Sports in India is synonymous with cricket. The fact remains that we do not give as much reverence, love or attention to stars of other sports as much as we do to our cricketers. Where cricket and cricketers (and even their personal lives) are given as much footage as possible, other sports aren’t even spoken about.
So here’s a glimpse at a few unsung Indian sports heroes who, despite their contributions, don’t get the respect they deserve.
1. The Great Gama
At a time when India was struggling for Independence, Ghulam Mohammad Baksh aka The Great Gama won accolades for the nation in the World Heavyweight Championship arena. With a career spanning over 50 years, that too in which remained undefeated, Ghulam Mohammad Baksh is definitely one of the foremost unsung sports heroes in India.
2. Jimmy George
Considered by many as one of the greatest volleyball players of all time, Jimmy George, despite being the first Indian volleyball player to become a professional and having played club volleyball in Italy, remains an unknown name to for many Indians.
3. Kaustubh Radkar
This man won the ‘Iron Man’ title 16 times in a row. For the uninitiated, Iron Man is a triathlon consisting of a 3.86-km swim, 180.25-km bicycle ride and a 42.2-km marathon in that order without any break. If that doesn’t make Kaustubh a hero, then what does?
4. Maria Irudayam
Carrom is a beloved household game in India. However, not many of us know that one man brought us international honor through this game. Maria Irudayam is a two-time World Carrom Champion and nine-time national champion of India. He is the only person awarded the prestigious Arjuna Award for carrom.
5. Rakesh Kumar
Kabbadi needs agility, strength and vigilance. These traits aren’t easy to come by, but Rakesh Kumar made it look easy as part of the team that won the gold medal at the 2007 World Cup. He plays for U Mamba in Pro Kabaddi League.
6. Dola Banerjee
Being the first Indian woman archer to quality for Olympics is surely worthy of applause. Not only that, Dola has bagged the Gold Medal and Bronze Medal at the SAF Games in 2006 and New Commonwealth Games 2010, respectively. But how many Indians know about this?
7. Mouma Das
This table tennis champ made India proud through her star performances all around the world. She was awarded the Arjuna Award in 2013. In 2017, Das and Manika Batra reached the quarterfinals of the World Table Tennis Championships becoming the first Indians in over 61 years to do so. And yet her name is not as widely known as in her cricket-obsessed country.
8. Jeje Lalpekhlua
Football, though a popular sport and widely watched in India, isn’t a game where India excels. However, Jeje Lalpekhlua with his captaincy and performance is changing the way India stands and performs in this sport. He scored 3 goals in the 2015 SAFF Cup helping India win 2–1 in the finals.
9. Shiva Keshavan
When we say ‘Luge’, the first question is likely to be ‘What is that?’ But thanks to Shiva Keshavan, the first Indian representative to compete in luge at the Winter Olympic Games, that will change soon. He holds the Asian speed record at 134.3 km per hour and is a three-time gold medal winner in Asia Cups. In 2012, he set a new Asian track record at 49.590 seconds. However, he and his achievements still remain underrated.
10. Vikas Gowda
Discus thrower and shot-putter Vikas Gowda bagged the bronze medal at Asian Athletics Championships 2017. In 2013, he won his first gold medal in Asian Championships. Then in 2014, he won the Gold for India at Commonwealth Games. He has also been honored with a Padma Shri. Yet he and his achievement haven’t yet been given the acknowledgement they deserve.
11. Annu Rani
This current national record holder in Javelin won us the bronze medal at the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea.
12. Deborah Herold
Apart from bagging several medals for India in cycling, Deborah Herold deserves to be called a ‘hero’ for having survived the 2004 Tsunami wherein she spent over a week stuck in a tree. Herold recently won her third medal (a silver) at Asian Indoor Games in Ashgabat.
13. Bhavani Devi
This fencing champ has won medals for the country in the Commonwealth meets and U-23 Asian Championships and more recently a Gold medal at the sabre event of the Women’s Satellite Fencing Championship held in Reykjavik, Iceland.
India is a nation of great talents in every possible field. Sports too is one such field where we fail to applaud and acknowledge the achievements of many well deserving sports persons. Hence, may be it is time to divert our attention from just one sport to others which are getting us name, fame and pride, too.