Thomas Cup high to Neeraj Chopra's uninterrupted returns, a year to remember for Indian sports

2022 was a year where sportspersons from the country left an indelible mark in World Championships, Commonwealth Games and other notable events

Published: 31st December 2022 12:49 AM  |   Last Updated: 02nd January 2023 10:42 AM   |  A+A-

Neeraj Chopra

Neeraj Chopra, of India, celebrates after winning the gold medal in the men's javelin throw final at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Saturday, Aug. 7, 2021, in Tokyo. (Photo | AP)

Express News Service

CHENNAI: There's nothing more moving than the sight of spectators on the stands, cheering, yelling and applauding the efforts of their heroes. For sportspersons, it's better than playing in silence. The adrenaline high is different and so is the threshold of human endurance. Roaring fans have the ability to plod the athletes for that one last push and challenge players' limits.

If 2021 and the year before soured the spirit with closed-door events, 2022 brought that cheer back on the faces of millions of fans across the planet. The stadiums were packed, more so in India which slowly opened its gates for thousands of fans.

Packed and roaring stadiums perhaps would be the most cherished picture of the year. Covid left its scars, but when India opened its gates for its fans, they lapped it up. Though they share the plot, the drama and myriad emotions, alas, for fans there are no trophies. They come, cheer, yell and leave the field incognito.  

For players, however, there are accolades, rankings and trophies. There were triumphs on the field, inside stadiums and halls. Perhaps, one image that will keep coming back even after 2022 will be the Indian men's badminton team's celebration after winning the Thomas Cup for the first time.

India's team members pose with the national flag after winning the Thomas Cup title in Bangkok, Thailand. (Photo | AP)

The weight of 73-year-old history eased out and turned into something historic. Kidambi Srikanth, who had had a flawless run at the tournament, fittingly won India the last match against Indonesia's Jonatan Christie. The doubles pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty was the revelation of 2022. The duo chipped in and kept clawing back into the game against the indomitable pair of Mohammad Ahsan and Kevin Sanjaya until the game was written against their names. Lakshya Sen too had his share in the final. Overall, it was a great year for the men's team.

Giving sublime touch to the narrative of 2022 sports in India was Olympic champion Neeraj Chopra. The javelin thrower had an impeccable year once again. Though he had to delay his training because of social and family commitments after gold in Tokyo last year, once he was in shape, he never looked back. Like he had told TNIE, "it was difficult to get back into shape especially after gaining some 12-13 kg". A hallmark of a champion is not what is possible but doing what is not possible. Neeraj not only got back into shape, but by the time competitions arrived he started hurling that javelin beyond his previous bests.

Neeraj, who turned 25 on December 25, opened his season with a personal best throw of 89.30m in June. It was his first competition in 10 months after the Olympic gold. He was competing against himself. At the Diamond League in Stockholm, that elusive and almost mythical 90-metre mark was within his reach. He threw 89.94m, his best of the season that remained until the end.

For Neeraj, the World Championships in Eugene was the target. Though he seemed to be in fine touch, he threw 88.13m and managed to win silver — first Indian athlete to win a medal at Worlds since Anju Bobby George in 2003. If not for missing out on the Commonwealth Games, it was an almost perfect season with the Diamond League Trophy he won at Zurich, first Indian athlete to do so. With the 2024 Paris Olympics approaching, Neeraj is concentrating on 2023 to get a proper build-up. He is now ranked World No 2 in World Athletics charts behind Anderson Peters.

One person, who would be looking up to next year eagerly would be Nikhat Zareen. The feisty pugilist has finally emerged from the shadow of multiple World Championships medallist MC Mary Kom. The pressure of performing was immense on the Nizamabad girl. For mortals, it would have been enough to make the knees wobble, but not for Nikhat. With the Olympics just about one and a half years away, she would be hoping for one more year of big wins before the ultimate challenge.

ALSO READ | Boxing champion Nikhat Zareen reigns again

The women's hockey team had some incredible moments at the recently held Nations Cup. They beat Spain to lift the Cup and qualify for the FIH Pro League. Elsewhere, wrestlers Vinesh Phogat, Bajrang Punia had had a good run as well. The diminutive weightlifter Mirabai Chanu followed her Olympic silver last year with another silver at the World Championships — after 2017 gold. Other protagonists in athletics have been steeplechase athlete Avinash Sable and Murali Sreeshankar who won silver at the Commonwealth Games; triple jumpers Eldhose Paul and Abdulla Aboobacker finishing 1-2, a first for India at CWG.

READ HERE | Kerala youth Eldhose Paul leaps over life’s problems to historic gold at Commonwealth Games

The relatively unknown lawn bowls team winning its first medals too would be etched in memory. Chess prodigy R Praggnanandhaa too had some fun moments at the Chess Olympiad and so did his teammate D Gukesh.

And there is A Sharath Kamal, the Khel Ratna this year. The affable 40-year-old still believes that age is just a number and goes about his job like any teenager. He created history at the Commonwealth Games winning three gold including singles in table tennis. There were other performances too. As of now, it will be prudent to cherish those moments of 2022.


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