Women athletes from India are no less of a powerhouse, when it comes to winning medals and championships for the country. Day in and day out the Indian sports fans are increasingly supporting and recognizing the hardships of our women athletes, who against all odds are giving their best in each and every tournament they participate in.
It was in the year 1900 that India won its first Olympic medal. It was a male athlete by the name of Norman Pritchard who contested in the men’s 200m hurdles at the 1900 Paris Summer Games. Ironically, a full century later at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, an Indian women athlete finally won an Olympic medal. Weightlifter Karnam Malleswari clinched the bronze in the 69kg category. By doing so, she went into the history books as the first Indian woman athlete to win an Olympic medal.
However, a major paradigm shift was observed from the 2012 London Olympics, where Saina Nehwal won the bronze in Badminton. But the most promising performance in the changing landscape occurred in 2016 Rio Olympics. India won two medals, silver and a bronze. And the most honorable thing was both were won by women athletes, PV Sindhu (Badminton) and Sakshi Malik (Wrestling). Notable mention here is Dipa Karmakar who came painfully close for a podium finish, and ended up finishing fourth as a gymnast.
Here is the list of current Indian women athletes, who also are famous Indian sports personalities in their own right. These women have broken barriers in a socially orthodox country of ours. The women athletes mentioned in our list don’t necessarily mean they are the most successful in their discipline, but they were the ones who rose to the occasion and paved the way for the rest. They ignited the flame that will keep shining for years to come.
Women Athletes – The Phogat Sisters
The Phogat family and sisters are India’s most celebrated sports family.The six sisters from Balali, Haryana, are renowned international level wrestlers. According to their date of births, they are: Geeta, Babita, Priyanka, Ritu, Vinesh and Sangita.
While Geeta, Babita, Ritu and Sangita are daughters of former wrestler and Coach Mahavir Singh Phogat, Priyanka and Vinesh are the first cousins who were brought up by Mahavir after their father (who is the brother of Mahavir) was killed in a land dispute. Mahavir Phogat trained all six of them in wrestling in their village of Balali in Bhiwani district.
Three of the Phogat sisters Geeta, Babita and Vinesh are gold medalists in different weight categories at the Commonwealth Games. Priyanka has won a silver medal at the Asian Wrestling Championships, while Ritu is a National Championships gold medalist and Sangita is has brought laurels by winning various age-level international championships.
The success of the Phogat family sisters has attracted substantial media attention, particularly due to the prevalent social issues in Haryana such as gender inequality, female feticides and child marriage.The Bollywood film Dangal released in India in December 2016 is based on the lives of Phogat sisters with Mahavir, Geeta and Babita as its main characters. It is the highest Bollywood grosser of all time.
Women Athletes – Archer Deepika Kumari
She is a prime example of the ‘ultimate underdog story.’ The daughter of a rickshaw driver/puller, Deepika Kumari is the only Indian archer (male and female) ever to be ranked no. 1 in the world. Her first major recognition came at the 2010 Delhi CWG where she won two gold medals, as well as two silver medals (Women’s team) in the World Championships in 2011 and 2015. But, she too like the Phogat sisters has underperformed at the Olympics, but as she is only 25 she has a very promising career ahead of her.
Deepika Kumari was perhaps one of the biggest disappointments of the 2016 Rio Olympics, finishing seventh in the team event. However, numerous sports experts believe she is a rare and serious contender to become only the second individual Olympic gold medallist after Abhinav Bindra. A film is waiting to be made on this inspirational Ranchi girl. She has also been awarded Arjuna and Padma Shri by the Government of India.
Women Athletes – Sania Mirza
Undoubtedly she is the most successful Indian women tennis player of all time. A decade ago, at this very time, Sania Mirza was India’s best tennis player (Male-female combined) and was ranked in the top 30 in Women’s Singles. During her hay days in singles tennis, Sania defeated top-10 players like Svetlana Kuznetsova, Nadia Petrova and Martina Hingis in 2007.
The 2005 WTA Newcomer of the year awardee reached the fourth round of the US Open and third round of the Australian Open, but lost to the sensational Maria Sharapova. There was a time between 2007 and 2009 that Mirza’s forehand was one of the hardest in women’s tennis.
For her immense contribution to Indian sports, Sania has been conferred with Arjuna, Padma Shri, Khel Ratna and Padma Bhushan award.
