Indian Sports has seen many superstars over the decades but there are several who stand out in the long list. These are persons who have made a mark in individual as well as team disciplines, displaying skills that have inspired awe among rival competitors. We bring you brief profiles of 21 of India’s most loved sports icons.
Major Dhyan Chand (Hockey)
Dhyan Chand is considered to be the best Indian hockey player of all times. He was a member of the Indian team which won the gold medal at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics, where he emerged the the leading goal-scorer. He also played a key role in India winning gold medals at the 1932 and 1936 Olympics. His exploits on the hockey field earned him the sobriquet “Wizard”. His birthday, August 29, is celebrated as the National Sports Day.
Milkha Singh (Athletics)
The first time that India came close to winning an Olympic medal in athletics was when Milkha Singh, known as the Flying Sikh, finished fourth in the 400 m finals at the 1960 Rome Games. Gold medals at the Asian and Commonwealth Games ensured that he became one of India’s greatest sportspersons. In 1958, Milkha Singh stunned the world by winning the 400 m gold medal at the Cardiff Commonwealth Games.
K D Jadhav (Wrestling)
Khashabha Dadasaheb Jadhav was the first Indian to win an individual medal at the Olympics. The “Pocket Dynamo” as he was called, Jadhav won the bronze medal in the freestyle wrestling category at the 1952 Helsinki Games.
Vijay Amritraj (Tennis)
In his prime, he was part of the ABC of tennis – Amritraj, Borg and Connors. He did not win any Grand Slam unlike Bjorn Borg and Jimmy Connors, who won multiple titles. But he built a formidable reputation for himself on the ATP circuit, winning 16 singles titles and 13 doubles titles. Vijay Amritraj came up with some of his best performances while playing Davis Cup ties for India. He powered the team to two tournament finals along with his brother Anand Amritraj.
Sunil Gavaskar (Cricket)
One of the greatest batsmen the world of cricket has seen, the Little Master announced his arrival with a bang when India was touring the West Indies in 1971. India won the series 1-0 with ‘Sunny’ Gavaskar scoring two centuries and a double century. Over the years, he came to be known for his solid defence as well as his immaculate, artistic strokeplay. By the time he was through with his illustrious career spanning the seventies and eighties, he had become the first batsman in the world to score 10,000 Test runs and 30 centuries. He played his last Test match in 1987.
Kapil Dev (Cricket)
Kapil Dev is the greatest fast bowler and all-rounder India has produced. The Haryana Hurricane’s dreaded out-swingers left many a top batsman without an answer while his batting prowess in the middle overs was good enough to knock the fight out of the opposition’s bowling. His biggest moment came when he led India to a historic victory in the 1983 World Cup. Regarded as one of the best all-rounders of all time, he took 434 wickets and scored over 5,000 runs in Test matches.
Prakash Padukone (Badminton)
The Bangalore-born Prakash Padukone stamped his name on international badminton history with a famous title win at the 1980 All England Championship. Coming close on the heels of his Swedish Open and Danish Open titles, this victory made him the world number 1 in badminton. He had forced badminton aficionados to sit up and take note much earlier, when he won India’s national championship as a 16-year-old in 1971. He held the national title for nine years in succession.
PT Usha (Athletics)
PT Usha, nicknamed the Payyoli Express, is one of India’s greatest women athletes. She came within one-hundredth of a second of becoming India’s first Olympic medal winner in athletics when she missed out on a bronze medal in the 400 m hurdles at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. She won over a dozen gold medals at the Asian Games and Asian Athletics Championships.
Vishwanathan Anand (Chess)
Lightning quick moves made Vishwanathan Anand a name to reckon with on the chess circuit. He achieved his first international win at a tournament in 1991. Anand got a shot at winning the FIDE World Chess Championship titles in 1995 and 1988 but lost to Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov respectively. He won the 2000 edition which but it was only in 2007, when most of the top players participated and Anand won, that he was finally recognized as a true world champion.
Pankaj Advani (Snooker and Billiards)
The only player in history to win world titles in all formats of both billiards and snooker, Pankaj Advani is a 16-time World Billiards and Snooker champion. He was barely 18 when he became the IBSF World Snooker Champion in 2003 (he won this title again in 2015). He was the IBSF World Six Red Snooker Champion in 2014 and 2015. He has also won the World Team Billiards Championship in 2014. Advani has won two Asian Games gold medals (Doha and Guanzhou).
Sachin Tendulkar (Cricket)
World cricket’s most prolific run-maker announced his arrival when still in school with a 646-run partnership with Vinod Kambli (Tendulkar 326 not out and Kambli 349 not out). Master Blaster, Sachin Tendulkar was selected as a member of the Indian team touring Pakistan in 1989 when he was just a 16-year-old. Not since Sunil Gavaskar had India, and the rest of the world, seen such a batting sensation. He stamped his authority with a complete range of cricketing strokes and displayed a class which is unrivalled in modern cricket history. The number of firsts to his name is mind-boggling – first double century in One Day International cricket, first to score 100 international centuries; first to score more than 15,000 Test runs … the list is endless.
