2016 | The Year Of The Underdog - Story No. 10

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2016 | The Year Of The Underdog - Story No. 10

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Faizan Qadiri

01/02/2017

The last story of our Underdog series is dedicated to the biggest of the underdogs - all the women who were not given their deserved due but yet conquered the odds to make India proud in the year gone by. The year saw Indian women convincingly outshine the men and save us the blushes.

In a year that was supposed to bring India back on the sporting map, the country sent their largest-ever contingent to the Rio Olympics. A total of 117 athletes touched town in Rio at the start of the Olympics and names like Jeetu Rai, Shiva Thapa, Yogeshwar Dutt, and Abhinav Bindra were being thrown around as potential medal winners. That's not to say that women were totally ignored as Sania Mirza, Saina Nehwal, Heena Sidhu, and Deepika Kumari were all touted to do well at the biggest event of them all.

However, all the hype died down almost immediately once the event was set rolling - one big name after the other, all the stars were eliminated. There even appeared a realistic chance that India would come back empty-handed - disastrous considering that the delegation had won six medals at the 2012 London Games.

2012 suddenly appeared a false dawn.

Just when things looked bleak, India were handed a shining light of hope in the most unlikely sport. In gymnastics, a young 22-year-old girl from Agartala came into the limelight when she perfectly landed the Produnova vault, becoming only the fifth athlete in history to complete the maneuver. After becoming the first Indian gymnast to qualify for the Olympics in 52 years, Dipa Karmakar became the first female Indian athlete to make it into the final round of the event. After a slightly disappointing first vault, she came up with a great response in the second one, but could only manage 4th place missing out on a medal by 0.150 points. Although the 22-year-old appeared dejected following the final results, she has just paved the way for a new generation of athletes to make a mark for themselves in a sport that is not taken seriously in India.

It's insane! Just simply insane. I would never attempt it

Simone Biles

 © Getty Images

After the adrenaline rush that Dipa Karmakar had provided died down, India's hopes for a good showing were brought crashing down after exits by Sania Mirza and Saina Nehwal. The 21-year-old PV Sindhu made it past the group stage but was drawn against current World No. 1 Tai Tzu Ying. Against all odds, Sindhu emerged victorious and booked a place in the next round against the legendary Wang Yihan. While most experts expected Yihan to sweep the rookie aside, Sindhu sent shock waves down the badminton world by winning the closely fought game 22-20, 21-19. After the Hyderabad girl beat All-England champion Nozomi Okuhara, she confirmed India's first medal at the Games. Even though she lost to then World No. 1 Carolina Marin in the final, a second-place finish ensured that she wrote her name down in the history books as the first India badminton player to win silver at the games.

I had come here with an aim of winning a medal. That has happened. Life will definitely change from now. I can already feel it. But for now, I’m just getting used to the idea of ‘Olympic medallist’ next to my name.

Sindhu after the final

 © Getty Images

However, Sindhu's medal was not the first medal that India won in Rio. That honor belongs to Sakshi Malik. Everyone was expecting a medal from Vines Phogat, who won her first game against Emilia Alina Vuc by a score of 11-0. But as luck would have it, she injured her knee in the quarter-final bout against China’s Sun Yanan and was knocked out. On Aug 18, 2016, with most of the country asleep in their beds, the 23-year-old Malik was handed a golden opportunity through repechage. However, she got off to the worst possible start as she went down 0-5 in the blink of an eye and the few people who would have been up late at night would have felt their hearts sink in their chest. But Malik wasn't to be denied as she came out fighting in the do-or-die bout to win 8-5 ensuring that India did not go without a medal at the Olympics for the first time in 12 years. At the end of the games, when India ended up with two medals it was a bit of a disappointment overall but eventually "a bird in hand is worth two in the bush."

 © Getty Images

2016 proved to be a year where Indian women wrote their names in history. After youngsters Sindhu, Karmakar and Malik's exploits in Rio, it was 45-year-old Deepa Malik's turn to put Indian women on the map at the Paralympics. The 2012 Arjuna awardee created history by winning the silver medal for shot-put by throwing a personal best of 4.61m.

It wasn't just the Olympics though where the women flourished. Sania Mirza completed an incredible 80 weeks as the World No.1 doubles player cementing her place as an Indian tennis great. 18-year-old Aditi Ashok became the first Indian woman to win European Tour Golf title and followed it up with a Qatar Open win. The women's cricket team won the Twenty20 Asia Cup by beating Pakistan in the final. 

 

Women have made giant strides in the world of sport in India in the last decade or so. We have had world No.1s in both Badminton and Tennis. But in the "cricket-crazy country of India", the women were not received back with the same enthusiasm as the men when they returned from their Asia Cup victory.Why are the firecrackers not out in numbers when the women bring glory to the country. In the last eight medals that India have won at the Games, four have been won by men and the same number

One feels compelled to act - Why are the firecrackers not out in numbers when the women bring glory to the country. In the last eight medals that India have won at the Games, four have been won by men and the same number by women. The women have made the country proud. Isn't it time for the people of the country to do the same?

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