Mary Kom was awarded the Padma Vibhushan in 2020, India’s second highest civilian award.
The Indian Film Industry also went on to make a full feature film on Mary Kom’s personal and professional journey, the movie was widely loved.
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Rampal faced the poor conditions of her family’s financial health and yet came out as a winner. A true inspiration of what your will power, hardwork and talent can achieve for you. She is an Indian field hockey player, one the youngest in the team to play for the 2010 world cup at the age of 15 years. She is now the captain of the Indian women’s hockey team and is known to be a strong striker.
After winning many titles as youngest player of the tournament in 2009, in 2019 Rampal’s efforts in Commonwealth Games and Asian Games lead her to being nominated in FIH Women’s All-star team of 2010. Rampal was also included in the All-Star team of Asian Hockey Federation – based on her performance in the 2019 Asian Games.
She put India back on the map after decades ( 9th position in world women’s hockey) for Women’s hockey leading with 7 goals in 2010 Women’s Hockey World Cup. She was awarded the Best young player of the tournament award in Women’s Hockey world cup 2010 – for her stellar performance and being a top goal scorer. Winning Player of the tournament in 2013 Junior World cup finishing with a bronze medal to winning silver at 2018 Asian Games as the Indian captain, Rampal has been a true force to reckon with.
Rampal has been awarded the Arjuna award in 2016, making one of her dreams come true. In 2020, she won the prestigious ‘World Games Athlete of the Year 2019’ award – first ever hockey player to win the same. This award was closely followed by the Indian government awarding and honoring her with a Padma Shri.
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Geeta, Babita, Ritu, Priyanka, Vinesh and Sangeeta – collectively known as the Phogat sisters, are the daughters of coach Mahavir Singh Phogat. Priyanka and Vinesh are cousins who were raised by Mahavir Singh after their father died. All six of these sisters were trained to become wrestlers and grew up in a small village from Haryana.
Three of these sisters, Geeta, Babita and Vinesh have won gold medals in different categories of weight at Commonwealth Games, Priyanka – has won a silver medal at Asian Championships, Ritu is a National championships gold medalists and Sangita is known to have won medals at age-level championships (international). Ritu has won gold at 2016 Commonwealth games and bronze in 2017 Asian Games after which she shifted her focus to Mixed Martial Arts. While Vinesh is known to have built a league of her own with her relentless hard work even after injuries.
Vinesh has many medals under her belt, from 2013 silver medal at World Youth Championships, bronze at 2013 Asian Championships, gold at 2014 Commonwealth Games and bronze again in 2014 Asian Games to coming back with bang from her knee injury and winning gold at both Commonwealth and Asian Games in 2018.
Collectively or individually, the Phogat sisters are India’s pride and relish. Defying the odds of many social and societal issues of the state they grew up in ( such as gender based inequality, child marriage, education bias, female foeticide and others), they owe their success to the hardwork, patience and never giving up attitude of their father who has been their lifelong coach and mentor. Phogat sisters along with few other women achievers in Haryana and India changed the mentality and outlook of women in sports in the country’s smallest towns and villages, especially towards wrestling.
Also Read: 5 Emerging Careers In Sports Management
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