The Decade That Was: Achievements that transformed Indian sports

A list of some of the most significant accomplishments of Indian athletes during the 2010s that eventually proved pivotal to the nation’s sporting history.

By Sandeep Banerjee ·

When the 2010s come to a close at the end of December, Indians can look back on the second decade of the new millennium with fond memories and a sense of pride. Never before did India haul in such a significant barrow of medals nor did its athletes garner such widespread acclaim.

We look back at some of the standout achievements of Indian athletes in the last ten years that had far-reaching effects in the further popularisation of sporting interest in the country.

PV Sindhu conquers the world

Two years after she was denied gold at the 2017 Badminton World Championship by Nozomi Okuhara in Glasgow — a 110-minute slugfest that is widely regarded as one of the greatest battles in badminton history — Indian badminton player PV Sindhu turned the tables with a decisive victory over her Japanese rival in Basel in 2019.

While it may not have been as riveting or intense a match as the one from 2017, given that Sindhu's effortless 21-7, 21-7 victory only took 38 minutes to clinch, the significance of the achievement was immense nonetheless. Apart from being the ultimate validation of Sindhu's proficiency in badminton, it was the first time a player from India had ever clinched gold at the prestigious tournament.

Kumar and Dutt’s glorious grapple

The 2012 edition of the Olympic Games in London was a pivotal one for India, for her athletes brought home a record haul of six medals. Among those were Indian wrestler Sushil Kumar's silver, after having bagged bronze at the 2008 Olympic Games, in Beijing.

To add to his achievement, Kumar’s close friend and fellow Indian wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt bagged bronze to round out a defining moment for Indian wrestling.

At the time, they became the only two Indian wrestlers to have won medals for at the Olympic Games since the pioneering KD Jadhav bagged independent India’s very first Olympic medal in the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki, leading to a revival in popularity of the sport in the country and inspiring the likes of 2016 Summer Olympic bronze-medallist Sakshi Malik.

The future of Indian wrestling continues to look bright, with Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat expected to lead from the front at Tokyo Olympics 2020.

Magnificent Mary

Nicknamed ‘Magnificent Mary’ and also having roads named after her, wrestler Mary Kom is one of the most prolific sportspersons India has ever produced.

Her achievements in boxing are too numerous to list down but her bronze medal at the 2012 Olympic Games in London — where women’s boxing was featured as an Olympic sport for the first time ever — was a landmark achievement that made her a household name, and even inspired the Priyanka Chopra-starrer bearing her namesake.

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What further ingrained Kom’s popularity and influence into the fabric of Indian society, especially among women, was the relatability to the fact that she was a mother who was successfully juggling her family and sporting career at the same time.

While she missed out on the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, Kom is training hard for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Shuttling to success

Also part of the Indian success story at the 2012 Olympic Games in London was Saina Nehwal winning bronze, making her the first Indian badminton player to win an Olympic medal.

Until then, despite having some ace badminton players like Prakash Padukone and Pullela Gopichand in its arsenal, India had failed to make any significant strides in badminton, particularly where the Olympics were concerned.

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Her achievement infused a renewed popularity into Indian badminton, which continues to bubble to this day to where we might even see a new star emerge as we head into the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

A new hope for India

India's fortunes in track and field had left something to be desired for the longest time. Not since the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, after a mere 1/100ths of a second denied the legendary PT Usha bronze in the women's 400m hurdles, had India had a contender that was truly worthy.

That's the void Haryana's Neeraj Chopra seems destined to fill, after the then 19-year-old's 86.48m javelin throw at the 2016 IAAF World U20 Championships in Poland set a junior world record.

To understand the magnitude of his effort, his throw would have netted him a bronze at the Rio Olympics that year, given that Keshorn Walcott's bronze-clinching throw at the 2016 Olympic Games was 85.38m.

Currently recuperating from a shoulder injury, the 21-year-old remains one of the top medal hopefuls for India at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

As we look ahead to the next decade, the achievements of these athletes promises to spur on exponential growth of interest and influence to hopefully bring even more world-class athletes to the fore and contending for medals on the world stage.

There's certainly a lot to look forward to when it comes to the sporting scene in India. The groundwork laid down by these stellar athletes will be no doubt be carried onward and upward by the stars that will emerge over the next 10 years, inspired by the likes of Nehwal, Kom, et all.