She came, she played, she won

- March 2, 2022
| By : Chander Shekhar Luthra |

India’s sporting landscape is changing. The 15 Olympic medals won in the last century were all claimed by men. Then came Karnam Malleswari, the weightlifter who won a bronze medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. A glass ceiling was broken.

F (Photo by Pat Elmont - ECB/ECB via Getty Images)

In recent decades, women athletes have been acquiring celebrity status with the result that their events have attracted more eyeballs and larger sums of prize money. Some who have become household names (besides those featured on this page) are PT Usha, Deepika Pallikal, Geeta Phogat, Sakshi Malik, Tanya Sachdeva and Kunjarani Devi. In turn, they have motivated many young females to take up the sport against all odds.

Many of these sporting icons do not need any introduction because people now know the game because of them. India have won 20 Olympic medals since the Sydney 2000 Olympics and women account for eight of them. They are Malleswari, Mary Kom, Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu (twice), Sakshi Malik, Saikhom Mirabai Chanu and Lovlina Borgohain.

As per a 2021 global survey by international research firm YouGov, an average of 41% of people said that they would watch more women’s sports if it was available on television. Indian sports fans are a step above the global audience, where 59% reiterated this statement.

The Patriot takes a look at some of the female athletes who have helped change the mindsets of people in India with their inspirational performances over the years…

Source: Twitter

Mithali Dorai Raj (Cricket)

# She is the first Indian and the 5th woman cricketer throughout the world to have scored 1,000 runs in the World Cup.

# She holds the record of the highest individual score made by an Indian woman cricketer, that too in a World Cup match. 

# She has been named ‘Lady Tendulkar of Indian Women’s Cricket’.

# She has played the most consecutive Women’s One-day Internationals for a team. 

Veteran skipper Mithali Dorai Raj has everything that a woman cricketer could ask for. Having scored the highest runs in the world, Mithali has had no complaints in her career spanning nearly two decades.

Mithali was born in Jodhpur on 3 December 1982. While her mother wanted her to pursue Bharatnatyam as a career, her father, an Air Force officer, persuaded her to take up cricket at the age of 10. Mithali was hesitant in the beginning as no one in her family had followed cricket, let alone played it.

At 17, Mithali debuted with a bang as she scored 114 in her first game against Ireland at Milton Keynes. She is till now only one of five women to score centuries on debut and is the youngest centurion in women’s cricket history. She also became the first Indian woman and the second female cricketer in the world to cross 5,000 ODI runs.

As the ICC Women’s 50-over Cricket World Cup starts in New Zealand on Friday (4 March) – after a delay of one year – the Mithali-led Indian team will begin its campaign against arch-rivals Pakistan on Sunday. 


File Photo.
(Photo by Kevin Lee/Getty Images)

Sania Mirza (Tennis)

# She won the prestigious Wimbledon Junior Championship in 2003.

# In 2009, she secured her first Grand Slam, the Australian Open, with Mahesh Bhupathi. 

# In 2005, she was named the “Best Newcomer of the Year” by the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA).

# She is the first Indian woman to win a tennis tournament worth more than $1 million. 

# Sania received the Arjuna Award in 2004 and was the second tennis player to receive the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna in 2015, after Leander Paes. 

Tennis star Sania Mirza has been doing wonders for India for a long time. Sania was born on 15 November 1986 and has set many records in women’s doubles tennis. At 35, she has announced that she is going to retire this year.

This Hyderabadi is the first and the only female tennis player from India to win six major titles. Sania is one of the two Indian female tennis players to win a WTA title and the only one to reach the top 100 singles rankings.

File Photo.
(Photo by Qamar Sibtain via Getty Images)

MC Mary Kom (Boxing)

# She is the only Indian female boxer to qualify and win a bronze medal for the 2012 Summer Olympics, competing in the flyweight (51 kg) category.

# She is the only boxer to become an Asian Amateur Boxing Champion for a record six times.

# She is the first Indian female boxer to win a gold medal in the Asian Games in 2014.

# She is the first Indian female boxer to win gold at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

# She has been honoured with several prestigious awards including Padma Shri, Arjuna Award for boxing, Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna Award, and many more for her outstanding performance.

‘Magnificent Mary’ aka Mary Kom, is nothing less than an inspiration for every single female athlete in India who wants to chase her dreams. Born on 1 March 1983, the boxing champion is so special because she started practising the sport after giving birth to her twin baby boys, Khupneivar Kom and Rechungvar Kom.