Her singles career came to end in 2013 after constant injury problems. However, it was her doubles career that propelled her to the forefront of the World rankings one again. Her partnership with Martina Hingis was pure gold, and together they won the 2015 Wimbledon and US Open, as well as the 2016 Australian Open with the Swiss tennis player, reaching no. 1 world ranking and forming one of the greatest women’s doubles pairs to have ever played the game. In total, Sania Mirza has won 6 Grand Slams– 3 in Mixed Doubles, which includes two with Mahesh Bhupathi. Sania was one of the earliest trendsetters and “sports star” in Indian women athletes. The respect and love from Indian people stayed with her, even when she married Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik.
Women Athletes – Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu
What Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly were for team India in cricket, the same status applies Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu. Both these girls are at the prime form of their career, both of them are Olympic medal winners. As of now, PV Sindhu is currently taking the Badminton world by storm, but the path to Badminton glory had been paved more than 6 years ago by the fierce Saina Nehwal, who is going through a lean patch due to recurring injuries.
Till now Saina Nehwal has won more than 20 international and Super Series titles and stayed at the top 20 rankings for almost a decade now. She was no. 2 in 2009 but reached no. 1 six years later. Along with an Olympic medal she has also won Commonwealth Games gold and a silver and bronze medalist at the World Badminton Championships. 2017 proved that her career is far from over, and in 2018 she has some major world tournaments where she can once again bring home the medals.
PV Sindhu made her international debut in 2009 in Sub-junior Asian Badminton Championships held in Colombo. By winning Bronze medal in her first international competition, she introduced herself to the world. Sindhu continued her journey with consistent performances in different national and international tournaments.
Some notable achievements of PV Sindhu are; Silver in the women’s singles at Iran Fajr International badminton challenge in 2010, Asia Youth U/19 Championship in 2012 and Bronze medal at World Championship in 2012 and 2014.
At the 2016 Rio Olympics, PV Sindhu beat Wang Yihan in the quarterfinals and Nozomi Okuhara in the semifinals to meet Caroline Marine in the finals. She won the first set, but the Spaniard managed to come back and won the match by winning other two sets. Although, she lost the match, but she has won millions of hearts, India is proud to have such a women athlete.
Women Athletes – The Magnificent Mary Kom
There is arguably nobody in the history of Indian sports to have influenced perceptions and risen from ashes to become the most famous face of a country obsessed with cricket. Manipuri legend Mary Kom already has a movie based on her life. But the Olympic bronze medallist is much more than just a movie.
The flyweight boxer has many laurels to her name. She is a five-time Amateur World Boxing Champion, two of those coming after she became a mother during a hiatus from the sport. Mary is also an Asian Games gold medalist and now a member of the Rajya Sabha. She never turned pro, and became the first amateur boxer to win the Padma Bhushan. As of now she is selected in the Indian contingent for the upcoming XXI Commonwealth games and is training hard to win some more medals for India.
Women Athletes – Jhulan Goswami
If there would have been Oscars for women cricketers in India, Jhulan Goswami, hands down would have won all the nomination and winners. It’s over 15 years now, since she played her first game for India. One of the fastest bowlers in the women’s cricket, Jhulan has reaped rewards through control and minute deviations off the pitch. In May, she surpassed Cathryn Fitzpatrick to become the highest wicket-taker in women’s ODI history. Now, she doubles up as a mentor to a young group of fast bowlers coming through the ranks in India.
Jhulan Goswami was earmarked for a leadership role when she was named vice-captain of the national team ahead of the tour of England in 2006. There, she helped India to the Test series win, including their first victory against England, making a fifty as night watchman in the first Test at Leicester and taking her career-best match figures of 10 for 78 – 5 for 33 and 5 for 45 – in the second Test at Taunton.
Further to that, she won the ICC Women’s Player of Year in 2007 – a year no Indian male player bagged any individual award. Soon after, she was elevated as captain of the national team. Then in 2010, she was conferred with the prestigious Arjuna Award. A Padma Shri followed two years later.
Goswami is also a more-than-handy lower-order batsman. Goswami partnered Mithali Raj for a better part of her record-breaking 214 against England at Taunton in 2002. The pair added 157, with Goswami chipping in with 62. England was also the scene of India’s one-off Test win in 2014, where Goswami triggered the hosts’ slide with a four-wicket haul to set up the win. In 2015, she was one of four senior players who were handed the highest grade of central contracts by BCCI for the first time. Truly, one of the greatest women athletes to come up from India.
Other Honourable Women athletes to mention are:
Long jumper Anju Bobby George, discus throwers Seema and Krishna Punia, Indian women’s team captain Mithali Raj, gymnast Dipa Karmakar, sprinter P.T. Usha, shooter Heena Sidhu, wrestler Sakshi Malik.