India’s golden girls
The Patriot

India’s golden girls

From Manika Batra to Saina Nehwal, women led the way at CWG.

By S Chander

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Traditionally, Indian sports have been male-dominated. But the emergence of some top women players in the last few years has signalled a major shift in this sphere. Gold Coast 2018 was no different.

The recently concluded Commonwealth Games (CWG) held from April 4 to 15 in Australia have once again proved that woman power is lighting up the stadiums. Fifty per cent of all golds won by India were brought in by our women athletes. And mind it, all these medals have come from quite diverse sports, indicating emergence of greater female domination across categories.

Out of the total number of 66 medals won Down Under, it was women’s dominance which helped India clinch third spot, including 26 gold, 20 silver and 20 bronze medals. Notably, 31 (28 individual and three mixed team events) of the total 66 medals were our female athletes’ contribution, either individually or in a combined effort.

In fact, if there was one single superstar emerging out of the CWG this time around, it was none other than Table Tennis’ new queen Manika Batra. She not only sent shock waves around the table tennis world by beating world No. 4 Tianwei Feng twice during the campaign but also contributed the most (two gold, one silver and a bronze) medals by an Indian athlete at Gold Coast.

This has been India’s second-best performance at the Games, following their 101-medal haul at the 2010 Delhi edition. India rather ended up with two more medals than the last edition in the 2014 Glasgow Games.

There are naysayers who have arguments like “men’s events are much tougher than women’s”.

Going by their logic, offering equal number of medals – out of a total of 275, 133 each for men and women and the remaining nine for mixed team events – was a mistake, because compared to boxer Mary Kom, who was assured of a medal after winning just one bout by virtue of having just five contestants in the draw, her male colleagues had to win at least three bouts to earn a medal.

Despite all these arguments, India’s golden girls such as Saina Nehwal, Manu Bhaker, Manika Batra, Vinesh Phogat, MC Mary Kom, Tejaswini Sawant, Shreyasi Singh, Heena Sidhu, Punam Yadav, Sanjita Chanu and Mirabai Chanu took the sporting world by storm.

In the end, India bagged the maximum number of 16 medals in shooting, followed by wrestling (12), weightlifting (9), boxing (9), table tennis (8), badminton (6), athletics (3), squash (2) and para-power-lifting (1).

Lady luck

Had it not been for PV Sindhu’s silver or Sakshi Malik’s bronze in Rio, India would have fired blanks during the 2016 Olympic Games. This time around, men have caught up in a big way. But then the role of women athletes can’t be discounted.

In fact, TT ace Manika would be a top contender for the Indian athlete of the Games award because of what she has achieved for her country. In a game where Indian paddlers have hardly made a mark in the past, this 21-year-old triumphed over world No. 4 and multiple Olympic medallist, twice to say the least.

The 16-year-old shooter, Manu Bhaker, is another one to create a space for herself in the world of shooting by winning 10m air pistol gold with a Games record to boot. Such an achievement at such a young age has compelled the pundits to gush that India may just have found its next Olympic champion after Abhinav Bindra.

Experienced 27-year-old Shreyasi Singh can’t be missed here because of her hunger to get onto the top of double trap event. After finishing outside the podium in 2010, Shreyasi managed silver at the 2014 Glasgow Games before now winning the coveted gold.

She is a perfect role model for new-age Indian women’s determination and perseverance along with boxing legend Mary Kom. Mother of three and winner of London Olympic bronze, Mary Kom’s never-say-die spirit was at its best during the CWG.

On the wrestling mat, Vinesh Phogat was the star of the Indian campaign by winning gold in the 50 kg freestyle event. India’s best bet Sakshi, however, suffered a setback and had to settle for bronze in the 69-kg category. Pooja Dhanda (57 kg) picked up silver along with Babita Phogat (53 kg) while Divya Kakran (68 kg) and Kiran notched a bronze each on their CWG debut.

The efforts of discus thrower Seema Punia, who won a silver, must be lauded here for her fourth successive CWG medal. In a power game where not many have lasted for this long, Seema still has the next Asian and Olympic Games in her sight.

Last but not the least, it was a kind of rebirth for shuttler Saina by staging her most famous victory in recent times over her own country-mate PV Sindhu to win gold. There were question marks over Saina’s form after her return from injury post the Rio Games. There is no denying that after her younger partner Sindhu overtook her in the rankings last year, Saina’s confidence had certainly taken a hit.

But in Gold Coast, Saina answered all her critics with a superlative show as she helped India win the mixed team championship for the first time in history before bagging the individual crown.

And who knows in the time to come, it is this great Saina-Sindhu rivalry which will bring India a big medal at the 2018 Asian Games and 2020 Olympics!

This article was first published in the Patriot.