Neeraj Chopra Gold, men’s Javelin 87.58m
Immediately after celebrating his Olympic gold in an almost empty Tokyo stadium, Neeraj Chopra quietly folded the national flag according to the proper flag folding protocol and kept it away, safe. The respect he showed to the flag showed how dedicated he was to his duty as Nayak Subedar Chopra, of IV Rajputana Rifles, as he was to his duty as an athlete. It was almost a quiet vindication of years of hard labour in a sport that few practise, and less follow in this country. Neeraj was just the second individual gold Olympic medallist after Abhinav Bindra, who won one in shooting at the Beijing Games.Even as his teammates cut a golden cake, later at the hotel, the 23-year-old said the immensity of it all will probably land on him when he returns home. Maybe the country, too can slowly understand that even in the super competitive world of athletics, India has a chance.
Early life : Neeraj Chopra hails from Khandra village in the Panipat district of Haryana. His father is a farmer and he cultivates a small patch of land. His mother is a housewife and he has two sisters. Neeraj was a plump kid, and to get in shape, he joined a gym. More than plump, he was an 80 kg kid, teased by local children. While at it, he met Jai (Jaiveer Singh) Chaudhary, who used to practice at Panipat Stadium. Jai believed Neeraj had a future in sport and found that his throwing arm was strong enough for him to be in javelin. He had thrown 40m in a test. Jai had represented Haryana in javelin Athlete. So, when Neeraj was just 11, he came under Jai’s wings and started practising at the gym, as well as at the Panipat Stadium. Through school, and through DAV College, Chandigarh. Meanwhile, to support himself financially, he joined the Indian Army as a Junior Commissioned Officer with a rank of Naik Subedar in 2016.
Career : Jaiveer Choudhary became his first coach. After training under Jai for a year, the 13-year-old Chopra was admitted to the Tau Devi Lal Sports Complex in Panchkula, four hours from his home. His coach was Naseem Ahmad, who made him undergo long-distance running along with the javelin throw. He was by thenm throwing 55m and then won the 2012 junior nationals in Lucknow by throwing 68.40 m, a national record. The next year he got his first international exposure, at the World Youth Championships in Ukraine. His first international medal, a silver, came in 2014, at the Youth Olympics Qualification in Bangkok. He was progressing, now to 70m. Then he his big time, when he threw to 81.04 m in the 2015 All India Inter-University Athletics Meet, a world record in that category. He graduated to a gold at the 2016 South Asian Games with a throw of 84.23 m, equalling the national record. Then came his big show at the 2016 IAAF World U20 Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland, where he set a world junior record of 86.48 m. he failed to qualify for the Rio Games, because the cut-off date had been 11 July, the week before the U20 championships. Now he was a Junior Commissioned Officer in the Rajputana Rifles.
In 2017 he won gold at the Asian Athletic championships (85.23m). 2018 Commonwealth Games : Gold 86.47 m).
2018 Asian Games : Gold (88.06m)
Awards : Arjuna Award – 2018
Vishisht Seva Medal (VSM) – 2020 Republic Day honour.
Ravi Kumar Dahiya Silver : Wrestling (57kg).
In Tokyo he reached the final in the 57 kg, his comeback win was of particular interest. He was trailing 5-9 to the Kazakh, but with great effort, Dahiya pinned down his opponent, which meant the points deficit meant nothing. It was a win by a ‘fall’.
Early life : Dahiya was born in 1997 in a village called Nahri in the Sonipat district of Haryana. He took to wrestling early in life, being trained by Satpal Singh at the Chhatrasal Stadium in North Delhi since he was 10.
His father Rakesh Dahiya, was a small farmer, but provided ample support to Ravi, travelling every day from the village to the stadium to deliver fresh milk and fruits. These were basic diet for a wrestler’s development. This continued for over a decade. Finally, his dedication paid off.
Career : Dahiya’s early success was when he won silver in the 55 kg freestyle category at the 2015 Junior World Wrestling Championships in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil. With early success came early injury, when he was injured in 2017. That put him out of action for over a year. But he came back strongly, winning silver (57kg) at the 2018 World U-23 Wrestling Championship in Bucharest. It was India’s only medal from the competition.
In the pro wrestling league in 2019, Dahiya remained unbeaten, being part of the title-winning team, Haryana Hammers. At the 2019 Asian Wrestling Championships in Xi’an he was out of medals, finishing fifth.
