Indian women who broke the glass ceiling in Olympic sports

In a country often ruled by patriarchy, these Olympic stars chose to challenge the ordinary and pave a path for generations to come.

The Olympics is no alien to Indian women winning laurels for their country.

Be it Karnam Malleswari at Sydney 2000 or MC Mary Kom, Saina Nehwal, Sakshi Malik, and PV Sindhu thereafter, there has been no dearth of Indian stars staking a claim for Olympic glory in the women’s categories.

However, what makes them special is the fact that these legends were often forced to challenge the trends and traditions of a largely patriarchal Indian society to pave their way towards success.

With a generation of future sports superstars looking up to them, we take a look at what has driven them towards their goals, in their own words.

Saina Nehwal’s hunger to be the best

Saina Nehwal is the first Indian to win an Olympic medal in badminton.
Saina Nehwal is the first Indian to win an Olympic medal in badminton.Saina Nehwal is the first Indian to win an Olympic medal in badminton.

New records were witnessed thanks to Saina Nehwal’s bronze at London 2012, which was India’s first-ever medal in badminton at the Olympic Games.

When she returned home with the medal, Saina Nehwal became an icon for Indian youth and Olympic dreamers. She has added many more medals and accolades since then to her tally across competitions.

But what is it that pushes the Indian shuttle queen to give her best every time she takes to the court

I want to be the best, it's not about the ranking, it's about being consistent over a period of time.

Not just for men, proves Mary Kom

The first Indian woman boxer to win a bronze medal at the Olympics, MC Mary Kom has been a trailblazer in many ways.

Be it her six World titles or her return to the ring post-pregnancy, this legend is everything that an aspiring pugilist looks for in a role model.

But despite her achievements, Mary Kom too wasn’t spared of the rhetoric that boxing is a man’s sport. However, the Indian legend chose to answer her critics in a way she knew the best.

People used to say that boxing is for men and not for women and I thought I will show them someday. I promised myself and proved myself.

The flyweight has won an incredible six World Boxing Championship golds, including at the last edition in 2018. Her 'Magnificent Mary' moniker is one that befits her huge status in the sport.

India has produced great boxers in the men’s category in the past but none of them could do what the Manipur-born star has produced. With the huge credibility that came with her name, she continues to motivate female athletes across the country.

It's all in the mind for PV Sindhu

Few Indians have made the cut and stood on the Olympic podium with a silver medal around their neck.

The first Indian ever to do so in the sport of badminton is PV Sindhu. Her accomplishments at Rio 2016 gave the sport added impetus.

One of the aspects that have driven PV Sindhu over the years is her single-mindedness to achieve greatness.

The greatest asset is a strong mind. If I know someone is training harder than I am, I have no excuses.

Badminton today is recognised as a sport in which India has a global reputation. And PV Sindhu, along with Saina Nehwal, has helped propel it to unprecedented heights.

Sakshi Malik’s fight until the end

Wrestling and India have a glorious history to fall back on at the Olympics. Be it KD Jadhav in 1952 or the likes of Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt since the turn of the century, it’s a discipline that has produced medal winners for the country.

But it wasn’t until Rio 2016 that India saw one of their own win a medal in the women’s category as well. The 2016 edition witnessed Sakshi Malik become the first Indian woman to win a wrestling medal when she bagged a bronze in the 58kg category thus creating history.

Up against Kyrgyzstan's Aisuluu Tynybekova in her bronze medal bout, Sakshi Malik was in all sorts of trouble with just seconds to go. But it was here that the Indian wrestler pulled off a final move that saw her topple her opponent to clinch the bronze.

Speaking about the win, Sakshi Malik would later say:

I never gave up till the end, I knew I would win if I lasted six minutes. In the final round, I had to give my maximum, I had the self-belief.

Mom's the word for Sania Mirza

Inspired by stalwart Serena Williams, who returned to the tennis circuit after having a baby, Sania Mirza has begun to feel her way back into the sport as well.

The Indian tennis ace gave birth to a boy late in 2018 and was on maternal duty ever since. But the Olympic year has seen Sania Mirza return to the court.

Sania Mirza made a fine return to the professional circuit with a title-winning run at the Hobart International.  
Sania Mirza made a fine return to the professional circuit with a title-winning run at the Hobart International.  Sania Mirza made a fine return to the professional circuit with a title-winning run at the Hobart International.  

While returning to the professional circuit is no mean task, Sania Mirza believes it’s her love for the game that's helped her push herself to be back in the mix.

Having Izhan is the biggest blessing I could have. He's my inspiration to get back to being fit. Making a comeback is not to prove anything. The only reason to come back was that I love playing and competing

An inspiring title win at her first event on return, the Hobart International, was followed by a pull out of the Australian Open owing to an injury.

But that didn't keep the Indian tennis ace out for long as she was back in the mix for the Fed Cup duties as the Indian tennis team made it to the playoffs for the first time ever.

Building on her form with every passing match, Sania Mirza is poised for the season ahead and it wouldn't be a surprise if we are to see her at the 2020 Olympics in a few months from now.

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