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PV Sindhu to Vinesh Phogat, the Indian women who stole the limelight in 2019

These women athletes broke stereotypes in 2019, emerging as dominant forces in their respective sports and becoming heroes for the nation.

Written by Natasha Singh | Updated: December 31, 2019 12:49:39 pm
Vinesh Phogat, Mary Kom and PV Sindhu had exceptional years in 2019.

The world of sports has largely been dominated by men in India, which also meant that the nation’s sporting heroes were dominated by a gender. But this year, women athletes broke stereotypes to outshine their male counterparts in their respective sports and made a mark in a mostly misogynist society. This sportswomen have battled to the top and are now household names in the nation.

Here are the top women athletes of India who came up with consistent performances throughout the year:

PV SINDHU

PV Sindhu has perhaps become the most popular non-cricketing athlete in India. Since Rio Olympics 2016, she has consistently been performing well, but this year, the Hyderabadi shuttler became the first Indian to win a gold at BWF World Badminton Championships. The Indian beat rival Nozomi Okuhara 21-7, 21-7 in Basel on August 25, in a clash that lasted just 38 minutes.

Sindhu is also the joint-most successful women’s singles shuttler at the Worlds, having won five medals in just six appearances. She is now ranked 13th in the world among the highest-paid woman athletes of the year, according to Forbes. And is among India’s biggest Olympic gold-medal hopes at Tokyo 2020.

With Tokyo in her sights, Sindhu’s performances struggled during the business-end of major tournaments, and she failed to defend her title at the year-end World Tour Finals. However, she reached the finals of Indonesia Open and made semi-final appearances at the Singapore Open and India Open.

MARY KOM

The boxer has not only emerged as an inspiration for the women of the country in a sport more popular among men, but is also seen as the face of Indian boxing, with Vijender Singh from Haryana perhaps being the closest in terms of popularity. Her story of struggle and success has already inspired a Bollywood movie, she’s a Rajya Sabha MP, and this year there were more achievements.

‘Magnificient Mary’ won her 8th World Championship medal (bronze) in the 51 kg category in Ulan Ude, becoming the most successful boxer, both men and women, in the history of the competition. She and Cuban men’s legend Felix Savon were tied on seven medals after she won the gold in the 48 kg category in New Delhi last year.

The mother of three, who also won gold medals at the India Open in Guwahati and President’s Cup in Indonesia this year, has her eyes set on Tokyo, which is probably her last appearance at the Olympics. In an interview to The Indian Express this year, she admitted that retirement was on the horizon with much more time “at the academy and the church.”

VINESH PHOGAT

The Phogat family has re-written the script of wrestling in India and Vinesh is a major part of it. A part of India’s best-known family of women wrestlers, the 25-year old Haryana star bagged bronze at the World Wrestling Championships, assuring herself of an Olympic berth.

The Asiad and Commonwealth Games gold-medallist has worked hard to rise to her career-best World Ranking of No. 2 in the 53kg category, a recent shift from 50kg. Vinesh is the fifth Indian woman wrestler to win a World Championship medal after Alka Tomar (2006), Geeta Phogat (2012), Babita Phogat (2012) and Pooja Dhanda (2018).

The Arjuna Awardee won three consecutive gold medals this year in Asian Wrestling Championships, in Yasar Dogu International and in Poland Open Wrestling Tournament respectively.

HIMA DAS

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In July 2019, sprinter Hima Das participated in a series of competitions as part of her preparations for the Olympics, winning five gold medals in less than 20 days across Poland and the Czech Republic. Four of her victories came in the 200m sprint while her fifth top-podium finish was in the 400m event. While the celebrated victories came in lower level meets and raised questions about injury management, Das remains one of India’s brightest hopes in athletics.

The 19-year-old from the village of Dhing in Assam made it to the ‘Forbes India 30 Under 30’ list and has used her influence beyond sports by becoming the country’s first youth ambassador to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) India.

DUTEE CHAND

Dutee Chand might be a runner by profession but she’s clearly not used to running away from adversity. The 23-year old decided to come out of the closet despite it sparking a dispute with her family, and became India’s first openly gay athlete.

In an exclusive interview to The Indian Express in May, Chand said, “I have found someone who is my soulmate. I believe everyone should have the freedom to be with whoever they decide they want to be with. I have always supported the rights of those who want to be in a same-sex relationship. It is an individual person’s choice. Currently, my focus is on the World Championships and the Olympic Games but in the future I would like to settle down with her.”

The national record-holder became the first Indian woman track and field athlete to win a gold medal in women’s 100-metre sprint at the Summer University Games in Naples, Italy this July. She’s only the second Indian sprinter to win a gold in a global event.

In August, the sprinter won another gold medal at the 100m event of the 5th Indian Grand Prix. She then broke her own national record, clocking 11.22 seconds in the women’s 100m semi-finals at the National Open Athletics Championships in Ranchi in October.

READ:

King of this decade: The era that witnessed the meteoric rise of Virat Kohli

Best performances by Indian sportspersons in 2019

The End of the Streak to CM Punk’s ‘Pipebomb’: WWE’s groundbreaking moments of this decade

Controversies that rocked cricket in 2019

Ben Stokes’ Headingley heist to Rohit Sharma’s Kolkata Mayhem: 12 innings of the decade

From day-night Tests to doing away with runners, how cricket changed this decade

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