PV Sindhu, Mary Kom and Neeraj Chopra shone on the big stage while India achieved glory in the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games. (Image credit: Newsnation)
The year 2018 was a big year when it came to Indian sports. The country was given a chance to exhibit their sporting growth in two major marquee events in the calendar, the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia and the Asian Games in Jakarta. In both events, India displayed their growth admirably. The Commonwealth Games saw India land their second-best gold-medal tally while in the Asian Games, they finished with 15 gold medals, their joint-best tally since Delhi 1951 but overall, they ended with 69 medals making this their best-ever show in the Asian Games. While India’s sporting acumen grew on the world stage, there were some disappointments. The team’s dominance in Kabaddi ended while in Hockey, they faced disappointments. On the individual front, stars like PV Sindhu and Mary Kom in Badminton and Boxing respectively showed their greatness when it mattered. Here is a rewind of key events in the world of Indian sport in 2018.
1.) Gaurav Solanki: Gold in Gold Coast Boxing Commonwealth Games
The 21-year-old youngster’s journey from Ballabgarh to Gold Coast for the 2018 Commonwealth Games was filled with difficulties. Having decided to pursue boxing as a passion, Gaurav’s father decided to sell his plot of land so that his son would have no problem in getting funds. In the 52 kg flyweight category, Gaurav entered the final and created history when he defeated Ireland’s Brendan Irvine 4-1 to become the first Indian male boxer to win gold in the event.
2.) Swapna Barman: Overcoming injury for history in Asian Games
She was suffering from a recurring back injury, a grade-3 meniscus tear and a wounded ankle plus a toothache. Heading into the Heptathlon, an event which included five events, the situation confronting Swapna Burman, an athlete from North Bengal was immense. To add to her woes, Burman had twelve toes, meaning six on each foot and thus she could not have custom made shoes to fit her. However, she overcame the pain and became the first Indian athlete to win gold in this event at the Asian Games. Burman’s journey in the Asian Games is the ultimate symbol of guts, grit and glory.
3.) Kabaddi: End of a dominant reign
There are few instances where a nation dominates a sport so thoroughly. The New Zealand All Blacks dominate rugby. In Kabaddi, India’s men had won all seven Asian Games while in the women’s team, they won the 2010 and 2014 games. Nothing much was expected to change in 2018. However, in a shock, Iran defeated the men’s team in the semi-final to shatter 28 years of dominance. The same was repeated in the women’s team where they lost to Iran again, this time in the final. The win for the Iran women’s team had help from India. Shailaja Jain, who never got the chance to captain or coach the side, had proven her credentials on the big stage. An Indian was responsible for India’s end to domination. Poetic justice indeed.
4.) Shooters hit golden bullseye in Commonwealth Games, Asian Games
2018 was indeed a golden year for Indian shooting. The likes of Jitu Rai, Anish Bhanwala, Sanjeev Rajput, Manu Bhaker, Heena Sidhu, Tejaswini Sawant and Shreyasi Singh all combined to give India a total of 16 medals in shooting at this event across all disciplines, making them top the table in this event. In the Asian Games, they finished in third place with nine medals but two new stars emerged in the form of Rahi Sarnobet and Saurabh Chaudhary. Lakshay Sheoran, Shardul Vihan, Apurvi Chandela and Ravi Kumar all enhanced their credentials and boost the sport of shooting in both the Commonwealth and Asian Games.
5.) India Hockey team: From heartbreak to despair
Indian Hockey found themselves on the backfoot with the constant changing of players. Even the coaches were not spared. Roelant Oltmans was sacked in the beginning of the year while Sjoerd Marijne was also shown the door. In the Asian Games, the Indian men’s team lost to Malaysia in the semi-finals 6-7 via sudden death penalty shootout. The women’s team was beaten by a less-fancied Japan 2-1 to settle for silver. In the 2018 Commonwealth Games, they lost the bronze medal play-off to England. India’s best performance came in the Hockey Champions Trophy in Breda, Netherlands where they lost 3-1 to Australia in penalties in the final. The year ended on a bad note after they lost 2-1 to Netherlands in the Hockey World Cup quarterfinal.