Anju Bobby George (Athletics)
Anju Bobby George is the first Indian to win a medal at the World Athletics Championships (bronze in long jump, 2003). She won the gold medal for long jump at the 2002 Busan Asian Games. Next year, she created history for India with her bronze medal at the World Athletics Championship at Paris. She won a silver medal in long jump at the 2004 Monte Carlo World Athletics Final. This was later upgraded to gold after the original winner failed a drug test.
Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore (Shooting)
Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore was the first Indian to win an individual silver medal in the Olympics at the 2004 Athens Games. Rathore, who had won two gold medals at the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games, had gone in as a strong medal hope for India and he did not disappoint. He won the silver medal in the men’s double trap event. The win was nothing less than remarkable considering that this Indian Army officer who had taken to shooting as a serious sport only in 1998.
MS Dhoni (Cricket)
The man who led India to victory in the inaugural T20 World Cup in 2007 started off as a ticket inspector with the Indian Railways. Hard work on the cricket field and an unorthodox, never-say-die approach to batting ensured that Mahendra Singh Dhoni, or Mahi, became the best wicketkeeper-batsman India has ever produced. Under his captaincy, India won the Cricket World Cup for a second time in 2011 and remained the world’s top Test cricket playing nation through 2010 and most of 2011. His fearless and aggressive batting earned Dhoni the reputation of being one of the best finishers of the game in the 50-over and 20-over formats.
Leander Paes (Tennis)
India’s only Olympic medal winner in tennis, Leander Paes won the bronze medal at the 1996 Atlanta Games. This ended a 44-year wait for another individual medal after KD Jadhav’s wrestling bronze at the 1952 Helsinki Oympic Games. He is considered one of the best doubles and mixed doubles players of all time. Paes has won 18 Grand Slam titles (10 Mixed Doubles and 8 Men’s Doubles) between 1999 and 2016. He is the only tennis player to have played in seven Olympic Games (1992-2016). In the Davis Cup, Leander Paes has won a record 42 men’s doubles matches.
Vijender Singh (Boxing)
The poster boy of Indian boxing won his first international medal at the 2003 Afro-Asian Games. He won a silver medal in the welterweight category at the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games. He won a bronze medal at the Doha Asian Games the same year. His proudest moment came when he won the bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He followed this up with a gold medal at the 2010 Commonwealth Boxing Championship, a bronze medal at the Delhi Commonwealth Games and a gold medal at the 2010 Guanzhou Asian Games. He turned professional in 2015.
Sania Mirza (Tennis)
The impressive journey of India’s greatest woman tennis player, Sania Mirza, began in 2003, when she won the girls’ doubles title at Wimbledon. She played most of her mixed doubles matches on the international circuit with India’s Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna. Paring up with Martina Hingis of Switzerland, she won the doubles title at Wimbledon and US Open in 2015. The duo went on to win the Australian Open in 2016.
Sushil Kumar (Wrestling)
India’s best-known wrestler, Sushil Kumar has won back-to-back medals at the Olympics – bronze at the 2008 Beijing Games and silver at the 2012 London Games. He also has back-to-back gold medals at the Commonwealth Games in 2010 (Delhi) and 2014 (Glasgow). He won the gold medal at the 2010 World Championships held in Moscow. Sushil Kumar’s first major win was a gold medal at a 2004 Asian Junior Wrestling Championship.
Saina Nehwal (Badminton)
Sports icon Saina Nehwal was the World Junior Champion in 2008. She became the first Indian woman single’s player to win a Superseries event in 2009. She followed this up with a gold medal at the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games. Her biggest moment came when she won the bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympic Games. Interestingly, Nehwal’s first sport as a child was not badminton but karate!
Abhinav Bindra (Shooting)
The first Indian to win an individual Olympics gold medal, Abhinav Bindra has nearly 180 international medals to his name in the field of shooting. He has been a champion at the Olympic, World, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games levels. In 2006, he became the first Indian shooter to win a gold medal at the World Championships. He won gold at the Commonwealth Games the same year. But his biggest accomplishment was at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, where he won the gold medal in the 10 m air rifle event.
Virat Kohli (Cricket)
Virat Kohli led the Indian cricket team to victory in the 2008 U-19 World Cup in Malaysia. He has not looked back since. The run machine, who is also India’s captain for Tests and One Day Internationals (ODIs), has been on a roll for several years now. He has impressive scores and averages in all formats of the game at the international level. He is second only to the Master Blaster, Sachin Tendulkar, when it comes to the number of centuries scored in Test matches. Kohli was honoured with the Arjuna Award in 2013.