South Asia has produced some fine sportswomen, some of whom made their presence known at the Tokyo Olympics. With good records despite often lacking finances, support and facilities and backing, these redoubtable women have become inspirational figures for many girls who would not otherwise take to sports. Win or lose, these sportswomen are some of the champions we all celebrate.
(born 15th June 1995) India
Sport: Table tennis
Achievements: Won silver medal in the under-21 category in the Chile Open in 2011, won three medals at the Commonwealth Table Tennis Championship in 2015 (two silvers and a bronze), following up the next year with three golds at the South Asian Games. She led the Indian women’s team to a gold medal in the 2018 Commonwealth Games by defeating four-time gold medalist and defending champions Singapore. She also won three medals in different categories (gold, silver and bronze, respectively).
Accolades: Batra has won India’s Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award and is the only Indian to receive ‘The Breakthrough Star Award’ from the International Table Tennis Federation.
Personal Details: The New Delhi girl who won a state-level under-8 tournament, dropped out of college and refused modeling offers to concentrate on her game.
CA BHAVANI DEVI
(born 27th August 1993): India
Achievements: The first Indian fencer to qualify for the Olympics, Bhavani won a bronze (Sabre Team) in the Second Commonwealth Championship, held in Malaysia, in 2009. She won four bronze medals in 2010 – one at the Asian Fencing Championship, held in the Philippines; one at the International Open, Thailand; one at the Cadet Asian Championship, held in the Philippines; and one at the Asian Championship held in the Philippines. She won a silver (Sabre Team) and a bronze (Sabre Individual) at the 2012 Commonwealth Championship, held in Jersey, and a gold medal at the 2014 Tuscany Cup, held in Italy. She also bagged a silver in the under-23 category, in the 2014 Asian Championship, held in the Philippines, becoming the first Indian to do so. Bhavani won two bronze medals from international competitions in 2015. One was in theUnder-23AsianChampionship, held in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, the other at the Flemish Open, held in Belgium. Bhavani is the first Indian to win a gold medal in fencing at an international competition, doing that at the Women’s World Cup Satellite Tournament in 2017, held in Iceland. Bhavani earned a gold at the Commonwealth Championships in 2018 – another first for India. One of Bhavani’s major triumphs is a silver medal in the Women’s Sabre Individual Category in the 2019 Tournoi Satellite Fencing Competition, held in Ghent, Belgium.
Accolades: One of the 15 athletes selected for the ‘GoSports Foundation’ set up by the Rahul Dravid Athlete Mentorship Program.
Personal Details: Born in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, to a Hindu priest and
a homemaker, Bhavani had to take up fencing in school because all the other slots were filled. She could not afford an electric sword and so often borrowed swords from others, and had to practice in less-than-ideal facilities. The family sacrificed much to hep her travel and buy equipment. Her mother even took loans.
MILKA GEHANI DE SILVA
(born April 24, 2003); Sri Lanka
Achievements: De Silva, an artistic gymnast, represented Sri Lanka in the 2018 Summer Youth Olympics, held in Buenos Aires, Argentina and the 2019 Artistic Gymnastics World Championships, held in Stuttgart, Germany. In the 2018 Summer Youth Olympics, de Silva was placed 28th all-around in qualifications though she did not reach the finals. De Silva also competed in the 2016 Junior Commonwealth Championships, held in Namibia, where she qualified to every individual final. In September 2020, Milka also competed at the All- Japan Championships, held in Takasaki, where she was ranked 40th.
Accolades: None to date.
Personal Details: Born in Colombo, she won her first junior national title when she was eight.
(February 19, 2004); Bangladesh
Achievements: Siddique and Ruman Shana won the silver medal in the recurve category in the 2021 Archery World Cup, making it the first time Bangladesh reached the final in the Archery World Cup.
Accolades: None to date.
Personal Details: Siddique is the eldest of the three children of journalist Nur Alam Siddique and homemaker Shanaj Begum.
(born July 5, 1995); India
Achievements: Most famously won the silver medal in the women’s badminton singles in the Rio Olympics. She is the first Indian woman to win a gold medal at the BWF World Championships, and the second woman badminton player to win five or more medals at the same competition. Other than in 2015, Sindhu has won a medal at every world championships since 2013. She is the second Indian player, after Prakash Padukone, to win a medal in a singles event in the BWF World Championships. In 2013, she won the first of the five medals in the Badminton World Championships. She won a bronze in the championships, held that year in Guangzhou, China.
In the South Asian Games in 2016, she won the gold medal as part of the women’s team; a silver medal in women’s singles in the same tournament: a silver medal in the women’s singles in the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia; a silver medal in the 2018 Commonwealth Games in the women’s singles; and a gold medal in the same tournament as part of the mixed team.
In the 2017 BWF World Championships final, Sindhu lost to Nozomi Okuhara from Japan in the second-longest women’s singles match in the history of badminton, one that lasted 110 minutes and which is widely regarded as one of the best women’s singles matches in a final.
