Know more about Indian women athletes from different eras and how they fared in the international arena. Take a look at their achievements and their place in the national sporting legacy.

Tracking India’s sporting history with key women athletes

The remarkable success of female Indian athletes and sportswomen in recent times is well documented. However, the path towards this relative success hasn’t been easy. Until the 1980 Moscow Olympics, the total number of women participants from India in 84 years of the modern Olympics was a single digit! 

As we look back at how Indian women athletes have finally started to carve a niche for themselves in the global arena, let’s start with one of the earliest Olympians, a few trailblazers along the way, some household names, and even a couple of modern India’s athletic sweethearts!

Mary D’Souza 

Six decades before Mary Kom began ruling the boxing ring, another Mary was setting the track on fire. Mary D’Souza participated in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics and was a certain choice for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics if it weren't for the lack of funds. In between, she won medals of all three metals in the 1951 Delhi Asian Games and 1954 Manila Asian Games. She held the national record for 100m, 200m, and 800m hurdles till 1957, by which time she went on to represent India in field hockey in two Hockey World Cups!

PT Usha 

India’s first truly world-class athlete, PT Usha participated at the top level for nearly two decades, from the 1980 Moscow Olympics to the 1998 Bangkok Asian Games. A highly decorated sports star, Usha dominated the Asian track and field arena during the 1980s, winning plenty of medals. She missed out on an Olympic bronze by an agonising 1/100th of a second in the 400m hurdles at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

Anju Bobby George 

Anju Bobby George was one of the best athletes in India, probably the best in field events and definitely the best Indian long jumper ever. She was the first Indian to win a world senior championship medal, a bronze in the 2003 World Championship in Paris. Anju’s 6.83m leap in the 2004 Athens Olympics still stands as a national record! Sadly, she finished 6th (later updated to 5th after Marion Jones admitted to doping) in that event and although the top three finishers in that event all tested positive in subsequent dope tests, she didn’t get upgraded to the Olympics bronze that she perhaps fairly deserved. 

Krishna Poonia

Krishna Poonia is the first female athlete to win a Commonwealth gold and the first Indian after Milkha Singh to do so. She reached the finals in discus throw in the 2012 London Olympics, the third Indian women to do so after PT Usha and Anju Bobby George. Her 64.76m discus throw of 2012 is the current Indian national record. 

Lalita Babar

In the 2016 Rio Olympics’ 3000m steeplechase, Lalita became the first Indian in 32 years to qualify for the final of an Olympic track event. She has won gold and silver medals in Asian competitions and Asian Games and was FICCI’s 2015 Indian Sportsperson of the Year. She holds the current national record in the event and is a glimmer of sporting hope for her drought-stricken homeland in Satara, Maharashtra.

Hima Das 

The teenager from Dhing, Assam became the apple of the nation’s eye for her 51.46-sec dash in the 400m event at the 2018 IAAF World Under-20 Athletics Championship. Though only 19, her place in Indian sports folklore was well-established when she became the first Indian track athlete ever to win a gold medal in a global event. She is one of the shining stars from the new generation of Indian female athletes who are looking to set a mark in the international stage.

Indian women have come a long way. The year that went by saw several Indian-origin women achieve great heights, in sports as well as other fields. Take a look some of them.

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