Year 2021 saw international sporting events return back on their feet from the shadows of the first wave of COVID-19. With many high profile events like the Olympics being postponed by a year, the onus was on the organizers to create a safe environment for athletes to participate in. With everyone starting to accept the new normal and with the breakthrough of the vaccine, the organisers braved the odds and went on a length to stage events successfully. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights from the Indian sports that gave the fans both cheer and despair!
Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics
Topping the list of highlights will always be the Golden moment of Javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra winning the Gold at the Tokyo Olympics. He became only the second Indian to win an individual gold medal and the 1st Indian to do so in track and field. PV Sindhu won the Bronze medal in Badminton and in doing so, she became the first Indian woman to win a second Olympic medal. Mirabai Chanu won a historic silver in weightlifting and Lovlina Borgohain contributed to the medals tally by winning the Bronze. The Indian men’s Hockey team won a historic Bronze medal breaking the jinx after 41 years. Other notable mentions from the Olympics include Golfer Aditi Ashok missing the Bronze medal in golf by a whisker, Fencer Bhavani Devi’s debut in the fencing sport, and the Women’s Hockey team finishing a respectable fourth.
India finished the Olympics with a record tally of 7 medals, including 1 Gold, 2 Silver, and 4 Bronze medals.
The Indian Paralympians, too, did not leave any stone unturned as they displayed a record performance at the Paralympics. The para-athletes made India proud by winning 19 medals, including 5 Gold medals from Sumit Antil, Pramod Bhagat, Krishna Nagar, Manish Narwal, and Avani Lekhara. The young para-athletes followed it up with a strong performance at the Asia youth para games 2021 in Bahrain by winning 41 medals, including 12 golds.
Recently, ace shuttler Kidambi Srikanth reached the finals of the World Badminton Championships held in Spain. Although he lost in the finals, he became the first Indian to play in the World Badminton Championships final. Previously, Prakash Padukone (1983) and B Sai Praneeth (2019) had managed to win the Bronze in WBC. Young sensation Lakshya Sen also showed his preparedness for the big stage by winning Bronze in the same tournament.
Much was expected from the Indian Shooting team at the Tokyo Olympics; albeit, they unfortunately failed to live up to the expectations. But the young Indian shooters made up for the poor performance by putting up a brilliant display at the ISSF Junior World Championships in Peru. Indian shooters finished first with 43 medals, 17 of them Gold.
Wrestler Anshu Malik created history when she became the first Indian woman wrestler to win a Silver medal in the women's 57-kg category at the World Wrestling Championships held in Oslo. Till date, wrestlers Alka Tomar (2006), Geeta Phogat (2012), Babita Phogat (2012), Pooja Dhanda (2018) and Vinesh Phogat (2019) have won bronze at the championships. In the same tournament, Sarita Mor claimed the Bronze medal in the 59-kg category.
The Indian Men’s football team emerged victorious in the SAFF Championships 2021 held in the Maldives. India beat Nepal 3-0 in the finals to clinch the title for the eight time. Indian Captain Sunil Chhetri meanwhile went on to overtake Pele as the third highest active international goalscorer in the history of Football. He also received the prestigious Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna award.
The Indian Women’s football team got a good boost to their AFC Asia Cup preparations by visiting South America to play a friendly against the mights of Brazil, Peru, and Venezuela.
The most loved sport in India had its own share of highs and lows in 2021. Starting with the historic and brave series win down under, the Indian Men’s team came from behind to win the Border-Gavaskar trophy for the second time in a row. It marked the first defeat of Australia in Gabba since 1989. But the star-studded Indian team failed to live up to expectations in the two much awaited ICC events - the World Test Championship finals held in England in which they lost to New Zealand and the T20 World Cup held in UAE where they failed to make it to the semi-finals of the tournament, also beaten by arch-rivals Pakistan in the opening match.
The Women's Cricket team saw some bright moments when the team returned to International action with the opportunity to play two test matches against Australia and England. Indian batter Mithali Raj became the first Indian woman cricketer to score 10,000 international runs across all formats.
At the U20 World Athletics Championships in Nairobi, India won three medals with Amit (10,000m walk) and Shaili Singh (long jump) winning silver, while the mixed 4x400m relay team clinched the bronze medal.
In the game of Chess, the Indian Women’s team composed of Harika, Vaishali, Tania Sachdev, Mary Ann Gomes, and Bhakti Kulkarni finished second losing to Russia in the World Chess Championships.
Ex-Indian sprinter Anju Bobby George was named 'Woman of the Year' at the World Athletics Awards 2021. Anju was conferred with the award for her continuous efforts in advancing the sport in India and for inspiring more women to follow in her footsteps and achieve their dreams of being successful athletes.
The sports category dominated 2021 Google searches in India. As per a Google report published, sports took up 5 places in the top 10 searches. Indian Premier League (IPL), ICC T20 World Cup, Tokyo Olympics, Euro Cup and Copa America were in the top 10.
Mental Health in Sports
With the onset of the second wave of COVID-19, there was a paradigm shift in the perception of health of athletes. Health was not just about the physical but strong focus was also placed on the mental. Number of star athletes came out and openly spoke about their feelings and the need for prioritising mental health over respective sports.
Athletes from across different sports like Ben Stokes, Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles have broken the taboo around the topic. Indian athletes like Virat Kohli, Abhinav Bindra, PV Sindhu, Harmanpreet Kaur have been vocal about their experiences and the need of the hour. It is very important that young athletes at every level speak up and prioritise the importance of mental health as part of their training regime. If you are an athlete, coach or an academy looking for mental health support or someone to talk to, please feel free to reach out to us.
What is your best Indian sporting moment of 2021? Let us know in the comments section below.
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