The same year, debuting at the World Championships, he defeated European champion Arsen Harutyunyan in the round of 16, as well as 2017 world champion Yuki Takahashi in the quarterfinal. That was how he earned one of the six available quota places for the Tokyo Olympics. At the World Championship he had to settle for bronze when he lost to defending champion and eventual gold medallist Zaur Uguev in the semi-final.
That’ however, put him in the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports’ Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS). That happened in October 2019.
This was a big boost, as Dahiya went on to clinch gold at the 2020 Asian Wrestling Championships in New Delhi and the 2021 Asian Wrestling Championships in Almaty.
Saikhome Mirabai Chanu Silver : 49 kg women’s weightlifting
In Tokyo she had a total lift of 202 kg, becoming the first Indian weightlifter to win silver at the Olympics and the second Indian weightlifter after Karnam Malleswari (Sydney 2000) to win an Olympic medal. Not only that, en route to the medal, she logged a new Olympic record with a lift of 115kg in clean and jerk.
Early life : She was born on August 8, 1994 in Nongpok Kakching, about 30 km from Imphal city, capital of Manipur. She was born to a poor Meitei family that eked out its living in farming. She was the youngest of six siblings. Early signs of Chanu’s natural strength was evident she was just 12. Her family and others in the village noticed that she could easily carry a huge bundle of firewood back home, when her elder brother had trouble even to pick it up. Her strength had to be put to good use, said all.
Chanu had initially wanted to take up archery until stumbling into a weightlifting hall at a local sports hall in Imphal. Her idol is famous weightlifter Kunjarani Devi.
Career : As she completed her intensive training, her big break, as well as the first big success came at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. There she won silver in the 48 kg category. That also qualified her for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games in the women’s 48 kg category. Maybe nerves go the better of her at Rio, as she failed to finish, with no successful lift in either clean or jerk.
She did not despair, but went on to win the gold in the 2017 World Weightlifting Championships held at Anaheim, CA, United States. In the 48 kg category she notched up a competition record 194 kg in total (85 kg snatch and 109 kg clean & jerk).
At the 2018 Commonwealth Games, Chanu lifted a total of 196 kg – 86 kg in snatch and 110 kg in clean and jerk – to win the India’s first gold. Even before she hit gold, Chanu had broken the games record for that weight category. It was also her personal best. There was a dip in performance in the Asian Weightlifting Championships next year, settling for bronze (49 kg).
Then, that year, at the World Championships, she lifted a total of 201 kg (87kg snatch and 114 kg clean & jerk) to finish fourth. That was a new national record, as well as her PB. She was not satisfied. The strong girl from Manipur bettered her personal record again four months later when she lifted 203 kg (88kg in snatch and 115kg in clean & jerk,) en route to winning gold at the 2020 Senior National Weightlifting Championships.
Pusaria Venkata Sindhu Bronze, women’s badminton singles
Following the fading away of Saina Nehwal, the first woman to win an Olympic Medal for India in badminton, PV Sindhu emerged as India’s best bet at the international level. She did not disappoint at the Rio Games, wining silver and becoming the youngest Indian to do so. In Tokyo she became only the second Indian, after wrestler Sushil Kumar to win back-to-back medals at the Olympics.
Her arch rival and friend Carolina Marin of Spain had pulled out of these Games, but that did not make Sindhu’s path any easier. She came up against Chinese Taipei’s Tai Tzu Ying, but lost. She has lost too many times against her as of now and she needs to sort her out. In the bronze match Sindhu defeated China’s He Bingjiao 21-15, 21-13 in just 53 minutes.
Early life : P.V. Sindhu was born and brought up in Hyderabad. Her father, PV Ramana, is an employee of the Indian Railways and mother is Vijaya. Both her parents had been national level volleyball players, so Sindhu was born into a sporting family. Ramana, in fact, was member of the Indian volleyball team that won bronze in 1986 Seoul Asian Games. He is also an Arjuna Awardee (in 2000).
Sindhu was educated at Auxilium High School, Hyderabad and then at St Ann’s College for Women. She chose badminton, because she drew inspiration from the success of Pullela Gopichand, the 2001 All-England Open champion. She started playing badminton at the age of eight, having learnt the basics from Mehboob Ali at the railway badminton courts in Secunderabad. She then moved to the Gopichand Badminton Academy. Coach and student parted ways later, with South Korean coach Park Tae-sang becoming her coach.
Career: At 14 she entered the international circuit, winning bronze at the 2009 Sub-Junior Asian Badminton Championships in Colombo. She won silver at the 2010 Iran Fajr International Badminton Challenge and in 2012 won the Badminton Asia U-19 title. She beat famed rival Nozomi Okuhara. Then she stunned London Olympics gold medallist Li Xuerui at the China Masters.
