World Athletics Day, 2020: The best Indian athletes

As we celebrate the World Athletics Day on Thursday, we look at some of the top Indian athletes who left a mark on the world stage.

Blazing a trail: P. T. Usha participating in the women's 4x400m in the Inter-Railway Athletic Championship in Secunderabad, in January, 1990. - THE HINDU ARCHIVES

The World Athletics Day was introduced by the IAAF to increase awareness about athletics and to encourage the youth to take up sports. Although this day is celebrated in the month of May every year, in 2020, the IAAF marked May 7 as the World Athletics Day.

As we celebrate the World Athletics Day on Thursday, we look at some of the top Indian athletes who left a mark on the world stage.

P. T. Usha

She is still the toast of Indian athletics and her inspiring show at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics has left a lasting impression in the world of athletics. As a 20-year-old, P.T. Usha nearly created history when she reached the finals of the 400m hurdles but lost the bronze medal by one-hundredth of a second!

Although an Olympic medal eluded her, the Payyoli Express blazed away at an astounding pace by winning 101 medals in a career that spanned almost a decade and a half.

She set ablaze the Asian Track and Field Championships in Jakarta by winning five gold medals. And at the 1986 Asian Games in Seoul, she won an unprecedented five medals - four gold and a silver in the 200m, 400m, 400m hurdles and the 4x400m relay.

“I must say I am satisfied with what I have achieved. All what I aimed for, except the Olympic medal, I achieved,” Usha said.

Milkha Singh

Milkha Singh won independent India’s first Commonwealth Games Gold medal in 1958 and rose to prominence. Having participated in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, expectations were high when he came to Rome for the 1960 Games. It was a bright start but the bronze medal slipped away by just 0.1 second.

However, that didn’t deter Milkha as he won the Asian 400m title and the 4x400 relay gold two years later.

In what was his famous race, Milkha blazed past Abdul Khaliq in a race in 1960, where Pakistan’s General Ayub Khan named him the ‘Flying Sikh.’

Norman Pritchard

In the 1900 Olympics in Paris, Norman Pritchard became the first Indian to win an Olympic medal. Although an Englishman, Pritchard won two silver medals in 200m sprint and 200m hurdles. Although historians believe that Pritchard represented the British, the IOC regards Pritchard as India’s first Olympic medal winner.

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Anju Bobby George

At the 2003 World Championships in Paris, Anju Bobby George scripted history when she won the bronze medal in long jump. The first Indian athlete to win a medal at the Worlds, Anju - the Asian Games Gold medallist (2002 Busan and 2005 Incheon) - took giant strides by winning the silver at the World Athletics final in 2005. Later it was upgraded to gold as Tatyana Kotova failed the drug test.

Anju Bobby George makes an attempt in the women's long jump at the Beijing Olympics. - AP

 

Neeraj Chopra

After a disappointing ninth-place finish at the 2015 Asian Athletics Championships, the following season saw Neeraj Chopra announcing his arrival on the world stage. He won the gold at the South Asian Games and a silver at the Asian Junior Championships. However, it was the record-throw of 86.48 metres at the IAAF World U-20 Championships that put Neeraj on India’s javelin radar.

That throw crowned Neeraj as India’s first-ever world champion. In the 2018 Commonwealth Games and Asian Games, Neeraj went on to win gold medals. At the Asian Games, Neeraj went on to better his throw of 86.47 metres with a throw of 88.06 metres, which was a national record.

In the 2018 IAAF Diamond League, he finished fourth after which he suffered an elbow injury which forced him to miss the 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships. Having now fully recovered, Neeraj remains India’s brightest medal hopes in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.

Annu Rani

Annu made history in Doha in October 2019 when she became the first Indian woman to enter the javelin throw final at the World Championships where she finished eighth. She broke her own national record, taking it to 62.43m in the qualifying round at the Worlds. She won silver at the Asian Athletics Championships in Qatar.

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Annu Rani was named Sportstar Aces Sportswoman of the Year in athletics for her phenomenal feats in 2019.

Deepa Malik

Deepa Malik became the first Indian woman to win a Paralympics medal when she clinched a silver in the shot put in Rio in 2016. The 48-year-old Arjuna and Padma Shri awardee continued to impress in the next two years after that feat.

In 2018, she won the gold medal in the F53/54 javelin event at the World Para Athletics Grand Prix in Dubai to be ranked No. 1 in the world. At the Para Asian Games, she followed that up with bronze medals in the discus and the javelin throw to cap off yet another successful year.

At the 2019 Sportstar Aces Awards, Deepa won the parathlete Sportswoman of the Year.

Devendra Jhajaria

Devendra Jhajaria became the first Indian Paralympian to win two gold medals at the Paralympics. The javelin thrower won his first gold at the 2004 Athens Paralympics and then repeated his feat at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janerio.

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