India is not a country for sports (Cricket being an exception). Most Indians know only Cricket as a sport but things seem to be changing recently for the good. I have been an ardent follower of sport, especially Indian sport and it’s stars for the last 3 decades.
Even when there was not much support for non-cricketing sports in India, there were a few sportspersons who excelled beyond the expectations and here I chose a few who I still admire for their commitment towards their passion and how they transformed that particular sport in India.
Saina Nehwal (Badminton)
Badminton has now become much popular, second to Cricket as one can understand, but days were not the same when Saina started her career. Badminton was not played by so many people in the country and it is to Saina’s credit, she managed to achieve what she has with the facilities and player pool present during her time. Though short in stature, which is considered a hindrance for the sport, she fought through with sheer grit and fighting spirit. The best thing I like about her is the calmness and composure she maintains on the court that never changes irrespective of winning or losing. Her body language and the way she carries herself is the one to emulate for any upcoming sportsperson.
Leander Paes (Tennis)
Here comes one of the heroes of my childhood. Hailing from a sporting family (his father being an international hockey player), he had the physical potential to achieve something big in sports. He chose not so glamorous sport of tennis in those days and made heads turn towards him with the glory he brought to the country through his achievements. He was the first to win an individual Olympic medal for India way back in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. He later won many doubles tournaments partnering with Mahesh Bhupati (parted ways later) and many others. He was also the reason behind India reaching the Davis Cup finals once. He stands on my list for the influence he had on the youth of his generation to take up tennis as a career.
Bhaichung Bhutia (Football)
Though football is the most popular sport in the world, it failed to make the same impact in India, the reason I really fail to fathom. Even now, the playing population of football in India is little. However, whatever craze football has in India is largely because of Bhaichung. He was the first player from India to be signed by a reputed foreign football club. His agility and speed on the football ground are a treat to watch and if not for the lack of support for football in India, he would have done wonders beyond imagination.
Anju Bobby George (Long Jump)
I somehow feel Indians are not suitable for athletics, be it because of the not-so-big frames apart from lack of athletic culture. After PT Usha who missed an Olympic medal by a whisker, there was a big void in Indian athletics and Anju was the one who filled it. She broke the shackles of mediocre facilities and stood tall with her performances. She was the first Indian to win a medal in World Athletic Championship. An untimely injury shortened her career but she will continue to inspire generations for the willpower and fighting spirit.
Jaspal Rana (Shooting)
This is an interesting choice to my list and I had him here because, to be frank, I knew shooting is a sport purely because of Jaspal Rana. He changed the whole perspective of India towards shooting and is the chief influence behind many people taking up shooting. His achievements are second to none and with the little or no facilities available, it is really remarkable what he has managed to achieve.