Year of the Olympics: The best of January

The year kicked off with its fair share of excitement and impactful moments.

By Sandeep Banerjee ·

Time, as they say, flies. The first month of the Olympic year is already in the books, and it provided plenty of memorable moments to turn the pages back on.

We round up our choice happenings from January for this feature.

Indian wrestlers strike gold in Rome

January saw the cream of India’s wrestling contingent head to Italy to participate in the season's first ranking event — the Matteo Pellicone Memorial in Rome — and come away with six medals in tow.

Getting the better of Ecuador's Luisa Elizabeth Valverde Melendres in a matter of minutes in the final of the 53kg category, Vinesh Phogat started her calendar year with a gold medal that further validated her decision to move up to the weight class.

Bajrang Punia too won gold, beating the USA's Jordan Oliver in the 65kg freestyle category, as did Ravi Dahiya in 61kg and Gurpreet Singh in 82kg.

And while she didn't win any medals, 18-year-old Anshu Malik showed her promise by making it to the final on her senior-level debut. She recorded some fine wins over Spain's Maria Victoria Baez Dlione as well as Canada's Linda Morais and Grace Jacob Bullen of Norway to make an impact.

Sailing towards 2020 Olympics

India is not synonymous with winning medals in sailing, which is why when Nethra Kumanan became the first Indian woman sailor to win a medal in the sport after clinching bronze in the second round of the Hempel World Cup Series in Miami on January 25.

The 22-year-old engineering student at the SRM College in Chennai hopes to represent India at the 2020 Olympics, for which she will get a chance to qualify when the Asian Sailing Championship gets underway on March 15 in Abu Dhabi.

 “I’ll try to win a spot for my country there. If all goes well, I can go to Tokyo later this year in August,” Nethra Kumanan enthused.

India kick off FIH Pro League season with Dutch double

Indian hockey men's team kicked off their debut season in the FIH Pro League with a convincing pair of victories over world no. 3, the Netherlands.

Following a resounding victory in the opener which saw them dominate 5-2, the Manpreet Singh-led side took risks and pulled off an exciting 3-1 shootout win after a 3-3 draw against the Netherlands on the following day.

The India hockey men's team will hope to continue their winning ways when they take on World No. 1 side Belgium on February 8-9.

Sania Mirza marks comeback with a win

After everyone thought Sania Mirza had hung up her racquet to focus on motherhood, she followed in the footsteps of fellow tennis ace Serena Williams, who successfully returned to the court after giving birth.

Pairing up with Ukrainian Nadiia Kichenok, Sania Mirza began her comeback run on an auspicious note by winning the women’s doubles title at the Hobart International, dispatching Chinese second seeds Zhang Shuai and Peng Shuai 6-4, 6-4 in the final.

While her Australian Open run came to an unfortunate end due to a strained calf muscle, Sania Mirza is sure to make another impressive comeback.

High honours for Mary Kom and PV Sindhu

On the occasion of India's 71st Republic Day on January 26, it was revealed that Olympic bronze medallist MC Mary Kom will be conferred with the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second-highest civilian award, while Indian Olympic silver-medallist PV Sindhu is poised to be bestowed with the Padma Bhushan, India’s third-highest civilian award.

The Padma Vibhushan is awarded for exceptional and distinguished service while the Padma Bhushan is for distinguished service of the high order.

The Padma Shri — India’s fourth-highest civilian citation — awardees included Indian hockey women’s captain Rani Rampal, former Indian cricketer Zaheer Khan, former Indian hockey men’s team player MP Ganesh, shooter Jitu Rai, former Indian football women’s team captain Oinam Bembem Devi and archer Tarundeep Rai.

Maharashtra dominate Khelo India Youth Games

January also saw the 2020 edition of the Khelo India Youth Games get underway in Guwahati, and it wasn't long before 2019 victors Maharashtra established themselves as the team to beat once again.

The western state successfully defended their overall title with a heady haul of 78 gold, 77 silver and 101 bronze medals on the concluding day.

So crushing was Maharashtra's dominance that Haryana trailed behind in a distant second with 68 gold, 60 silver and 72 bronze medals to their name.