Four years later she won the Malaysia Masters Grand Prix Gold women’s singles title. This was her second win in this tournament. Then she crafted her biggest success so far, winning India’s first Olympic badminton silver, at the Rio Games in 2016. In the final at Rio she lost to Marin 21-19, 12-21, 15-21. Sindhu, at 21, became the youngest Indian to win an Olympic medal.
National : Padma Bhushan, Third Highest Civilian Award of India (2020). Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna, highest sporting honour of India (2016). Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award of India (2015). Arjuna Award (2013) .
Others : FICCI Breakthrough Sportsperson of the Year 2014; NDTV Indian of the Year 2014; BBC Indian Sportswoman of the Year 2020.
Bajrang Punia Bronze, men’s freestyle wrestling, 65kg
Carrying a knee injury to the Tokyo Olympics all wrestlers targeted his injured knee. But that did not let Bajrang lose his heart, wrestling his heart out. In the semi-final he lost to three time world champion Haji Aliyev 5-12 and moved to the bronze match, where he won the men’s 65kg bronze medal over Daulet Niyazbekov of Kazakhstan. He completely dominated his tired-looking opponent and won 8-0.
Early life : He was born in a Jat family of Khudan village of Jhajjar district of Haryana. Early encouragement for wrestling came from his father, a former wrestler, and he started on the mat at age seven. His father did not let him feel the poverty that the family was in. lack of money did not allow him to partake of other sports, but could only involve himself in traditional sports (these were free), such as wrestling and kabaddi. Starting at a local mud wrestling school, Bajrang skipped school to go and practice. Seeing his talent, his family moved to Sonepat in 2015, near the regional centre of Sports Authority of India. He is now employed with the Indian Railways as a gazetted officer OSD Sports. He is married to the fellow wrestler, Sangita Phogat who is one of the famed Phogat sisters.
Career : Bronze at the 2013 Asian Wrestling Championships in the 60kg category. Bronze at the 2013 World Wrestling Championships in Budapest. Silver at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland in the 61 kg category. Silver at the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea. Silver at the 2014 Asian Wrestling Championships in Astana, Kazakhstan.
Finally he made gold at the Asian Wrestling Championship 2017 in New Delhi. He won gold again at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia. He kept to his golden streak, when he won at the 2018 Asian Games (65 kg category).
World No. 1: He won silver at the 2018 World Wrestling Championships, but this medal ensured that he became world No. 1 in the 65 kg category. The bext year, at the same meet, he won bronze. That also was his qualifying for Tokyo.
Awards: Arjuna Award, 2015
Padma Shri Award,
Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna award, 2019
FICCI India Sports Award 2020.
Lovlina Borgohain Bronze, 69 kg, women’s boxing
The Cfirst Olympic medal winner from Assam is a woman, and rightly so. The 5-foot 10 girl from Golaghat has, on her first Olympic outing, gained the confidence of her peers and the country. In Tokyo the 23-year-old had to settle for a bronze, after being beaten 0-5 by world champion Busenaz Surmeneli of Turkey in the semi-finals of the 69kg category. Accepted Surmeneli was too good for the Indian, but for the former muay thai practitioner it was her first Olympics and there is enough time for her go make amends and get better by the time the Paris Games come around. She became only the third Indian boxer with a podium finish from the Olympics, after Vijender Singh (2008) and MC Mary Kom (2012).
Early life : Borgohain was born on October 2, 1997, and her parents are Tiken and Mamoni Borgohain. Tiken is a small-scale businessman, eternally struggling to stay afloat in a tough economy, but managed to provide for his daughter’s ambition. She started her career as a kickboxer, but switched to boxing when opportunity beckoned. At the SAI trials at her school, the Barpathar Girls High School, she was noticed and selected by renowned Coach Padum Chandra Bodo and she landed at the SAI STC Guwahati in 2012. She was later coached by Sandhya Gurung.
Career: the big break came when she was selected for the 2018 Commonwealth Games contingent (welterweight). But, thanks to inefficient Indian officialdom, she came to know of the intimation only after the media splashed it. She had received no official call-up. The Games was a setback, as she lost to Sandy Ryan from the UK in the quarterfinals. Sandy went on to win gold. Before that, though, she had had her share of honours: bronze at the Asian Boxing Championships in Vietnam in November 2017, and then gold at the inaugural India Open in February 2018.
She also defeated Morocco’s Bel Ahbib Oumayma 5-0 in her last 16-clash in the 69-kg category at the Women’s World Boxing Championship.