In a way, the year 2022 was the perfect follow-up to 2021, when India excelled at the Tokyo Olympics. From the first-ever Thomas Cup triumph in badminton to Neeraj Chopra’s silver lining at the World Athletics Championships, the country witnessed some of its best sporting moments. The Indians made quite an impact at the 2022 Commonwealth Games, winning medals in events no one could have thought of a decade back. As the year draws to a close, TOI takes a look at some magical moments…
NEERAJ CHOPRA, MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM
Neeraj Chopra had another outstanding year, setting new records on the global stage. He became only the second Indian and first male athlete to win a medal at the World Athletics Championships. To add to his historic Worlds silver in Oregon in July, Neeraj also became the first Indian to win the Diamond League title in September. Maintaining that ideal run in 2022 after winning the Olympic gold in Tokyo the previous year would have been a difficult ask for Neeraj, but the champion rose to the occasion.
(Image credit: Twitter)
Having missed the first half of the 2022 season to regain his fitness after a 10-month sabbatical post his Tokyo campaign, Neeraj roared back to win a silver and set the national record at the Paavo Nurmi Games. The Olympic champion then gave India their best-ever showing at the Worlds with a silver. It was only the second medal for India on the athletics world stage since Anju Bobby George’s long jump bronze in 2003 in Paris. Neeraj then qualified for the Diamond League Final in Zurich after placing second in the Stockholm meet and first in the Lausanne leg. He was terrific in the final, stamping his authority.
MAIDEN THOMAS CUP GOLD
This triumph was one of Indian sports’ biggest ever achievements. The men’s badminton team stunned 14-time Thomas Cup champions Indonesia to win the title in Bangkok in May. It was India’s first-ever appearance in the final of the event’s 73-year history, and the men ensured India became only the sixth country after powerhouses China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan and Denmark to lift the coveted trophy.
The Indian team, led by Lakshya Sen, Kidambi Srikath, HS Prannoy (in singles), Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy (in doubles) defeated Malaysia and Denmark on the way to the final, in which they defied all odds to stun Indonesia. Prannoy was the hero in the quarters and semis with back-toback wins as India beat Malaysia and Denmark by identical 3-2 margins. Against Indonesia, the shuttlers produced a clinical display to win 3-0.
A COMMONWEALTH GAMES LIKE NONE OTHER FOR INDIA
With shooting removed from Birmingham 2022’s schedule and star athlete Neeraj Chopra missing out due to an injury, the CWG was anticipated to be a damp squib. But the Indian athletes returned with 61 medals (22 gold, 16 silver and 23 bronze). A total of 61 medals might seem well short of the 101 won in Delhi 2010 and five less than even the 2018 Games (India’s tally there was 66 medals), but accounting for disciplines that were missing, this was India’s best-ever CWG performance.
Lawn Bowls, a sport which barely existed in the collective consciousness of Indian fans before the CWG, came into the spotlight when the quartet of Lovely Choubey, Pinki, Nayanmoni Saikia and Rupa Rani Tirkey etched their names in history books with a gold in the women’s team event.
Sharath Kamal, Indian table tennis’ ageless wonder, registered his best CWG performance at the age of 40 with three gold and one silver. The real deal came from the track and field events.
Eldhose Paul bagged the country’s first-ever triple jump CWG gold, pipping countryman Abdulla Aboobacker to give India its first-ever 1-2 finish at the Games. Murali Sreeshankar won India’s first silver medal in men’s long jump while Tejaswin Shankar became the first Indian to win a high jump medal, a bronze. But the standout performer was steeplechaser Avinash Mukund Sable.
Sable’s 3000m steeplechase silver was one of India’s biggest achievements in its sporting history. Sable was just 0.05 seconds short of a gold, which was won by Abraham Kibiwot of Kenya. Since the 1998 CWG, Kenyan athletes had won all three medals in the event, a consecutive winning run of gold, silver and bronze across six Games and 24 years. Sable’s medal broke that run.
CHAK DE MOMENT FOR WOMEN’S HOCKEY TEAM
Following up on their brilliant run at the Tokyo Olympics, where they finished fourth, the Indian women’s hockey team showed they are on the right track by winning the prestigious FIH Women’s Nations Cup in Spain in December. Savita Punia & Co. defeated Spain in the final by a solitary goal scored by Gurjit Kaur.
In the eight-team event, India won all three of their group matches to advance to the semifinals where they overcame a determined Ireland on penalties after both teams were locked at 1-1 at the end of regulation time. The team also clinched a bronze at the Birmingham CWG, defeating New Zealand in the penalty shootout.
NIKHAT ZAREEN: A STAR IN THE RING
There was a time when Nikhat Zareen’s request for a fair Olympic trial against boxing legend MC Mary Kom had led to the latter commenting, “Who is Nikhat Zareen?” Three years later, Nikhat is the world champion and the Commonwealth Games champion. The 26-year-old Nizamabad girl dominated the year and went undefeated in every major event.
For a considerable time, Nikhat had plied her trade under Mary Kom’s shadow. But 2022 changed all that. At the Women’s World Boxing Championships held in Istanbul, Turkey in May, Nikhat outboxed Thailand’s Jutamas Jitpong 5-0 in the 52kg final to become only the fifth Indian woman world champion after Mary Kom, Sarita Devi, Jenny RL and Lekha KC. Not only the final, Nikhat blazed through the field with her all-new attacking approach.
MANIKA MAKES HISTORY
After a disappointing Commonwealth Games in July-August, Manika Batra bounced back to make history in November by becoming the first Indian woman to win a medal at the prestigious Asian Cup Table Tennis tournament when she bagged the women’s singles bronze.
It was never going to be easy for Manika, whose ranking had fallen to world No. 44 when she entered the event in Bangkok, with TT powerhouses from China, Japan and South Korea among others competing. In the bronze medal match against world No. 6 Hina Hayata, the Indian had to dig deep to defeat the Japanese 11-6, 6-11, 11-7, 12-10, 4-11, 11-2. It was India’s first medal at the Asian Cup since Chetan Baboor’s bronze in 2000. Along the way, she upset World No. 7 Chen Xingtong from China.
SUPERSTAR MIRABAI’S SILVER LINING
The legend of Mirabai Chanu continued to grow as she added a second World Championships medal to her much-decorated trophy cabinet. Despite a wrist injury, Mirabai won silver in the 49kg category at the 2022 World Weightlifting Championships in Bogota, Colombia. Mirabai pushed Olympic champion Hou Zhihui from China to the third spot, but another Chinese Jiang Huihua managed to go past the Indian to clinch the gold.
Mirabai lifted a combined weight of 200kg (87kg in snatch and 113kg in clean and jerk). She could’ve gone higher but a heavily wrapped left wrist prevented her from doing so. This was Mirabai’s second medal at the Worlds after having earlier won gold in the 2017 World Championships. At the CWG, it was a piece of cake for Mirabai as she bossed the field to give India the first gold of the Birmingham edition. For the diminutive lifter, it was her third CWG medal and second consecutive gold.