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Last month, 18 tribal girls from a sleepy, nondescript village of Jharkhand made it to the third spot in Gasteiz Cup, a renowned testing ground for under-14 football in Victoria Gasteiz in northern Spain, also touted as the “European Green Capital”. They not only brought laurels to the state and the country but also achieved something which most sportspersons, and that too with the best of facilities and support, often wish for but seldom succeed.
Best of all, the girls managed to break the proverbial glass ceiling in an arena and in a country that has always been associated with a few names like Saina Nehwal (badminton) and Sania Mirza (lawn tennis). In a game like football, where the national men’s team finds itself nowhere close to the clubs in the US or Europe, the teens from Jharkhand showed that the sporting success trajectory in India is slowly but stealthily tilting towards the fairer sex. Here’s a rundown on some of the Indian women who have carved a niche for themselves in their respective field of sports in the not-so-distant past.
The young guns
Last week, the Indian trio of Bombayala Devi, Deepika Kumari and Rimil Buriuly won back-to-back World Cup titles beating the formidable South Korea in the women’s recurve team final in Poland. It was a big achievement for the Indians after the Koreans—Yun Ok-Hee, Ki Bo Bae, and Joo Hyun Jung—had stormed into the finals beating several archery behemoths like the US, Italy and Russia. It's a matter of shame, though, that the Indian trio had to face disappointment on their return journey. Let alone a grand welcome, there wasn’t a single senior Archery Association of India official at the New Delhi airport to receive them. Deepika, who had to witness a lot of financial constraints during her formative years as her father was an auto-rickshaw driver and mother a nurse, allegedly broke down into tears seeing the apathetic reception.
The ‘face’ of women squash
Indian squash star Dipika Pallikal won the sixth WSA title of her career after outplaying Joey Chan of Hong Kong in straight games in the summit clash of the Meadowood Pharmacy Open in the Canadian city of Winnipeg in February. In December last year, Pallikal entered the history books as the first Indian woman to break into the top 10 of the WSA rankings. She was conferred with the Arjuna Award, India's second highest sporting award, late in 2012. While it was her good looks that initially made news, Pallikal has ensured that people also focused on her game of squash.
Glamour to grand slams
Sania Mirza won her second Grand Slam title and first French Open trophy in 2012 after crushing the challenge of Klaudia Jans-Ignacik and Santiago Gonzalez in the mixed doubles final, partnering with Mahesh Bhupathi. Playing their third Grand Slam final together, the seventh-seeded Indian pair scored a 7-6 (3), 6-1 win over the Polish-Mexican pair at the Court Philippe Chatrier. Earlier, Mirza and Bhupathi had won the 2009 Australia Open and it is their first Grand Slam title since then. Sania is also the first woman tennis player from India to win a Grand Slam.
Bend it like ‘Supergoats’
Yuwa India, an NGO founded by 30-year-old American Franz Gastler, won the bronze medal among 10 teams playing for the Gasteiz Cup, an under-14 tournament in Spain, in July this year. The 18 girls, who were playing outside their village Ormanjhi (situated on the outskirts of Ranchi) for the first time, were placed third after two wins, two losses and one draw against top teams. Earlier, during the Donosti Cup, Spain’s biggest football tournament, the girls made it to the quarter-finals from among 36 teams. The team was fondly called “Supergoats” by the organisers in Spain as they were playing barefoot in the practice matches owing to limited money.
Chak De! revisited
Indian girls created history by winning the country’s first-ever bronze medal in the junior women’s hockey World Cup against England in a 3-2 penalty shootout, riding on striker Rani Rampal’s dazzling show. Eighteen-year-old Rampal scored the only goal in the regulation time and then found the net twice in the penalty round to script the memorable victory. Interestingly, the Indian girls had never made it to the quarterfinals of the World Cup before this. And as many as 12 players of India’s junior World Cup team were part of the senior side that finished a poor seventh in the FIH Hockey World League Round 3 in Rotterdam in June.
Chinese shuttlers, beware
Recently, PV Sindhu became the first Indian woman to win a medal at the badminton World Championships in Guangzhou, China. Playing in her maiden World Championship, Sindhu notched up stunning victories against two Chinese players in the run-up to the semi-finals, but she failed to read the game of Thailand’s Ratchanok Inthanon and suffered a 10-21, 13-21 loss. She nevertheless won the hearts of millions of sporting enthusiasts besides a berth in the record books.
The Olympic torchbearer
The list will be incomplete without Saina Nehwal, one of the most successful sporting personalities in India. The 22-year-old is the first player to win an Olympic medal in badminton—she won the bronze at the 2012 London Games. Nehwal tasted success for the first time on the international circuit when she won the Indonesian Open in 2009. In fact, she is the only shuttler to have challenged the Chinese and Malaysian domination of badminton till 2012.