Despite being a victim of gender discrimination, the 38-year-old became the only woman boxer to win medals in every format of amateur boxing. In Class 7, she left school to devote more time to boxing lessons and appeared for the final exams in private. She became a professional boxer and completed her graduation as a private student.

Five times in a row, Mary Kom won the World Amateur Boxing Championship. She is also the only woman boxer to win a medal in all six World Championships.

Mary Kom became the only Indian woman boxer to qualify for the Summer Olympics when she competed in the London Olympics, where she won the bronze in the 51-kg category. 

File Photo.
(Photo by Sanjeev Verma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Saina Nehwal (Badminton)

# Before entering the field of badminton, she was a champion in karate, in which she holds a brown belt.

# In 2006, she created history by winning the prestigious Asian Satellite Badminton tournament twice, becoming the first player to do so.

# In 2008, she became the first Indian to win World Junior Badminton Championship.

# She is the first Indian woman to be ranked as No. 1 in Badminton World Federation in the women’s singles category.

# She has been accredited by the Padma Bhushan, Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna and Arjuna Award.

Saina is one of the most acknowledged players in the world. She is the second Indian shuttler to be ranked No. 1 in the world, after the legendary Prakash Padukone.

Saina has won over 24 international titles, which include 11 SuperSeries titles. Although badminton doesn’t attract that much money, which has been showered on all the other sports around the world, this 31-year-old was once the highest-paid badminton player in the world. 

She was born on 17 March 1990 in Haryana and her father Harvir Singh and mother Usha Rani have both been champion badminton players in the state championships. Her family shifted to Hyderabad to train her in one of the world-class sports facilities around. In Commonwealth Games, she won a total of four medals – one gold and three bronze. She also achieved the bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics.

Saina has also been the face of the famous “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao” campaign.


Bronze medalist Pusarla V. Sindhu of Team India
(Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

PV Sindhu (Badminton)

# Sindhu is the first and only Indian to become the Badminton World Champion in 2019.

# In the 2016 Rio Games, she became the first Indian woman to enter an Olympic final.

# She was awarded the Arjuna Award in 2013 at the age of just 18, Padma Shri in 2015 and Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna in 2017.

She is the Indian badminton superstar. Sindhu began her journey at a very young age, and ever since then, has won several medals at multiple tournaments, including the Olympics and World Championships.

She was born on 5 July 1995 to PV Ramana and P Vijaya, both former professional volleyball players; her father was also conferred with the Arjuna Award for his achievements in volleyball.

Despite living 65 km from her training centre, Sindhu never skipped a single training session, starting at 4 am. She is the first Indian to become a Badminton World Champion. Sindhu is only the second individual athlete from India to win two consecutive medals at the Olympic Games. In 2016, she claimed the Malaysia Masters Grand Prix Gold women’s singles title, and in 2021, she won a bronze at the Tokyo Games. Sindhu was featured on the Forbes list of highest-paid female athletes in 2018, 2019 and 2021.

Deepika Kumari of India.
(Photo by Graham Crouch/Getty Images)

Deepika Kumari (Archery) 

# In 2012, she became the second Indian Female Archer to become World No. 1 in rankings.

# Deepika has been bestowed with Arjuna Award in 2012 and the Padma Shri in 2016.

# In 2014, she was adjudged the FICCI Sportsperson of the Year.

# In 2021, she regained her highest rankings with a hat-trick of gold medals at World Cup Stage III in Paris.

Deepika Kumari Mahato was born on 13 June 1993 in Ranchi. Her father, Shivnarayan Mahato, was an auto-rickshaw driver, while her mother, Geeta Mahato, was a nurse.

Deepika used to play archery as a kid and then joined Arjun Archery Academy in 2005. She moved to the Tata Archery Academy in Jamshedpur a year later. She went on to win the Junior Compound competition at the Archery World Cup in 2006, which brought her to the limelight.

In 2009, Deepika won a women’s recurve event at the 11th Youth World Archery Championships. A year later, she won team bronze with Dola Banerjee and Rimil Buriuly at the Asian Games 2010. She would add women’s recurve individual and team gold to her list of possessions at the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games.

In 2011, she added an Asian Archery Championships and World Championships silver to her medal wins, both in team events. In 2012 and 2013, the Indian archers won gold medals at the Archery World Cups. However, she had a medal-less outing to London in 2012, Rio in 2016 and the 2021 Tokyo Games. On 30 June 2020, she married fellow archer Atanu Das.

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