The last decade has seen women’s sports in India reach newer and greater heights. We have also seen a renewed interest in a “rather cricket-crazy nation” in boxing, wrestling, weightlifting, track and field events, badminton, and much more. A huge part of that process has been the athletes, especially the women, who have secured medals, created records, and made history.
Let’s take a brief look at some of them, who made headlines in 2022.
1. Nikhat Zareen
26-year-old Nikhat Zareen, not only became the fifth Indian woman to win a boxing world championships gold medal but also won gold in the women’s light flyweight category at the 2022 Commonwealth games. She won the bout against Northern Ireland’s Carly McNaul by a unanimous 5:0 verdict. This was Zareen’s first gold at the CWG and her third major gold medal of the season. In the 2022 world championships in Istanbul, Nikhat won all her bouts by unanimous decision. It was the first time in 16 years that an Indian other than Mary Kom became a women’s world champion.
Born in Nizamabad, Telangana, Nikhat Zareen was raised in a family of three other sisters. Nikhat was the naughty one, getting into fights with the neighbour’s kids and climbing trees. In order to channel her energy her father trained her to run. However, boxing caught Nikhat’s attention soon. Nikhat is now no longer the upcoming, but the new superstar of Indian boxing.
2. Bhavina Patel
Para table tennis star Bhavina Patel won gold in the 2022 Commonwealth games after defeating Ifechukwude Christiana Ikpeoyi of Nigeria in the women’s single. The gold comes after the 35-year-old from Gujarat, had won a silver at Tokyo Paralympics in 2020. Bhavina also received the Arjuna Award for her achievements in 2021.
Bhavina was affected by polio and began playing the sport 13 years ago at the Blind People’s Association in Ahmedabad. Bhavina in multiple interviews has said that she hopes her performance will help shift people’s attitudes toward people with disabilities.
3. Mirabai Chanu
Mirabai Chanu has made it a habit to create history in everything she does and wherever she goes. The 28-year-old superstar from Manipur had already scripted history by winning the Silver Medal in the Women’s 49 kg Weightlifting event at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. In 2022, she added new pages to her book and newer awards to her collection. With expectations sky-high, Chanu won gold in the women’s 49 category at the 2022 Commonwealth Games. Recently Mirabai Chanu also secured silver in the Weightlifting World Championships lifting a total weight of 200kg. This despite battling wrist pain during her event.
Having been in the international arena for a while, Chanu’s 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.
4. Annu Rani
While it is true Neeraj Chopra’s gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics brought much-needed attention to track and field athletes, it was Annu Rai who added another cherry on that cake. Annu Rani scripted history as she became the first Indian female javelin thrower to win a medal, a bronze. In the 2022 Commonwealth games, she finished third with the best throw of 60.00 m.
In an interview, Annu revealed that in her initial days, she made her spear using bamboo, as she could not afford the real ones. She undertook a 13km travel daily to practice in an empty ground. After venturing into the international arena, Annu has not only broken other athletes’ records but also broken her own records multiple times.
5. Sakshi Malik
Wrestler Sakshi Malik in had already scripted history in the 2016 Olympics when she become the first Indian women wrestler ever to win a medal at the Olympics and only the 4th Indian woman to win an Olympic medal. That bronze medal was the start of what was to be a journey marked by incredible achievements. In 2022, she clinched a gold medal in wrestling after defeating Ana Paula Godinez Gonzalez in the final of the women’s freestyle 62 kg category, at the commonwealth games. She completed a hat-trick of medals at the CWG, after having already won a silver in the 2014 CWG and a bronze in 2018.
It was after watching her grandfather who was also a wrestler, that Sakshi Malik was inspired to take up the sport that would go on to define her career.
6. Jhulan Goswami
When we talk about Indian cricket, it is hard to give Jhulan Goswami’s name a miss. A pioneer of women’s cricket not just in India, but also in the world, the “Chakda Express”, as she is fondly called, reached some newer heights before hanging her boots in 2022. The veteran Indian pacer became the first bowler in history to complete 250 wickets in women’s One Day Internationals. Jhulan, playing in her 199th ODI match, achieved the feat while bowling against England in a group phase match of the ICC Women’s World Cup 2022.
Jhulan played her last international game at Lord’s in September. She made her debut in international cricket in March 2002 when she was 19 and after an illustrious 20 years long career, she ended the game as the highest wicket-taker in women’s internationals, with 352 wickets across formats. Jhulan also holds the record of having 1000 runs with 50 wickets and 50 catches in ODIs.
Disclaimer: This is by no means an exhaustive or representative list. Suggestions to add to the list are welcome in the comments section.