Following the pandemic, the sports world is regaining its footing after a long hiatus. The Tokyo Olympics and Paralympic Games 2020 kicked off the sporting competitions in style. At every level, Indian athletes excelled. Women have shone brighter than ever before, bringing laurels to the country. Here are six Indian sportswomen whose achievements in 2021 made headlines around the world. Their historic successes would elevate the status of sportswomen in the eyes of the Indian public and motivate others to take up the mantle in this male dominated space in the coming years.
1. Saikhom Mirabai Chanu
A twenty-seven-year-old girl from Manipur scripted history by winning the Silver Medal in the Women’s 49 kg Weightlifting event at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. Mirabai Chanu lifted a total of 202 kilograms.
From a very a young age, she began participating in international events, earning international medals and gaining recognition. Her big break came in 2014, when she won two gold medals in the 48 kg category at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. In 2017, she went on to win the world championship. She was awarded the Padma Shri and Khel Ratna by the Indian government in 2018.
Born into a Meitei family, young Chanu started demonstrating her physical strength by carrying bundles of firewood home at the age of 12. She invited the truck drivers who once let her hitchhike rides to get to her training academy. To express their gratitude after winning the Olympic medal, she touched their feet as a symbol of respect.
Following the Tokyo Olympic Games, Manipur Chief Minister N. Biren Singh declared a reward of Rupees one crore for her. Ashwini Vaishnaw, the Indian Railway Minister, also announced a 2 crore prize, and a suitable promotion in her employment from her current post of railway ticket inspector.
2. Lovlina Borgohain
At the Tokyo Olympics 2020, the twenty-four-year-old boxer from Assam’s Golaghat took home the Bronze medal in the women’s 69kg boxing event. With this victory, Lovlina Borgohain became the third Indian boxer to earn a medal at the Olympics. After M.C Mary Kom, she is the second Indian female boxer to win an Olympic medal.
Her first taste of achievement came when she was chosen to compete for India in the welterweight division in the 2018 Commonwealth Games. She later went on to win a bronze medal at the 2017 Asian Boxing Championships in Vietnam. Other notable triumphs include the President’s Cup in Astana in 2017, a silver medal at Mongolia’s Ulaanbaatar Cup in 2018, and a bronze medal at Poland’s 13th International Silesian Championship in 2018.She was presented the Arjuna Award by the government of India for her outstanding achievement in boxing in 2020.
3. Jyothi Surekha Vennam
The twenty five year old archer from Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, set a new record at the World Archery Championship, 2021. Jyothi Vennam excelled as a member of the Indian women’s and mixed compound teams, and both teams earned silver medals in their events.
Jyothi Vennam continued her winning streak in the women’s solo finals just a day after her double victory. She won silver in the women’s compound individual event at Yankton, USA, giving her a total of three medals. With 70 national and international medals under her belt, she is looking forward to taking home a gold medal for India at the Asian Games.
She has been making the country proud with her exceptional talent since the age of four. She entered the Limca Book of Records at four for crossing the Krishna River three times and covering a distance of 5 kilometers in 3 hours 20 minutes and 6 seconds. She won the Olympic round gold, a bronze in the 20 meter range, and three silver medals in the 50 meter and 40 meter ranges at the Mexican grand prix when she was only 13 years old. In 2011, she was the youngest person to win two bronze medals in the Asian archery championship.
4. Avani Lekhara
Avani won gold in the Women’s 50m air rifle 3 positions SH1 event and bronze in the 10m air rifle SH1 event.What’s more interesting is that this was her maiden appearance at the Paralympic Games. On her games debut, Avani Lekhara, who is currently ranked fifth in the women’s 10m air rifle standings, fired a score of 149.6 in the final, setting a new Paralympic record and equaling the world record.
Avani Lekhara is the fourth Indian to win a Paralympics gold and the first woman to win the same among paralympic athletes. Moreover, she has become the first person ever to win India its first Paralympics medal in shooting. She was paralysed below the waist in 2012 following a serious vehicle accident when she was 11 years old. But the accident could not break her fighting spirit. Her father was the one who encouraged her to participate in sports. She is also an archery expert, yet shooting has proven to be her true passion.
5. Bhavinaben Patel
Bhavina Patel of Gujrat won a historic silver medal at the Tokyo Paralympics 2020 bagging the first ever silver in table tennis for India. She won silver in the women’s singles Class 4 table tennis event. It was India’s 13th medal at the Paralympics and the first at Tokyo 2020.
Competing in her debut Para Games, Bhavina Patel had a string of quality performances that led her to the gold medal including a win over Borislava Peric-Rankovic of Serbia, the 2016 Paralympic champion, and world No. 3 China’s Zhang Miao. At the final match, the 34-year-old competed against world number one Chinese paddler Ying Zhou. Though she kept pace with Zhou Ying with some smart shot selections and confident serves, she missed the gold.
After winning a silver medal for India in the PTT Thailand Table Tennis Championship in 2011, she rose to global number two. Patel won another silver medal at the Asian Para Table Tennis Championships in Beijing in October 2013, this time in the women’s singles Class 4 event.
Patel, who was affected with polio at the age of 12 months, began playing the sport 13 years ago at the Blind People’s Association in Ahmedabad’s Vastrapur neighborhood, where she was enrolled in an ITI for people with disabilities. She watched vision impaired children playing table tennis there and wanted to try the sport herself. After the win, she hopes her performance will help shift people’s attitudes towards people with disabilities.
6. P. V. Sindhu
Ace badminton player PV Sindhu made history when she became the first Indian woman to win two consecutive Olympic medals. Sindhu, the reigning world champion, won a bronze medal in Badminton at the Tokyo Olympics 2021, five years after winning silver at the Rio Games.
In the third-place playoff, the 26-year-old from Hyderabad defeated China’s He Bing Jiao 21-13 21-15. She is the second Indian athlete to win two Olympic medals, with this achievement. Only wrestler Sushil Kumar has previously accomplished this feat. She’s the first Indian to become a badminton world champion.
Except for 2015, she has won a medal in every world competition she has competed in. She previously won a silver medal at the 2016 Olympics. Several honors have been conferred on her. She received the Padma Bhushan award from the Indian government in 2020, the Padma Shri award in 2015, the Arjuna Award in 2013, and the Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna award in 2016.
Disclaimer: This is by no means an exhaustive or representative list. Suggestions to add to the list are welcome in the comments section