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Meet the Immensely Talented but Lesser Known Women Athletes Who are Taking India to New Heights

By: Anurag Verma


Last Updated: March 08, 2019, 16:46 IST

Meet the Immensely Talented but Lesser Known Women Athletes Who are Taking India to New Heights

There are scores of Indian women who are carving a niche for themselves the world over in their respective sporting fields with their grit and determination.

Mary Kom, PT Usha, Mithali Raj, Saina Nehwal, Sania Mirza, Sakshi Malik, Jwala Gutta, Babita Phogat, Dipa Karmarkar, PV Sindhu.

These Indian sporting legends need no introduction. For years, these ladies have been inspiring thousands of young girls in the country to follow their dreams fearlessly.

However, there are scores of other Indian women who, with their grit and determination, are carving a niche for themselves the world over in their respective sporting fields. These strong ladies might not be as popular and well known as their famous counterparts but that hasn't stopped them from proving their mettle and emerging victorious.

With the help of the non-profit organization Feminism in India, this Women's Day, we bring you a compiled a list of Indian sportswomen that you need to know about.

#1 Rahi Sarnobat

Hailing from Maharashtra's Kolhapur region, 28-year-old Rahi Sarnobat became the first Indian female shooter to win a Gold medal at the Asian Games in 2018. She did so in a 25-meter air pistol event by registering a record score of 34.

A decade before scripting history, Sarnobat bit her first gold at the 2008 Commonwealth Youth Games in Pune. She continued her golden run when she brought home two golds in 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, one of which came in a pair event with Anisa Sayyed.

In 2012, Sarnobat's determination opened the gates of the London Olympics for her. She became the first ever Indian shooter to qualify for a 25-meter air pistol in the Olympics.

After two years, at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, the "Golden Girl" once again emerged #1. Her never-dying hunger for more earned her bronze in the same year at the 2014 Asian Games.

Sarnobat is on social media and you can find her tweets under the handle: @SarnobatRahi

#2 Shivani Kataria

A goldmine of talent, 22-year-old Shivani Kataria is only the third Indian woman swimmer ever to qualify for the Olympics. Yep, after a wait of 12 long years, the previous swimmer to qualify being in 2004's Athens - the Haryana-hailing champ was picked up by Swimming Federation of India (SFI) as India's wildcard entry for 2016's Rio Olympics for the women's 200-meter freestyle event.

Although she didn't make it to the semis, Kataria is high on confidence and has said that her long-term goal is to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Games and win a medal there for the country.

"The long-term goal is to qualify for Tokyo 2020 and go one step further and win an Olympic medal there. My short term goals are to get good results in all my upcoming tournaments including the Nationals and World Championships," she said.

Swimming since the age of 6, Kataria, who won gold at the 2016 South Asian Games, wants to become an inspiration for other girls to take up the sport and pursue it professionally.

"I realised I was the first female swimmer since 2004 to represent India at the Olympics. I want to use this opportunity to motivate and encourage more girls to take up the sport and pursue it professionally.

"India has a lot of talent and I believe that any female swimmer's success would motivate other girls who might be afraid to try swimming," she said.

You can follow Shivani Kataria here: @Shivanikataria6

#3 Renubala Chanu

All eyes were stuck on Renu Bala Chanu during 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi and the Indian weightlifter delivered.

With an extraordinary performance, Manipur's Chanu not only gave India its first gold in Commonwealth Games weightlifting event but also proved her supremacy as she left her competitors far behind to finish on top in women's 58-kg category.

She lifted 197 kgs to bag the first position with ease, while her closest competitor — the silver medalist Seen Lee of Australia finished five points behind her at 192 kgs. Zoe Smith claimed the bronze with 188 kgs.

After being facilitated by Assam Weightlifting Association (AWA) and Assam Olympic Association (AOA), the 33-year-lifter was conferred with the prestigious Arjuna Award by the then President Pranab Mukherjee in 2014 for her unmatched contribution to India's sporting community.

