Yearender 2021: Neeraj Chopra’s golden throw to Paralympics joy - India’s historic moments

Recapping India’s historic Olympic and Paralympic sporting moments in the year gone by.

By Rahul Venkat
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Year 2021 saw a slew of historic firsts for Indian sports.

The one-year delay of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics due to the COVID-19 pandemic only increased the excitement around these two mega events, which were held this year.

Tokyo 2020, in fact, turned out to be the most tweeted about sports event in India this year.

India enjoyed quite a few glorious sporting moments on the global stage. Here’s looking back at the highs in Indian sport in this yearender 2021:

Neeraj Chopra’s golden throw

The 23-year-old Neeraj Chopra is undoubtedly the biggest Indian sports star to emerge this year after he won gold in the men’s javelin throw at the Tokyo Olympics. 

It was also India’s first Olympic medal in athletics and their first Olympic gold since Abhinav Bindra’s shooting triumph at Beijing 2008.

After topping his qualification group, Neeraj Chopra stepped up first in the final and hurled the javelin to 87.03m. He then improved it to 87.58m - a historic number that will forever be etched in Indian fans’ minds.

Chopra ended up as the only thrower to breach 87m and would have won gold even with his second-best throw. A truly dominant performance indeed.

PV Sindhu’s double

When she won silver at Rio 2016, PV Sindhu was a 20-year-old who entered the grand stage without much expectation. At Tokyo, the Indian badminton star was a favourite to medal and did not disappoint.

After having a mixed run pre-Olympics, PV Sindhu showed her big tournament nous, sailing past an easy group stage. She then beat Mia Blichfeldt and Akane Yamaguchi - both accomplished opponents - in straight games in the knockout rounds.

Her run was halted by world No. 1 Tai Tzu Ying in the semis but PV Sindhu dusted herself off and regrouped to convincingly beat He Bing Jiao in straight games to win the Olympic bronze.

It made her the first Indian woman to win two individual Olympic medals and only the second Indian athlete to do so after wrestler Sushil Kumar.

Indian hockey ends a 41-year-old drought

For hockey fans born before 1980, the Indian hockey team’s golden era, when they won eight Olympic gold medals including six consecutive ones, only existed in history books, nostalgic articles and video archives.

Moscow 1980 was the last time that the men’s hockey team won an Olympic hockey medal. Until 2021.

The men’s Indian hockey team began with a win over New Zealand at Tokyo 2020 before a 7-1 loss to Australia seemed to have dented their spirits. However, they bounced back with wins over Spain, Argentina and Japan to make the last eight.

India beat Great Britain in the quarter-finals before world champions and eventual gold-medallists Belgium halted them in the semis. Not all was lost though.

India took on Germany and came back from 1-0 and 3-1 down to beat them 5-4 and clinch the bronze medal, their first Olympic medal in 41 years.

Most medals in a single Olympics

While there were many interesting sub-plots at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, the event as a whole was also historic for India as they won seven medals - the most the country has won in a single edition, eclipsing the six at London 2012.

As many as four Olympics debutants - Ravi Kumar Dahiya, Bajrang Punia, Lovlina Borgohain and Neeraj Chopra - won medals while Mirabai Chanu, PV Sindhu and the Indian hockey team completed the list.

Paralympics joy

A few weeks after India ended a memorable Tokyo Olympics campaign, the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic contingent provided even more joy for Indian fans.

India won 19 medals at the Tokyo Paralympics - the most in a single edition - and this number was also more than all medals won in previous editions combined.

Para shooter Avani Lekhara became the first Indian woman to win Paralympics gold and also the first Indian woman to win two Paralympics medals when she followed it up with bronze.

Javelin thrower Sumit Antil broke the world record in his category thrice en route to his gold while Devendra Jhajaria and Mariyappan Thangavelu added to their Paralympics medal tallies.

Mirabai Chanu lifts a world record

Mirabai Chanu became only the second Indian weightlifter - after Karnam Malleswari - to win an Olympic medal, a silver, in the women’s 49kg.

Before the Olympics, though, Mirabai Chanu created another slice of history at the Asian Championships, setting a new world record in the women’s 49kg clean-and-jerk.

Mirabai Chanu lifted 119kg in the clean-and-jerk, winning gold in that section. She also completed a lift of 86kg in the snatch, giving her a total of 205kg - which won her the overall bronze medal.

Kidambi Srikanth makes history at BWF Worlds

In the history of the BWF World Championships, only two men had ever won a medal and both were bronze. Former world No. 1 Kidambi Srikanth made history when he became the first Indian man to enter the men’s singles final and eventually win silver.

Kidambi Srikanth, playing close to his best, overcame Pablo Abian, Li Shi Feng, Lu Guang Zu, Mark Caljouw and compatriot Lakshya Sen - dropping just two games - en route the final.

He was only defeated by the in-form Singaporean Loh Kean Yew in the final.

The 20-year-old Lakshya Sen also won a medal on his BWF World Championships debut, taking home bronze after making the semis. Indian men had doubled their tally at the BWF World Championships in a single edition.

Honourable mentions

While these sportspersons may not have won medals, they came up with some truly memorable performances and broke barriers.

  • Bhavani Devi became the first Indian fencer to qualify and win a bout at the Olympics.
  • The women’s Indian hockey team finished fourth at Tokyo 2020, its best finish at the Games, and even beat three times Olympic champions Australia in the quarter-finals.
  • Manika Batra became the first Indian woman to make the Round of 32 in the table tennis singles event at an Olympics, upsetting a higher-ranked Margaryta Pesotska along the way.
  • Sajan Prakash became the first Indian swimmer to qualify for the Olympics by making the ‘A’ cut, which means he met the Olympic qualifying standard time. Srihari Nataraj soon became the second Indian to do so.
  • Muhammad Anas, Arokia Rajiv, Noah Nirmal Tom and Amoj Jacob may not have advanced to the men’s 4x400m relay final at Tokyo 2020 but the quartet clocked 3:00.25 in qualification, which is the Asian record time in that event.

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