6.) Mary Kom: India’s golden girl
When it comes to Mary Kom and India boxing, the legend has accomplished many things. In 2018, she added the Commonwealth Games gold medal to her tally. However, her legendary status was enhanced when she won the gold medal for an unprecedented sixth time when she defeated Kristina O'Hara of Northern Ireland. Her golden run in 2018 has given her more motivation to win gold in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. However, she will have to fight in a slightly heavier category but defeat or victory, Mary Kom has shown that her legendary stature will never diminish.
7.) Bajrang Punia scales the wrestling summit
If 2018 is to be remembered in Indian sports, it will be for the ascension of Bajrang Punia as the new world number one in wrestling. The 24-year-old won gold in both 2018 Commonwealth Games and Asian Games and entered the history books by securing silver and became the first Indian wrestler to win two medals at the World Wrestling Championships. Punia’s golden year showed wrestling’s future in India was in safe hands.
8.) Neeraj Chopra: Boy wonder’s superhuman effort
When Neeraj Chopra had equaled the Indian national javelin record in 2016, the hype was generated. Chopra secured gold medal in 2016 IAAF World U20 Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland and also set a world junior record but all these achievements came after July 11, 2016, which was after the cut-off date for Rio Olympics. However, with the passing of time, Chopra only became better. His effort of 86.47 meters in the 2018 Commonwealth Games made him one of the select athletes to win gold on debut. In the Asian Games, Chopra threw 88.06 m to win gold in the 2018 Asian Games. His exploits in 2018 has given India hope that he can go the distance in Tokyo 2020.
9.) Indian Table Tennis on the path to glory
For Indian Table Tennis, the 2018 Commonwealth Games was the platform where they achieved glory. Manika Batra won the women’s singles title while Achanta Sharath Kamal settled for bronze in the men’s category. However, in the team category, India created history by winning gold in both the men’s and women’s team events. The likes of Achanta Sharath Kamal, Anthony Amalraj, Harmeet Desai, Sanil Shetty and Sathiyan Gnanasekaran gave glory to the men for the first time while for the women, Batra, Mouma Das, Sutirtha Mukherjee, Madhurika Patkar and Pooja Sahasrabudhe secured a historic high. India ended with eight medals.
10.) PV Sindhu breaks the jinx, finally
She had suffered defeat in the knock-out stages in five consecutive major events. With every major loss, questions on her attitude to deal with pressure would be raised. Heading into the year-ending Badminton World Tour Finals tournament, the situation confronted PV Sindhu yet again. However, this time, she broke the jinx in style by beating Nozomi Okuhara in the final 21–19, 21–17 to finally get a gold medal in a major event. Following her win, Sindhu said that she hoped people will not question her on her finals losses.
It was a great year for Indian Chess as well. Viswanathan Anand showcased his class as he won the Tata Steel Blitz Championship in Kolkata. It was a historic year as Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa became the second youngest Grandmaster at the age of 12 years and 10 months. In rowing, Dattu Bhokanal, who created history by qualifying for the Rio Olympics in 2016, won the Gold medal in the 2018 Asian Games quadruple sculls. In the singles event, Dattu fell ill and suffered from respiratory issues but ensured that he finished the race. In men’s badminton, Kidambi Srikanth became the first male player to scale the No.1 ranking in Badminton. In the 2018 Asian Games, Indian archers were denied the chance of a gold medal as they finished second in the men’s and women’s team event. In the 2018 Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires, 15-year-old Mizoram weightlifter Jeremy Lalrinnunga created history by winning gold in the 62kg category. Lalrinnunga had also won silver in the world youth championships. The Indian football team played very few friendlies in the year but all eyes will be on the AFC Asian Cup in January, where the team has qualified after a gap of eight years. Joshna Chinappa also created a record when she won the National Squash Championship for the 16th time, making up her disappointments earlier in the year.