#4 Apurvi Chandela

When they talk about 10-meter air rifle events, Apurvi Chandela's name comes right on top. The 26-year-old hailing from the 'Pink City' of India has won not one but two medals at the Commonwealth Games — a glittery gold at Glasgow in 2014, accumulating 206.7 points — creating a new games record in the process.

Her second Commonwealth metal came in the form of Bronze at 2018 Gold Coast.

In February 2019, Chandela shattered the world record with a gold follwing an incredible sequence of scores that never dropped below 10 in the ISSF World Cup.

This was Chandela's third individual medal at a World Cup. She won bronze in the Changwon World Cup in 2015 before winning silver at the ISSF World Cup Finals in the same year.

An Arjuna Awardee, Chandela can be found online from her Twitter account @apurvichandela.

#5 Poulomi Ghatak

Poulomi Ghatak, table tennis player from West Bengal, made it to the pages of history when she represented India at the 2010's Commonwealth Games held in Delhi and won a silver.

The 36-year-old paddler, who started playing the sport at the age of 9, has brought home several laurels including a Bronze at the 2006's Commonwealth Games at Melbourne.

Ghatak has 5 Golds in her bag which she won in the following events:

2007, National Championships (Women Singles)

2006 and 2007 National Championships

2006, SAF Games (Womens Doubles)

2006, SAF Games (Women's Team)

For her impeccable contribution to the sport, Ghatak was bestowed the Arjuna Award in 2009.

#6 JJ Shobha

Two Bronzes at the Asian Games (2002,2006) and two shinning Silvers at Asian Athletics Championships (2002,2007), 39-year-old Javur Jagadeeshappa Shobha is a track and field athlete supremo.

JJ Shobha's first yellow metal came at the inaugural Afro-Asian Games in 2003 in a heptathlon event. Her staggering 6211 points in 2004 is her personal best and a national record.

Woman's Heptathlon event includes 100 meters hurdles, High jump, Shot put, 200 meters track race, Long jump, Javelin throw, and 800 meters track race.

But the moment that propelled her to international fame came during the 2004's Athens Olympics event where she finished 11th out of 34 participants. Not an extraordinary feat, right? She did so after she suffered a ligament tear during the second last event - Javelin throw and even had to be pulled away on a stretcher.

Then magic happened. Out of nowhere, JJ Shobha was back on the field to contest the last event, an 800 meters track race. And with her grit, the Karnataka girl made India proud by finishing the race.

No medal was won in this outing but her competitive spirit was promptly made note of and the world stood up and applauded in awe. For her undaunted attitude, Shobha was awarded the Arjuna Award in 2004.

#7 Khushbir Kaur

In 2008, at the Junior Nationals, Khushbir Kaur ran a race barefoot because she couldn't afford shoes.

Six years later, Kaur became the first Indian woman to clinch a 20km Race Walk silver medal in the Asian Games by bettering her personal best and setting a new national record in the process.

The athlete from Amritsar, Punjab was first noticed in 2012 when she grabbed a Bronze in the 10K meter walk at the Asian Junior Athletics Championships held in Sri Lanka.

Her career graph has seen a vertical growth since then and Kaur finished at the #4 spot in last year's Commonwealth Games held in Australia.

For her accomplishments in the sport, the 25-year-old athlete was conferred the Arjuna Award in 2017.

Honouable mentions:

Ayonika Paul - Shooter (10 metre air rifle) | Silver: 2014 Commonwealth Games, Glasgow.

VS Surekha - Pole Vaulter | Current national record holder with 4.15 m.

Karman Kaur Thandi - Tennis | Sixth Indian to feature in WTA top-200 ranking chart.

Sarjubala Devi - Boxer, the "Next Mary Kom" | Silver (Light Flyweight): 2014 AIBA Women's World Boxing Championships

Feminism in India has been holding one of their regular events, called 'Edit-a-Thon', where they edit Wiki pages of people they feel are underrepresented and have very limited information about them available online. The last one, held in August 2018, focused on the Indian female athletes at the Asian Games.

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