From starting with an all-male contingent at the 1976 Summer Olympic Games to sending the largest female contingent to the games for the first time in the history of the country at the Olympics, this year, India has come a long way in the field of sports, especially in terms of gender diversity. Of the 127 athletes representing our country at Tokyo 2020 Olympics, 56 are women. Just four days into the event, and we’re happy to share that the decision is already paying off.
On July 24, 2021, the opening day of the Tokyo Olympics 2020, Mirabai Chanu opened India’s medal tally by bagging a silver medal in women’s 49kg weightlifting. The 26-year-old lifted a total of 202 kgs (87 + 115) in her category to emerge second behind China’s Hou Zhihui. Mirabai became the 15th individual medallist in the history of the country.
1. Mirabai Chanu - Weighlifting
Hailing from Imphal, Manipur, Mirabai has given remarkable performances at several sporting events across the globe, including Commonwealth Games of 2014 and 2018, Asian Weightlifting Championship in 2019 and 2020, and World Championship in 2017 and 2019. Tokyo 2020 Olympics is her second time at the world’s foremost athletic meet. Mirabai was also a part of the Indian contingent that went to the Rio Olympics in 2016. Unfortunately, she was unable to finish in her category that year and received a ‘Did Not Finish’.
Mirabai’s win at the Tokyo 2020 has redeemed her and earned many positive reactions on social media, especially Twitter. A host of politicians and celebrities from various verticals took to Twitter to appreciate, congratulate and celebrate this epic first win by India at this quadrennial game. The list included the President of India Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, VVS Laxman, Jhulan Goswami, Anil Kumble, Anushka Sharma, Kareena Kapoor Khan and Farhan Akhtar.
Mirabai had been working as a ticket inspector in the railways. Overjoyed by her achievement, Manipur chief minister N. Biren assured the weightlifter an officer level job in Indian railways and a cash prize of INR 1 crore. The CM's kind gesture was followed by railway minister Ashwini Vaishnaw's announcement that the athlete will be given INR 2 crore and a promotion at work in the northeast frontier railway.
Mirabai Chanu is the second Indian weightlifter after Karnam Malleswari, who bagged a bronze at the Sydney Games in 2000, to win a medal at the Olympics. Indian women athletes have always done us proud—Mary Kom, Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu and Sakshi Malik brought home medals from Rio de Janeiro (2016) and London (2012) Olympics.
Here are four women athletes that sports enthusiasts are pinning hopes on for winning a medal for the country.
2. Mary Kom - Boxing
Five-time world amateur boxing champion and one of the two flagbearers of the Indian contingent Mangte Chungneijang Mary Kom had won a bronze medal at the London Olympics in 2012, and the people of the country are expecting the 38-year-old sports icon to do the same this time. One of the most celebrated Indian boxers, she opened her Tokyo 2020 Olympics campaign with a 32 round bout in the 51 kg category. Her next match, a round of 16, will be against Ingrit Valencia of Colombia on July 29, 2021.
The Manipuri boxer was inspired to take up wrestling by her father, who practised the sport in his youth, and Indian box Dingko Singh. It was her determination and passion for the sport that motivated her to move to Imphal, to persuade a local coach to train her and to work her way up to becoming a world-renowned champion. Mary Kom, who is also a mother of three, was the first Indian woman to win a gold medal at the Asian Games in 2014 and the Commonwealth Games in 2018.
3. PV Sindhu - Badminton
Indian badminton champion Pusarla Venkata Sindhu aka PV Sindhu won a silver medal at the Rio Olympics in 2016, and this time she is aiming for gold. In addition to that, she has won five world championship medals since 2009, which is when she started her international sports career. At the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, she has made a winning start by defeating Israel’s Ksenia Polikarpova in the women’s singles group. On July 28, 2021, she defeated Hong Kong’s Cheung Ngan Yi, and booked her place in the knockout stages.
Born and brought up in Hyderabad, the 26-year-old Indian shuttler first came into the limelight when she made it to the top 20 of the BWF (Badminton World Federation) World Ranking in September 2012 at the age of 17. The biggest highlight of her career was winning the bronze medal at the Olympics 2016. She became the youngest and the first female from India to win a bronze in the history of the event. So far, she has been awarded the Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan, the fourth and the third-highest civilian award in the country, respectively.
4. Vinesh Phogat - Freestyle Wrestling
After a painful defeat and injury at the Rio 2016 Olympics, wrestler Vinesh Phogat is back to the Olympics with her eyes on the gold in the 53 kg category. The 26-year-old Indian wrestler is the highest-ranked in her weight category and has headed into the Tokyo 2020 Olympics as the top seed.
Owing to multiple injuries and weight issues, Phogat had to undergo a special training program in Budapest and even shift from the 50 kg to 53 kg category. It took her some time to get her motivation and spirit back. Today, she is our country’s biggest hope in her sport at Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
5. Lovlina Borgohain - Boxing
Indians, especially the people of Assam, are keeping their fingers crossed for pugilist Lovlina Borgohain. The Indian boxer, who is competing in the 69 kg category, is just two matches away from winning a medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Borgohain was the first Indian boxer to confirm her qualification at this international sports event.
The 24-year-old pugilist comes from the Baromukhiya village in Assam's Golaghat district. Her sports career began at the age of 13 when she started to learn Muay Thai with her two sisters. Her interest in boxing developed after she read about the legendary Muhammad Ali.
6. Deepika Kumari - Archery
Arjuna Award winner Deepika Kumari is the world's no 1 Women's Recurve Archer, and one of India's Olympic gold hope at Tokyo Olympics. The 27-year-old archer is in her peak form and her recent win against USA's Jennifer Mucino-Fernandez has won her a place in the pre-quarterfinals of women's individual archery.
The daughter of an autorickshaw driver from Jharkhand, Deepika heard about archery from a cousin at the age of 11. Intrigued and inspired, she began her career in archery at the age of 13, even though her parents tried their best to convince her that it was an unreliable career option. She left home to join the junior national archery team at this young age and three years later, she represented India at the Commonwealth Games in 2010 and won two gold medals for the country. And ever since, she has bagged several medals and titles. She married fellow Indian archer Atanu Das in June 2020. Atanu is also at the Tokyo 2020 representing India.
Apart from India, Great Britain, The United States, China, Australia and Canada are five other major countries that have sent contingents with a higher female representation this year. It is in line with the Tokyo 2020 Olympics’ theme of gender balance.