Happy Valentine's Day: Love birds from the Indian sporting world

From Saina-Kashyap to Karthik-Pallikal, the Indian sporting community has a number of power couples. Here’s a look at a few.
By Naveen Peter

They might be busy with training and competitions for most of the year, but the Indian sporting community is also a place that’s seen several love stories brew over the years. 

As the world gets busy with another Valentine’s Day, here’s a look at some of the prominent sports couples in India who are going strong in 2021.

Saina Nehwal and Parupalli Kashyap

It’s no surprise that two of India’s big-name shuttlers, Saina Nehwal and Parupalli Kashyap have badminton to thank for their love story.

Having met at a training camp in 1997, the Indian shuttlers began dating and grew as a couple. But they chose to keep it from their friends and family in the early years.

“We dated for a long, long time. It was childish that we hid it from all our friends. We would be very secretive about it. We were shy and scared,” Parupalli Kashyap said about their early days.

“Around 2009-2010 is when I thought I am going to be with this girl for a long time. (I started) thinking about marrying her or living together after the London 2012 Olympics. It got a little more serious in my mind.”

The duo got married in 2018 and off late Parupalli Kashyap is also seen doubling up as Saina Nehwal coach on tours.

Atanu Das and Deepika Kumari

Indian archery’s couple Atanu Das and Deepika Kumari’s story is nothing short of a romantic tale. 

Batchmates at the Tata Academy in Jamshedpur, the two archers first met in 2008. But the initial years barely saw them interact at all. “He didn’t know Hindi then, so he wouldn’t talk to me,” Deepika Kumari told Indian Express

While the coming years saw them develop a relationship, it was filled with ‘misunderstandings, communication gap, two big egos...’

“It was so random, childish fights blew up. Kuchh bhi cheez pe bachpanaa tha. (It was so childish that we could fight on anything). Something as small as ‘why did you take my bottle of water?’” Atanu Das recollected.

But in 2017, the two would connect once again and fall in love. They got engaged the following year and were hoping for a marriage post the Olympics in 2020. 

Though the pandemic forced the Games to be postponed by a year, the archery couple stuck to their plans and got married last year in a private ceremony.

Dinesh Karthik and Dipika Pallikal

This Chennai couple’s case is a unique one. Dipika Pallikal, one of the prominent squash players in the country, didn’t like cricketers much. This was largely due to the popularity that the cricket players enjoy in India.

But having met Dinesh Karthik at a gym, Dipika Pallikal soon cleared her misconceptions and the two developed a healthy relationship from thereon.

A romantic person by nature, Dipika Pallikal once narrated how Dinesh Karthik, a wicketkeeper-batsman with the Indian cricket team, travelled all the way to England to meet her. The two got married in 2015.

Bajrang Punia and Sangeeta Phogat

One of India’s leading wrestler’s Bajrang Punia has found his match from the wrestling mats in the country.

Married to Sangeeta Phogat, the youngest of the famed Phogat sisters, the two met at a wrestling camp in Sonepat a few years ago and soon hit it off as a pair. 

Bajrang Punia and Sangeeta Phogat had initially planned to tie the knot post the Tokyo Olympics last year. But the COVID-19 pandemic postponed the Games by a year and the couple decided to go ahead with the wedding late last year.

Sakshi Malik and Satyawart Kadian

Another lover’s tale to come for the wrestling mats in India is that of Olympic medal winner Sakshi Malik and Satyawart Kadian

The story has it that, even though Satyawart Kadian was a heavyweight wrestler since his early days, the youngster would often shy away from the star of his school -- Sakshi Malik.

“We never spoke at the school, but I’d pass her on the stairs and always felt respectful because she was a champ,” Satyawart Kadian once told the Indian Express.

But with time the two grew close and were close friends. Even when Satyawart Kadian failed to make the cut for the 2016 Rio Olympics, the Indian wrestler chose to keep the disappointment aside and was rooting for his partner to do well.

“He had missed out on qualification by one second and he really wanted to go to the Olympics. I had qualified at the last minute, and it was tough for him to deal with his disappointment and also keep encouraging me,” Sakshi Malik said. 

“But he gave me sensible advice: the day before my rounds, he told me the biggest Indian stars have lost out on medals here. But there is zero pressure on you, so go wrestle freely.”

Back from her Rio 2016 triumph, the two got married in 2017.

Milkha Singh and Nirmal Kaur

India’s ‘Flying Sikh’, Milkha Singh also has his sporting career to thank for the love of his life -- Nirmal Kaur

The Indian track and field legend first met Nirmal Kaur, the former captain of the Indian volleyball team, in Sri Lanka. “It was in 1957 during the Indo-Ceylon sports meet that I met Nirmal for the first time," Milkha told The Tribune

“It was in 1961 that Nirmal joined the Punjab Sports Department as Assistant Director. That is when I got interested in her again. And in 1962, we got married.”

The two have been married for over 50 years and have been blessed with three daughters and a son, India’s golf sensation, Jeev Milkha Singh*.*

Pullela Gopichand and PVV Lakshmi

It’s not surprising that the man behind India’s badminton revolution, Pullela Gopichand, too found his partner for life on the courts in India. 

Gopichand got married to former national champion PVV Lakshmi in 2002 and the two have played a key role in helping develop the cradle of Indian badminton, the Gopichand Badminton Academy in Hyderabad.

While Pulllela Gopichand rose to fame with his title win at the 2001 All England Badminton Championships, PVV Lakshmi is the first Indian woman shuttler to compete in the Olympics. She represented India at the 1992 and the 1996 Games in Barcelona and Atlanta, respectively.

Anju Bobby George and Robert Bobby George

Another couple who rose from the sporting fields of India is that of India’s athletics queen Anju Bobby George and former national champion Robert Bobby George.

Robert Bobby George, a former triple jump ace, is well known for his work with Anju Bobby George, the first Indian to win a world championships medal.

Recollecting the historic day in Paris 2003, Anju once told Olympic Channel that it was her husband and coach, Robert Bobby George, who made it possible for her to compete at the worlds despite injuries pegging her back.

Heena Sidhu and Ronak Pandit

The Indian shooting couple of Heena Sidhu and Ronak Pandit is one of the well-known pairs in Indian sports who got married in 2013. The pistol shooters made a name for themselves with some big wins in their heydays.

Heena Sidhu is a gold medal-winner at the 2010 and the 2018 Commonwealth Games. She is also the first Indian to secure the top spot at the ISSF World Cup Finals with a gold medal show in 10m Air Pistol at the 2013 edition. Ronak Pandit, meanwhile, is a silver medallist from the 2006 Commonwealth Games.

Over the years, Ronak Pandit has switched to a trainer’s role for his wife, with Heena Sidhu, a two-time Olympian, crediting her husband for maintaining her competitive edge.