Good, could have been better- The New Indian Express

Express News Service

There were highs. There were lows too. Many stars were born and many accusations were laid. 2023 was truly a remarkable year for Indian sports. A look back will tell how Indian athletes conquered new heights and laid a foundation for what is to be probably one of the biggest sporting years.

Archery played a massive role in taking India’s medal total past 100 in the Asian Games with nine medals. The recurve archery contingent, which has the opportunity to represent India in the Olympics, could only manage two medals in the continental event. Meanwhile, the compound archers had one of their best years as they bagged seven medals, including five golds. Outside of the mega event, they showcased the rise of archery in India with young Aditi Swami and Ojas Deotale being the toast of the town.

Indian squash was boosted in October when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced its inclusion in the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics after a long struggle. The squad won five medals in the Asiad, including two golds by men’s and mixed doubles teams. Anahat Singh and Abhay Singh were the young stars for squash who looked primed to carry forward the legacy of the previous generation led by the likes of Saurav Ghoshal, Dipika Pallikal, and Joshna Chinappa.

In Badminton, it was a record-breaking year for the pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty. They became the first Indian pair to top World Rankings, won the Asian Championship, and also added the Asian Games gold in men’s doubles. The three BWF World Tour titles, including their first BWF World Super 1000 title, have also added pressure on their shoulders going into the Olympic year. It was a mixed year for other shuttles bringing two medals from the Asian Games. Lakshya Sen won the Super 500 title in the Canada Open and H. S. Prannoy was the Malaysian Master in May. For women shuttlers, the Asian Games were disappointing as they came empty-handed from the event. PV Sindhu made a return from her injury layoff in January. She was part of the Indian team that won a bronze medal at the Badminton Asia Mixed Team Championships.

The Indian men’s hockey team dusted off the shaky start at the home World Cup in January and bounced back with a win in the Asian Hockey Championship and a gold medal in the Asian Games. Under the new head coach Craig Fulton, the men’s team has secured qualification for the Olympics and have FIH Pro League fixtures to look forward to. For the women’s team, 2023 was a mixed bag as they narrowly missed the direct qualification for the Olympics via the Asian Games, but they remarkably won the Asian Champions Trophy by beating Japan in the final. Their first task in 2024 will be to qualify for the Olympics.

The athletics world once again witnessed the genius of Neeraj Chopra when he won a gold at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest. Unfortunately, he was the only shining light of the tournament for India as the likes of Avinash Sable, and Murali Sreeshankar disappointed. The 68-member Indian athletics squad made more noise at Asiad as it won six gold medals courtesy of some brilliant displays from Chopra, Sable, and others. Kishore Jena, who finished with a silver medal in the men’s javelin, was the story of the year. He also managed to breach the Paris 2024 qualifying standards at Hangzhou.

Sable, who won the gold medal in the men’s 3000m steeplechase, backed it up with a silver medal in the men’s 5000m race. With 29 medals in the marquee event, the athletics contingent has a lot of expectations from the country in the Olympics. For now,  nine athletes have been qualified for the event in Paris including the likes of Parul Chaudhary and Murali Sreeshankar.Wrestling brought two out of seven medals in Tokyo 2020. Since then behind the scenes drama with the federations has been in the news more often.

In recent years, chess has witnessed a meteoric rise in the country.  R. Praggnanandhaa, Vidit Gujrathi, D Gukesh, and R Vaishali have been some of the faces of that rise in 2023. With three Indians in the Candidates tournament, the first since Grand Master Viswanathan Anand is an impressive feat in itself. Vaishali, the third Indian woman after K Humpy and D Harika to become a Grand Master will also participate in the candidates. With many opportunities in 2024, it might surpass 2023 as one of the best years for Indian chess.

Shooting had a prolific year on many fronts as the young athletes made their mark throughout the year and added 22 medals in the Asian Games, including seven gold and nine silver medals. India made the mark in the ISSF World Shooting Championships in January with 14 medals as Trap shooter Bhowneesh Mendiratta won India’s first Olympics quota place at the event

Overall, 2023 has been a mixed year for Indian sports on many fronts. If crossing the 100-medal mark in the Asian Games was one of the biggest achievements, while the federations have more to answer to the players and the nation. With the all-important Olympics and many other sporting events coming around, the nation would hope to see more from the athletes.

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