The same year, Sindhu finally defeated Okuhara in the final of the 2017 Korea Open Super Series, thus becoming the first Indian to win the Korea Open. She followed that up with a silver medal in the 2018 World Championships. In the 2019 World Championships held in Basel, Switzerland, she won a medal by again defeating Okuhara.
Accolades: She has won the Arjuna Award, the second most prestigious Indian national award for a sportsperson. She has also won the Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan, India’s third-highest and fourth-highest civilian honors, respectively.
Personal Details: Born in Hyderabad to national level volleyball players (her father PV Ramana, is an award-winning a member of the Indian volleyball team that won the bronze medal in the 1986 Seoul Asian Games), Sindhu began playing badminton at the age of eight. She was inspired by Pullela Gopichand, the 2001 All England Open Badminton Champion and a renowned badminton coach. Exposure at Gopichand’s badminton academy helped Sindhu to hone her skills.
(born February 3, 1996); India
Sport: Track and field
Achievements: Chand is the current national champion of India in the women’s 100 meters event. She is the first Indian to win a gold medal in a 100-meter race in a global competition, when she won the gold in the 2019 Summer Universiade in Napoli. Chand became a national champion in the under-18 category in 2012. The next year she reached the finals of the 2013 World Youth Championships in Donetsk, Ukraine. In the 2016 Federation Cup National Athletics Championships in New Delhi, Chand won another gold medal in the 100 meters dash. Two months later, she broke her own national record twice in the same day at the XXVI International Meeting G Kosanov Memorial at Almaty, Kazakhstan, which enabled her to participate at the Rio Olympics.
Chand won the silver medal in the women’s 100 meters at the 2018 Asian Games, held in Jakarta and Palembang, following it up with another silver medal in the women’s 200 meters at the Asian Games.
Accolades: She won a US $420,000 award from the government of the state of Orissa after winning the silver medals at the 2018 Asian Games..
Personal Details: Chand was born on to Chakradhar Chand and Akhuji Chand, weavers in Chaka Gopalpur village in Orissa. Dutee was inspired by her elder sister Saraswati, who ran at the state level. Dutee used to run barefoot around a lake as she practiced.
The Athletics Federation of India (AFI) dropped her from the 2014 Commonwealth Games contingent at the last minute, asserting that hyperandrogenism made her ineligible to compete as a woman athlete. She was also dropped from the 2014 Asian Games that year. Chand appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and had her suspension lifted in 2015. In 2019, Chand came out as India’s first-ever openly lesbian athlete.
(born October 17, 1996); Pakistan
Achievements: Shahzad is Pakistan’s top-ranked female badminton player but her world ranking is 146. She won gold medals twice in the Pakistan International tournament (in 2017 and 2019), in the women’s singles. She also won one silver medal in the Pakistan International in 2016, also in the women’s singles. Shahzad is the first player from Pakistan to represent her country in the Olympics in badminton.
Accolades: None to date.
SAIKHOM MIRABAI CHANU
(born August 8, 1994); India
Achievements: Chanu made India’s hope of winning a medal in the Tokyo Olympics a reality by winning silver in the women’s 49 kg category, lifting a total of 202kg (87 kg snatch and 115 kg clean and jerk) in the event. Chanu is only the second weightlifter from India to win an Olympic medal after Karnam Malleswari, who won a bronze at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.
Her first major medal in an international event came in the 2014 Commonwealth Games, held in Glasgow. She won a silver medal in women’s weightlifting, in the 48 kg category.
In 2017, after doing badly at the Rio Olympics, she won a gold medal in the women’s 48 kg category in the 2017 World Weightlifting Championships held in Anaheim, California, lifting a competition record of a total 194 kg (85 kg in the snatch and 109 kg in the clean and jerk). In the 2018 Commonwealth Games, she won gold after she lifted a total of 196 kg (86 kg in the snatch and 110 kg in the clean and jerk).
In the 2019 World Weightlifting Championships held in Pattaya, Thailand, she came in fourth, pushing her personal best total lift to 201 kg (87 kg snatch and 114 kg clean and jerk).
Four months later, she won a gold, breaking a national record, lifting 203 kg in all in the 49 kg category (88 kg in the snatch and 115 kg in the clean and jerk), at the 2020 Senior National Weightlifting Championships in Kolkata.
In April 2021, Chanu won the bronze medal at the 2020 Asian Weightlifting Championships in Tashkent. She lifted 86 kg in the snatch and then went on to create a world record by lifting 119 kg in the clean and jerk. The total of 205 kg lift in the competition is her career best performance.
Personal Details: She was born in Nongpok Kakching, located more than 25 miles from Imphal, the capital of the Manipur state of India. Her redoubtable strength became evident even when she was 12 and nonchalantly carried home a huge bundle of firewood home that even her elder brother found hard to pick up.
(born July 27, 1983); India
SPORT: Track and field
ACHIEVEMENTS: A discus thrower, Punia-Antil won a gold medal in World Junior Championships in 2000, held in Santiago, Chile when she was 18. She was stripped of the medal due to a positive drug test for pseudoephedrine. Two years later she won a bronze medal in women’s discus throwing in the World Junior Championships in Kingston, Jamaica.
