The year that was
A rising star
In her first Olympics, PV Sindhu beat Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara to become the first Indian in an Olympics badminton final. On the biggest day of her career, the 21–year old faced World No. 2 Carolina Marin and although the Spanish champion won gold, yet, it did not feel like Sindhu had lost, for in her hands was the biggest prize in the history of Indian badminton – an Olympic silver, to go past Saina’s bronze four years ago in London. Later in the year, Sindhu won her first China Open Super Series and then finished second at the Hong Kong Super Series.
India’s unbeaten streak
In its last match of the year India boldly ventured into an area where Indian cricket had gone in the past – to an 18th consecutive match without defeat. Viral Kohli drew level with India’s longest unbeaten run of 17 Tests, chalked up between September 1985 and March 1987 and in the final Test in Chennai they won by an innings. R Ashwin became the fastest Indian to 200 Test wickets, Kohli the owner of the highest score by an Indian captain and maker of the most runs in a series against England and rookie Karun Nair, in his third innings, became the second Indian batsman after Virender Sehwag to make 300 in a Test and the youngest Indian.
Challenging the accepted
On August 18, 23–year old Sakshi Malik became the first woman wrestler from India to bag an Olympic medal and only the fourth female athlete from the country to stand atop a podium at the pinnacle of world sport at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.
Hailing from Haryana, Sakshi, who is a silver medallist at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games and bronze winner at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games, earned a dramatic come–from–behind win over Kyrgysztan’s Aisuluu Tynybekova to script history. It was India’s 25th medal at the Olympic Games since independence in 1947. In an interview before the Rio Games, Sakshi had casually mentioned how without the support of her family, she would probably be married with children by now and with no prospect of a career in sports.
Dipa Karmakar became the first Indian first gymnast at the Summer Games in 52 years – the 22–year old finished fourth in the vault final narrowly missing a bronze medal by 0.150 points. Dipa was at third place after her second attempt at the Produnova but slipped to fourth after the final contestant, American Simone Biles. Soon after she returned to India, Dipa was awarded the Khel Ratna and her coach Biseshwar Nandi the Dronacharya Award.
On September 12, Deepa created history when she bagged silver in the shot put F–53 event in Rio, with her best throw of 4.61m sealing her prize. The 45–year old became the first Indian woman to win a medal at the Paralympics this year. She is also a recipient of the Arjuna Award in 2012 for her achievements as a swimmer and has to her credit 54 gold medals at the national level and 13 at the international level across sports, including swimming and in the javelin throw and shot put. Apart from this, she even represented the Rajasthan women’s cricket team.
Despite breaking up with Martina Hingis, with whom she won 41 titles – the third longest in women’s doubles history, Sania Mirza remained No. 1 in the WTA doubles rankings for 84 consecutive. Paired with Barbora Strycova after she ended her formidable alliance with Hingis before the US Open, Sania won three tournaments and was a finalist in another. In the trouble–hit Indian Premier Tennis League, Sania remains a big draw and the face of India’s presence in the league.
Teen golf sensation
That Olympics experienced catapulted Aditi Ashok forward, for in November she became the first Indian to claim successive titles on the Ladies European Tour, with wins in the Indian Open and Qatar Open. These wins jumped her 66 places in the world rankings in the span of a week. Aditi has won junior titles, competed in the Youth Olympics and in 2015 became, at 17, the youngest player and first Indian to earn qualifying for the Ladies European Tour where she shot 23–under par. Her wonderful year was capped with the LET ‘Rookie of the Year’ award.
A breakthrough year for Hockey
For Indian hockey, 2016 was a year in which India made significant and visible advancements. Narinder Batra was unanimously elected to the FIH president’s post in November this year, thus becoming the first Indian and Asian to head the world body since its inception. 2016 was an Olympic year and much was expected from India and the eight time Olympic champions did achieve success on the pitch barring a few failures — major among them being a loss to Pakistan in the final of the SAF Games and a quarterfinal exit in the Rio Games.
India avenged the SAF Games loss to Pakistan in the Asian Champions Trophy. They beat them 3–2 in the final to lift the title for the second time. Later, the Indian women’s team would also go on to lift the title.