In a cricket-crazy nation, Indians are rather oblivious to a niche sport called lawn bowls. But four women, Lovely Choubey, Rupa Rani Tirkey, Pinki and Nayanmoni Saikia, are grabbing headlines for their historic deed in Birmingham on Tuesday.
The quartet of Lovely, Rupa, Pinki and Nayanmoni combined to win the women’s fours gold medal at the Commonwealth Games 2022 in Birmingham to bring some much-needed attention to lawn bowls in India.
This is India’s first-ever medal in lawn bowls, a sport which has been a fixture in the CWG itinerary since 1930, barring the 1966 edition in Jamaica.
Compared to cricket, hockey, boxing or tennis, lawn bowls is trying to establish itself in India’s sporting map. After national-level competitions started only in 2007, Indians started competing when New Delhi hosted the Commonwealth Games in 2010.
With lawn bowls still lacking proper infrastructure and support in India, what Lovely Choubey, Rupa Rani Tirkey, Pinki and Nayanmoni Saikia achieved in Birmingham is nothing short of extraordinary, a feat worthy of them being christened India’s very own ‘Queens of Bowlingwood’.
“This is as big as the Olympics for us since lawn bowls are not part of the Summer Games,” as Lovely Choubey would put it.
Here we profile the four Indian women who bowled themselves to glory in CWG 2022.
At 42, Lovely Choubey is the senior-most member of the history-making team.
Born on August 3, 1980, in Ranchi, Jharkhand, Lovely Choubey is from a middle-class family. Her father is a retired Coal India employee while her mother is a housewife.
Growing up, Lovely Choubey was an athlete and competed in sprint and long jump.
However, injuries cut her track and field career short but Lovely, who is a constable with the Jharkhand police, was determined to make a career in sports.
A chance encounter with former Bihar first-class cricket umpire Madhukant Pathak, who was also a lawn bowls coach, steered Lovely Choubey to try lawn bowls and it clicked.
She participated in her first lawn bowl nationals in 2008 and clinched a gold medal, which earned her Rs 70,000 as prize money. It was at that moment that Lovely thought she could pursue lawn bowls as a career.
Lovely Choubey went on to win international acclaim for India in 2013, clinching the mixed pair gold at Asia Pacific Merdeka Cup. In 2014, she represented India at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games and won silver medals at the Asian Lawn Bowls Championships in China.
At Gold Coast 2018, Lovely Choubey teamed up with Rupa Rani Tirkey to make the quarter-finals in women’s pairs and also made the final eight in women’s fours, along with Tirkey, Farzana Khan and Nayanmoni Saikia.
At Birmingham 2022, Lovely Choubey was an integral member of the women’s fours team which struck gold.
Rupa Rani Tirkey
Like Lovely Choubey, Rupa Rani Tirkey also hails from Ranchi and was born on September 27, 1987.
A former kabaddi player, Rupa Rani Tirkey decided to give lawn bowls a try after a relative asked her to and stuck to the sport after realising that the state government stipend for lawn bowls players was more lucrative than kabaddi.
Rupa represented India in every Commonwealth Games since 2010, coming agonisingly close to a medal during her maiden campaign at New Delhi, where she, along with Pinki and Tania Choudhury, lost the women’s triples bronze medal playoff by a single point to England.
“We performed back then but didn’t win a medal. Since that day we decided to give this sport recognition,” Rupa Rani Tirkey told Olympics.com.
Rupa has also won a gold and a bronze medal in women’s triples and fours, respectively, at Asia Pacific Bowls Championship 2009 in Kuala Lumpur. More recently, she won a bronze medal in women’s triples at the Asia Pacific Bowls Championship 2019 held in Gold Coast.
Employed as District Sports Officer with the Jharkhand government since 2020, Rupa Rani Tirkey completed her school education at St Anne's Girls High School and holds a graduation degree from Gossner College in Ranchi.
Rupa got married this January. She is inspired by Karen Murphy of Australia, who has four medals at the CWG. “I want to be like her,” Rupa said.
Hailing from Delhi, Pinki was born on August 14, 1980. After completing her schooling from Salwan Girls Public School in New Delhi, Pinki pursued her graduation from the Kamala Nehru College. She also bagged a sports degree from Delhi University and sports diploma from SAI Patiala.
During her college days, Pinki was a cricket player and even played in the Rani Jhansi Trophy in the late nineties. She admired Sachin Tendulkar.
Her introduction to lawn bowls, however, happened while working as a PE teacher at the Delhi Public School RK Puram in 2007 after the school ground was chosen as a practice venue for the Delhi nationals.
As fate would have it, Pinki made the national team to make up the quota of minimum players and ended up winning the silver medal without having played the sport before. And thus, a school team cricket coach started her journey to becoming a lawn bowls champion. She also teaches the sport at her school now.
Pinki won the bronze medal at the Asia Pacific Lawn Bowl Championship held in Malaysia in 2009 and the next year, competed at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, narrowly missing out on a medal finish in women’s triples.
“I couldn’t sleep for two years. I used to wake up in the middle of the night, thinking about that one point which lost us the bronze medal match. We proved ourselves with the medal in Birmingham,” Pinki said to Olympics.com.
Pinki has also won several medals at the lawn bowl Asian championships over the years besides representing India at the 2014 and 2018 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and Gold Coast, respectively.
Nayanmoni Saikia was born on September 21, 1988, in Assam’s Golaghat district and is the youngest among the Indian lawn bowls ‘Fab Four’. Her father was a farmer.
A student of the Golaghat Commerce College, Nayanmoni Saikia is currently employed as an officer at the Assam Forest Department since 2011. She got married to a local businessman in 2013 and has a daughter.
“I left my whole family behind for this. I don’t get to see my daughter enough as I am travelling a lot. And all this because I want to perform well,” Nayanmoni Saikia told Olympics.com.
Nayanmoni Saikia too began her career in another sport - weightlifting. Adding to the glitter that Indian weightlifters have garnered in Birmingham, the Assam girl has contributed her own gold medal to the cause by helping the team win the women’s fours event.
A leg injury forced Nayanmoni Saikia to give up on weightlifting but she chanced upon lawn bowls in 2008.
She has previously won gold medals in the U-25 girls singles at the Asian Championships 2012 in Malaysia, women’s triples in the Asian championship 2017 in New Delhi, women’s singles and triples at the 2011 National Games in Ranchi and women’s singles and fours at the 2015 National Games in Kerala.
Birmingham 2022 was her third Commonwealth Games.