In the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Delhi she won a silver medal. In the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, Punia-Antil won a bronze medal, but she came in 13th in the 2012 London Olympics. She won a silver medal in the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, following up with a gold medal in the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea.
Punia-Antil qualified for the Rio Olympics with a gold medal-winning 62.62 meter throw at the Pat Young’s Throwers Classic 2016 at Salinas, California.
She won another silver medal in the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia. At
37, Punia-Antil achieved her personal best throw of 63.72 meters at the National Senior Interstate Athletics Championships 2021, thus becoming qualified for the Tokyo Olympics.
ACCOLADES: She has been honored with Bhim Award by the Haryana state government.
PERSONAL DETAILS: Punia-Antil was born in Khewda village of Sonipat district, in Haryana state in India.
(born November 24, 1982); India
ACHIEVEMENTS: Mangte Chungneijang Mary Kom is the only female boxer ever to win the World Amateur Boxing Championship six times, and the only female boxer in the world to win a medal in each one of the first seven world championships. She is the only boxer in the world, male or female, to win eight world championship medals.
In 2001, Kom won the Manipal state boxing championship. Two years later, she won
her first of her six gold medals – in the AIBA Women’s World Championships (Women’s World Amateur Boxing Championships) in Antalya, Turkey, in 2002. The year before, she had won a silver in the AIBA Women’s World Championships, held in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Her sixth gold medal came in the AIBA Women’s World Championships in New Delhi, in 2018.
Kom took a break from boxing following her marriage in 2005, returning to the ring only her twin sons were born in 2007. That was when she won her fourth gold medal – at the AIBA Women’s World Championships, held in Ningbo, China in 2008.
She won gold medals at the Incheon Asian Games in 2014 and at the Commonwealth Games held in Gold Coast, Australia, in 2018.
Kom became the first Indian female boxer to win a gold medal in the Asian Games when she won a gold at Incheon, South Korea.
She won the bronze medal in the London Olympics, where for the first time women’s boxing was featured as an Olympic sport. For it, Kom shifted to the 51 kg category because the rules allowed only for three weight categories and eliminated the lower weight classes.
ACCOLADES: She has been awarded the Padma Vibhushan (2020) Padma Bhushan (2013) and Padma Shri, India’s second-highest, third- highest and fourth-highest civilian honors, respectively.
PERSONAL DETAILS: Born in Kangathei village in the Manipur state of northeast India, Kom came from a family of poor tenant farmers. Eldest among the three children, she used to assist her parents with farm-related chores along with her schooling. When Dingko Singh, a boxer from Manipur, won a gold medal, at the1998 Bangkok Asian Games, Kom was inspired to switch to boxing from athletics.
Initially, Kom kept her boxing a secret from her father, an ex-wrestler. He was worried that boxing would hurt her face and spoil her chances of marriage. Only when Kom won the state boxing championship in 2001 did he learn about his daughter’s boxing prowess.
A biopic on her in 2014, where Indian screen diva Priyanka Chopra played her, cemented Mary’s celebrity status.
(born November 15, 1986); India
ACHIEVEMENTS: The winner of six Grand
Slam titles (three each in women’s doubles and mixed doubles), Mirza was a doubles World No. 1 for 91 weeks. The highest-ranked women tennis player ever from India, Mirza was world No. 27 in mid-2007. Mirza is also the only Indian female tennis player to win a Grand Slam title, and among two female tennis players from India to win a WTA title.
Mirza’s first major breakthrough was probably winning the 2003 Wimbledon Championships Girls’ Doubles title, while partnering with Alisa Kleybanova.
Mirza and Martina Hingis won the women’s doubles in Wimbledon, at the US Open in 2015, and the Australian Open in 2016.
She also won the mixed doubles in the Australian Open (2009) and the French Open (2012) with Mahesh Bhupathi; and the mixed doubles in the US Open (2014) with Bruno Soares. She has reached the finals in the Grand Slam tournaments (Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open) four times as a women doubles partner, and seven times as a mixed doubles partner.
She has also won two Women’s Tennis Association finals in Singapore, in partnership with Cara Black in 2014, and with Martina Hingis in 2015.
In 2005, she won the Hyderabad Open, the first WTA singles title by an Indian female tennis player. Mirza reached became number one in the WTA doubles rankings in April 2015, becoming the first Indian to achieve that feat. She held that position for 21 months.
ACCOLADES:ThewinneroftheArjuna Award, India’s second-highest accolade for a sportsperson, Mirza has also been awarded the Padma Bhushsan and the Padmi Shri, the third- and fourth-highest civilian honors in India.
PERSONAL DETAILS: Hailing from Hyderabad, Mirza began playing tennis
at the age of six. She turned professional in 2003. She was trained by her father Imran Mirza, a former sports journalist. According to her father, there were only two hard courts in the city when the tennis star first began playing, making things hard at the outset. Besides, there were also financial constraints that Mirza had to address, with help from her family.