Dhyan Chand in his biography says that hockey, the most beautiful and intelligent human game was `religion` for him. The lines may be simple, but they indicate his devotion and dedication for the game.
In 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam, Dhyan Chand was a part of the Indian hockey team. His astounding display of ball-juggling catapulted him to instant success. For his astonishing skills, he earned himself the title of ‘The Wizard’.
He first captained India in 1934 in the Western Asiatic Games in Delhi and later in 1936, he successfully captained India in the Olympic Games.
In 1947-48 Indian Hockey team was invited to East Africa for a hockey tournament only on the condition that the ‘then retired’ Dhyan Chand accompanied the team as a captain. This was when he was 42 years old. Astonishingly, Chand not only went there to play the tournament, but also scored 61 goals in 22 matches.
Having seen a lot of ups and downs during his childhood, Milkha Singh came to India during the time of partition, and thus the country got one of its biggest sporting icons. Milkha Singh came to Delhi and his struggle continued only till the time he was recruited in the Indian army. His talent was identified there and since then there was no looking back.
Mikha Singh became the first Indian male athlete to win an individual athletics gold medal at a Commonwealth Games event. He represented India in the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome and the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. In 1960, Milkha was persuaded by Jawaharlal Nehru to race successfully against Abdul Khaliq in Pakistan. Such was his performance there, that Milkha earned the nickname of ‘The Flying Sikh’ by General Ayub Khan.
For his commendable contribution to Indian sports, Indian government honoured Milkha Singh with ‘Padma Shri’ and ‘Arjuna Award’.
Pilavullakandi Thekkeparambil Usha or PT Usha is considered as the queen of Indian track and field. The `Golden Girl` of Indian athletics overcame poverty to become a shining star in the world of athletics. In the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, she became the first Indian woman to enter an Olympics final. In the final of the 400 metres hurdle event, she missed the bronze medal by 1/100th of a second.
The Kerala born runner was conferred with Arjuna Award and Padma Shri in 1984 for her achievements.
Her stupendous show at the 1986 Seoul Asian Games where she bagged five medals that included four gold and a silver, made her the face of Indian sports. For four straight years she was adjudged as the best Indian athlete. During her career, Usha won over 100 medals.
World champion Viswanathan Anand is regarded as one of the greatest chess players in history. Anand has been world champion five times and is widely acknowledged as the most versatile world champion in the game’s history.
With his numerous achievements at the various national and international stages, Anand has taken India in the world of chess to new heights.
For his contribution to sports in India, Anand has been conferred with numerous awards. He has been the recipient of Arjuna Award, Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan. In 2007, Anand was given India’s second highest civilian award – the Padma Vibhushan – and thus became the first sportsperson to have received the honour.
Since 2007, the 43-year-old has been the undisputed world champion.
After a gap of over four decades, Leander Paes, had the Indian flag flying at the medal presentation ceremony at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. He won a bronze medal in the single event of Lawn Tennis by defeating Fernando Meligeni of Brazil.
To this date, the 40-year-old Paes has won 13 Grand Slam titles in his career
Paes created history when he became the first Indian to complete a career Grand Slam by winning the 2012 Australian Open men`s doubles title with Radek Stepanek.
Paes, whom Agassi describes as a flying jumping bean, a bundle of hyperkinetic energy, has been the torch-bearer of Indian tennis after turning professional in 1991.
For his services to Indian tennis, Paes was conferred with the Arjuna Award in 1990, Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award in 1996 and the Padma Shri award in 2001.
While many arguably believe him to be the best batsman of all time, Sachin Tendulkar is the Cricket God for the Indian fans. Cricket is followed as a religion in India because of Tendulkar and the 39-year-old owns almost all the batting records in international cricket. From scoring a double ton in the ODIs to becoming the only batsman to score 100 international centuries, Tendulkar’s achievements continue to inspire the youth to take cricket as a career.
In a career span of more than 20 years, Tendulkar has scored 18, 426 runs in 463 ODIs and he drew curtains to his ODI career in 2012. In Tests, he has so far scored 15, 837 runs from 198 Tests, and he is likely to become the only cricketer to have played 200 Tests when India tour South Africa later this year.
Tendulkar has been honoured with the Padma Vibhushan award, India`s second highest civilian award, and the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award, India`s highest sporting honour. The batting stalwart’s name was also recommended for Bharat Ratna, India`s highest civilian honour.
In a country where women are still struggling to get their due in the sporting fraternity, Mary Kom is someone who comes out as an exception.
Mother of two and five-time world amateur boxing champion, M.C. Mary Kom took boxing as a challenge and she didn’t even inform her parents about it. They came to know about her daughter’s career only when one of her photographs was published in a newspaper after she had won a title.
One of India’s finest female athletes, Mary Kom is a five-time World Boxing champion, and the only woman boxer to have won a medal in each of the six world championships.
Mary Kom made the country proud by becoming the first Indian women boxer to claim an Olympic medal by entering the semifinal of women`s 51 kg category defeating Maroua Rahali of Tunisia. She went down to Nicol Adams 6 - 11 in the semi-final bout to settle for bronze in the women`s fly category at the London Olympics 2012.
Abhinav Singh Bindra
Shooter Abhinav Singh Bindra is considered as the golden boy of Indian sports. During the 2008 Beijing Olympics he created history by winning the first ever individual Olympic gold for the country. He achieved this success in 10m Air Rifle event and it was also the first Olympic gold for the country in 28 years since the men`s field hockey team won the yellow metal at the 1980 Moscow Olympics.
He is also the first and only Indian to have held both the World and Olympic titles at the same time, first by winning 2006 ISSF World Shooting Championships and then the Olympic gold in 2008.
Apart from winning Arjuna award, Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna and Padma Bhushan in 2000, 2001 and 2009 respectively, Indian army made him the Honorary Lieutenant Colonel in 2011.
Indian wrestler Sushil Kumar has certainly revived wrestling in the country. This world champion wrestler won a bronze medal in 2008 Beijing Olympics in the 66kg free style wrestling and then went a step ahead by winning a sliver in 2012 London Olympics, which made him the first Indian to win back-to-back individual Olympic medals for the country.
On 3 October 2010, Sushil Kumar was the final baton bearer, who handed the Queen`s Baton to Prince Charles in the 2010 Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony. In 12 September 2010, Sushil became the first Indian to win a gold medal at World Wrestling Championships held in Moscow.
For his outstanding achievement in the sport he was awarded with Arjuna Award (2005) and then Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna in 2009.
Indian badminton queen Saina Nehwal is certainly one of the best shuttlers the country has ever produced. Born on 17 March 1990 in Dhindar, Hisar, Saina is the first Indian shuttler to win an Olympics medal, when she won a bronze during the 2012 London Olympics. In fact in 2010, Saina also became the first Indian woman to reach the semi-finals of All-England Super Series.
The 23-year-old is among the very few shuttlers who are real threat to the Chinese hegemony, who have been dominating the sport for quite some time now.
Saina is the first Indian shuttler to win the World Junior Badminton Championships and Super Series tournaments. For her outstanding efforts in the sport she has won Arjuna Award (2009), Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna (2009-2010) and Padma Shri (2010).