The outbreak of the coronavirus sounded a death rattle that sent everybody indoors for months, not knowing what to do or how to react. The world went into a lockdown. Eventually, as the medical experts got to know more about how the Covid-19 was spreading, the reaction followed by way of face-masks, social distancing and hand sanitizers. But by the time that happened, the majority of the year had passed.
Slowly, with caution wrapped in Covid-19 SOPs, sports started feeling ground beneath the feet once again. But it stayed tender, as the incurable virus was still out there and the wait for the coronavirus vaccine continued with renewed hope every day.
The beginning of the year allowed just a little over two months of usual sporting action, until mid-March. But once Covid-19 was declared a pandemic, a global lockdown followed, with India too bolting its gates from March 25.
Even though the sporting wheels are back in motion now, the return of international competition at regular pace is likely only in the New Year, when the world would also hope to see the rescheduled Olympics taking place in Tokyo.
Until then, here’s a recap of the top moments in sports for India in 2020:
SANIA MIRZA MAKES VICTORIOUS RETURN AFTER PREGNANCY
Sania Mirza worked her way back to the tennis courts after two years due to a pregnancy break, and it turned out to be a memorable one. Partnering Nadiia Kichenok, Sania won the women’s doubles title at the WTA Hobart International, with a 6-4, 6-4 win in the final on January 18. The unseeded Indo-Ukrainian pair defeated Chinese second seeds Shaui Peng and Shuai Zhang. It was Sania’s 42nd WTA doubles title and probably the sweetest one after giving birth to her son, Izhaan. Before that, she had won the 2017 Brisbane International with Bethanie Mattek-Sands. She opted out of the WTA circuit for the next two seasons to start a family with Shoaib Malik, who is a former captain of Pakistan’s national cricket team.
INDIA BEAT NETHERLANDS ON HOCKEY PRO LEAGUE DEBUT
Indian hockey couldn’t have asked for a better start to the year, when they defeated world No. 3 Netherlands in their debut FIH Pro League tie at Bhubaneswar’s Kalinga Stadium on January 19. After upsetting the Dutch 5-2 in the opening match of the tie a day earlier, India got the better of the visitors 3-1 in the second match via a penalty shootout after both the teams were locked at 3-3 at the end of regulation time of 60 minutes.
(Hockey India photo)
RONALDO SINGH BECOMES WORLD NO. 1 JUNIOR SPRINT CYCLIST
The remarkable rise of Indian cycling at the world stage continued as Ronaldo Singh created history by becoming the world junior No. 1 as part of all the four Sprint events. In the UCI World Junior Rankings updated in January, Ronaldo topped all the three individual events — Individual Sprint, Keirin and Time Trial — and was also the part of the Indian team, which ranked No. 1 in the Team Sprint event. Ronaldo’s feat came after Esow Alben became the first Indian cyclist to hold the top ranking in 2019. Ronaldo carried the torch forward in 2020.
Ronaldo Singh (Twitter photo)
SHARATH KAMAL ENDS 10-YEAR WAIT FOR A TITLE
Veteran Indian paddler Sharath Kamal was in two minds whether to travel for the Oman Open or not because by March the coronavirus was spreading like wildfire and the risk of infection had multiplied. But ask him now, and he will have no regret having taken that risk. The decorated Indian paddler went on to win his first tour title in a decade by lifting the trophy in Muscat on March 15. The 37-year-old defeated world No. 26 and top seed, Portuguese Marcos Freitas 6-11, 11-8, 12-10, 11-9, 3-11, 17-15 in the final. His last title victory before that had come at the Egypt Open in 2010. The Oman Open turned out to be the last International Table Tennis Federation event before Covid-19 forced a global lockdown.
(Credit: Getty Images)
RECORD NINE BOXERS BOOK OLYMPIC TICKET
India collected a historic nine Olympic quotas for the Tokyo Games before the boxing calendar was frozen due to the pandemic. At the Asian/Oceania Olympic Qualifiers in March at Amman, Jordan, India reached its biggest haul of Olympic quotas, going past the eight they had gone with at the London Olympics in 2012. Those booking their Olympic ticket included MC Mary Kom (51kg), Pooja Rani (75kg), Simranjit Kaur (60kg) and Lovlina Borgohain (69kg) in the women’s draw, and Manish Kaushik (63kg), Amit Panghal (52kg), Ashish Kumar (75kg), Satish Kumar (+91kg) and Vikas Krishan (69kg) among the men. India can still add to those nine quotas at the World Qualifiers in other weight categories.
FIVE KHEL RATNAS – A FIRST
In an unprecedented first, the Sports Ministry awarded as many as five Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna honours this year, which included cricketer Rohit Sharma, wrestler Vinesh Phogat, para-athlete Mariyappan Thangavelu, Manika Batra from table tennis and women’s hockey team captain Rani. Besides, a total of 27 athletes received the Arjuna award and 13 coaches (eight for lifetime and five in regular category) got the Dronacharya award. Taking the remaining National Sports Awards into account, there were a total of 73 winners, which was also a first. Due to the pandemic, the ceremony was held online with the players logging in from their respective homes to join President Ram Nath Kovind at the Rashtrapati Bhawan.