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On the fast track

Patriot takes a look at three of the most promising young sportswomen, who are likely to become the face of Indian sports in years to come

Saina Nehwal, Sania Mirza, Mithali Raj, Mary Kom, PV Sindhu — these are some of the few names that have dominated the Indian sports scene for women. From winning world championships to Olympic medals and becoming the number one ranked players in their respective sports, these women of substance have done it all. But rather than celebrating the success of these amazing women, this Women’s Day we look forward to some of the bright young stars who are rising through the ranks and are poised to be the future of Indian sports.

Dangmei Grace (Football)

Dangmei Grace, the current winger of the Indian National Women’s football team was born in Ningthoukhong village in Bishnupur, about 40 km from Manipur’s capital Imphal. She hails  from a football family, where her brother and younger cousin also play the sport. Grace was ably supported by her family and the  people from her village, after she started taking the sport seriously in 2010, when she was just 15 years old. Before that, football was just a fun game she played with the local boys.

But when she was selected for a local under-14 tournament and after she played in the competitive league for the first time, her love for the game turned into a passion. . Seeing her performance at the Under-14 level, she was selected for a tournament in Sri Lanka and slowly and steadily rose up the ranks to become a regular member of the national team.

Having been part of the 2014 Asian Games squad and 2016 South Asian championships, what cemented her place in the 2016 SAFF Championships, was her winning goal in the finals which clinched the tournament for India for the second consecutive time.

Now the 23-year old is a regular feature in the starting 11 for India and has a lot of years in front of her. In fact, she was adjudged the 2018 Young Footballer of the Year by the Indian Women’s League. Recently, she netted a brace in India’s thumping 5-2 win over Hong Kong and was adjudged player of the match.

Manu Bhaker (Shooting)

Born in the Goria village of Haryana’s Jhajjar district in 2002, Manu Bhaker was into all kinds of sports during her early days. She tried her hand at various games at the junior level including boxing, tennis, martial arts and skating, achieving success in all. She also received national championships at many of these sports.

At the age of 14 she went up to her father, a chief engineer in the merchant navy, and said that she wanted to take up shooting professionally. It was then that her journey to fame began. Within a year of becoming a professional shooter, at the age of 15, she won her first international prize when she clinched the silver medal at the 2017 Asian Junior Championships.

In her first senior national championships, later that year, she won nine gold medals, even defeating veteran Heena Sidhu in the 10 m air pistol finals. She broke the previous national record of 240.8 points by registering 242.3 points in the final.

In 2018, she added another feather to her cap, which she calls her greatest achievement. At the World Shooting Championships in Guadalajara, Mexico she beat local favourite Alejandra Zavala to clinch the gold medal in the 10 m singles event, thus becoming the youngest Indian gold medalist at the World Championships ever. She even won a gold in the doubles event with partner Om Prakash Mitharvai.

Later that year at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia, she went on to clinch another gold, this time setting a new Commonwealth Games record tally of 240.9 points.

Though she suffered a setback at the Jakarta Asian Games, where she finished 6th, she went on to trump all competition at the Youth Olympic Games, thus becoming the first Indian woman to ever win a gold at the event.

At the recently held Shooting World Cup in Delhi, Bhaker went on to win her third world championship gold, when she along with Saurabh Chaudhary clinched the top prize at the 10 m pistol mixed team event.

All of these amazing achievements, and Bhaker is still 17 years old. A medal at the 2020 Olympics is what lies next for this wonder kid, and if she manages to do that, she will cement her place as one of the greatest shooters India has ever seen.

Lalremsiami (Hockey)

On 31 March 2000, in a small village called Kolasib, 80 km from Aizawl, Lalremsiami was born to a family of poor farmers. In perhaps one of the most remote areas of the country, she started playing hockey with the boys, when she was spotted by a group of talent scouts from an academy run by the Mizoram government. At the tender age of 11, she joined the academy in Thenzawl, Sercchip.

After her exploits at the state and national level tournaments, she was picked up to train at the National Hockey Academy in Delhi when she was 16 years old. She was then spotted by the junior women’s coach Baljit Singh Saini, and was called to a few India Under-18 camps. She was then selected for the Under-18 Youth Olympics qualifiers. In the tournament, the Mizo wonder girl showed her class as she scored seven goals, thus becoming the tournament’s top scorer. In the tournament, India finished second behind leaders China.

After her performance, she was selected in the senior team for the 2017 Asia Cup, where she did not play a lot as she sat in the reserves. In the 2018 Asian Champions Trophy, in which India finished in second place, she scored two goals playing a total of just 31 minutes across five matches in the tournament, thus winning the Under-21 player of the tournament award.

Lalremsiami was then selected in the 18-member squad for the 2018 World Cup, where she was the youngest player in the squad. She scored only one goal in the tournament, as India bowed out after a loss in the quarterfinals to Ireland.

But her crowning moment came at the 2018 Asian Games, where she scored four goals including a hat-trick against Kazakhstan. As India clinched the silver medal at the games, she became the first player from Mizoram to win a medal at the Asian Games. Her performances led her to win Hockey India’s Under-21 player of the year in 2018.

At just 18 years old, Siami, as her team mates fondly call her, is now one of the mainstays of the Indian hockey team, and touted to become the next big thing in Indian hockey.