In 2022, sport continued to be therapeutic for a world still trying to find its feet in the aftermath of a pandemic. India maintained its reputation as a growing power with its athletes scaling new heights.
Many Indians woke up at ungodly hours to watch Neeraj Chopra fight with all his might at the World Athletics Championships in Oregon. It was only a few weeks before his excellent performance at the Diamond League final in Zurich.
The shuttlers gave Indians joy, too, by winning the Thomas Cup for the first time. Another pleasant surprise was India’s performance in lawn bowls at the Commonwealth Games.
Here’s a look back at four among many performances and moments in 2022, listed in no particular order, that made the year a special one.
On a warm June afternoon in Chennai, Sharath Kamal was grabbing a quick lunch at the 2022 Sportstar South Conclave when he said picking up daughter Suyasha after school on time was the only thing that worried him at that moment. The Birmingham Commonwealth Games was a month away, the table tennis federation was going through an upheaval, but Sharath wasn’t too stressed.
Today, the paddler may still worry about getting delayed by traffic, but the West Midlands has been conquered. At 40, his reflexes were sharp. He returned with four medals — three gold and a silver — winning one in every event he took part in.
The men’s singles gold was the icing on the cake. Sharath reclaimed it after 16 years, beating home favourite and higher-ranked Liam Pitchford. With Sreeja Akula, he won India’s first-ever Commonwealth Games mixed doubles gold, overcoming the giant-killing Malaysian pair of Javen Choong and Karen Lyne. He also led the Indian team, which won gold in the men’s team event. He and G. Sathiyan fell short of winning the gold in men’s doubles, losing to Pitchford and Paul Drinkhall in the final.
Leading up to the Games, Sharath won his 10th National singles title – he beat his own record – by dethroning Sathiyan in an enthralling clash in Shillong. Now the vice-chairman of the Athletes’ Commission of the Indian Olympic Association, Sharath was also honoured with the Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna award, India’s highest sporting award.
Immediately after the Birmingham Games, Sharath made his intentions clear. He was not going to stop until the Paris Olympics. To realise that dream, it is imperative for him to do well this season. “While winning a medal at Paris 2024 is my immediate target, I haven’t thought about the 2026 Commonwealth Games. My wife is doing all the family duties. I should consider these factors. I will take two years at a time,” he had told this publication in an earlier interview.
Neeraj has made winning a habit.
When leading sportspersons welcomed the new year hosting grand parties or backpacking across picturesque locations, Neeraj was training in Loughborough. This year, he aims to hit the elite 90m mark. Given his progress, the target has never looked more realistic. In 2022, he registered three 89m-plus throws.
In 2022, Neeraj returned to the international circuit – he had taken a 10-month break after the Tokyo Olympics — in style, his 89.30m at the Paavo Nurmi Games setting a new national record. He won the gold medal at the Kuortane Games, before going past his national record with an 89.94m throw at the Diamond League in Sweden.
Then came the Oregon Worlds where Neeraj made history again, registering India’s best performance in the tournament. He won the silver medal with an 88.13m throw. It was India’s second medal in the Championships – the first, a bronze, was won in 2003 by long-jumper Anju Bobby George.
Neeraj went on to top the next Diamond League meeting in Lausanne — again a first for an Indian.
There is a host of events coming up this year where Neeraj will look to reign supreme. “I’ve got three big events this year — the World Championships, Asian Games and the Diamond League Final. About when to start, I have not thought about it. I will plan with the coach, assessing the situation in China. If it happens as per schedule in October, we may start the season a bit late so that we can stretch it till the Asiad,” the 25-year-old divulged during a recent press conference.
There wouldn’t have been many betting on two former physical education teachers, a police constable, and a forest department official to claim the gold medal in the women’s team category in lawn bowls at the Commonwealth Games.
Lovely Chaubey (lead), Pinki (second), Nayanmoni Saikia (third) and Rupa Rani Tirkey (skip) didn’t put a foot wrong at Leamington Spa. The team beat the fancied South Africans 17-10 in the final of the Women’s Fours event.
What made the win remarkable was that the Indian team didn’t even have training access to the rinks in Victoria Park when it touched down in the United Kingdom. Not having a coach for a while added to its problems. Luckily, Michael Spiro, president of the Bishopswood Bowling Club in Norrice Lea, agreed to accommodate the contingent for free.
The men’s team sprung a surprise as well, winning a silver medal in a sport India had never participated in before at the quadrennial event.
India will have a shot at further glory at the 2023 World Championships in Gold Coast.
A giant leap
India’s wait for the elusive Thomas Cup finally ended in 2022 after over 70 years. It beat 14-time champion Indonesia 3-0 to become the sixth nation to win the championship.
India had reached the semifinals of the tournament in 1952, 1955 and 1979, but failed to cross the final two hurdles on each occasion.
World Championships bronze medallist Lakshya Sen first defeated Indonesia’s World No. 5 Anthony Sinisuka Ginting 8-21, 21-17, 21-16 in the first men’s singles to hand India the lead. In the first doubles game, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty saved four match points before beating Mohammad Ahsan and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo 18-21, 23-21, 21-19 to extend India’s lead.
Worlds silver medallist K. Srikanth then rode on the momentum to edge Jonatan Christie 21-15, 23-21 in only 48 minutes in the second men’s singles match to seal the contest.
“I am happy. Everyone played extremely well. I don’t think this is one individual’s win. It is about all 10 players. Everyone stepped up when it mattered. It is one of the biggest wins – best in terms of tournaments and one of my best performances,” an elated Srikanth said in a virtual press conference later.
En route to its maiden title, India had beaten Malaysia and Denmark.