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Commonwealth Games 2022

The breakthrough stars waiting to shine at the Commonwealth Games

My Kolkata focusses on five unheralded Indian sportspersons who could become household names in Birmingham

Debrup Chaudhuri | Published 27.07.22, 12:44 PM
(L-R) Nikhat Zareen, Abdulla Aboobacker and Sangita Kumari are among the athletes to watch out for at this year’s Commonwealth Games

(L-R) Nikhat Zareen, Abdulla Aboobacker and Sangita Kumari are among the athletes to watch out for at this year’s Commonwealth Games

TT archives; AFI; Hockey India

Coinciding with the 75th year of Indian Independence, this year’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England, starting July 28, presents a fantastic opportunity for Indian athletes to take forward the momentum from the Tokyo Olympics last year.

While most eyeballs will be on the likes of P.V. Sindhu, Lakshya Sen, Manika Batra and the women’s cricket team with medal favourite Neeraj Chopra sidelined because of an injury, new heroes are likely to emerge and take India’s sporting legacy forward. My Kolkata looks at five sportspersons who can become superstars in the Midlands this summer.

Nikhat Zareen (Women’s Boxing 50kg)

Nikhat Zareen will be hoping to step out of Mary Kom’s shadow in Birmingham

Nikhat Zareen will be hoping to step out of Mary Kom’s shadow in Birmingham

TT archives

Being part of an orthodox family in Nizamabad, Telangana, Zareen had to overcome numerous odds to reach the pinnacle of women’s boxing in India. In 2009, with her father’s support, she gave up 100m and 200m sprinting to become a boxer, a decision that changed her life. She was the first woman in her district to spar with male boxers and neither the bruises nor the social stigma could undermine her will to box. Within two years of taking up boxing, Zareen won gold at the 2011 Women’s Junior and Youth World Boxing Championship in Turkey. Some 11 years and a near career-ending shoulder injury later, she won her first World Championship gold in May. And yet, despite her staggering success, she is yet to have her signature moment at a multi-sport event, with the eyes of the world on her. A strong showing in Birmingham will provide just that, allowing Zareen to become an instant superstar and kickstart the post-Mary Kom era in Indian women’s boxing. 

David Beckham (Cycling)

David Beckham used to play football just like namesake, before switching to cycling

David Beckham used to play football just like namesake, before switching to cycling

AFI

Named after one of the most iconic footballers of all time, Beckham comes from the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and used to be a footballer — even playing in the Subroto Cup — before switching to cycling in 2017. Dismissed as too short to pedal his way to glory in his early days, Beckham stuck to his guns and persevered. At 19, Beckham has already been through hardships, having lost both his parents at an early age. Last year was a turning point for him as he won his first international medals in Portugal and won bronze as part of the Indian sprint squad at the Asian Track Cycling Championships. Beckham’s next target is to emulate his idol Deborah Herold, who is also from Andaman and Nicobar, by bagging a place on the podium in Birmingham. 

Manpreet Kaur (Shot Put)

Manpreet Kaur has a point to prove after making a comeback from her doping ban

Manpreet Kaur has a point to prove after making a comeback from her doping ban

TT archives

Born in Ambala, Kaur is the national record holder in shot put. She set the record earlier this year with a throw of 18.06m, besting her own previous national record of 17.96m from 2017. Having lost her father at the age of 13, Kaur battled stark adversity, having to provide for her paralysed mother. In 2017, she entered another dark phase after being found guilty of doping by NADA and being banned for four years. Now 32, Kaur has made a comeback and how! In shape and with greater motivation than ever before, Kaur will be aiming for a medal in Birmingham. Coached by her husband Karamjit Singh, who was a university-level shot putter, Kaur is on a quest to make up for lost time at the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

Abdulla Aboobacker (Triple Jump)

Aboobacker will be looking to leap his way to history this summer

Aboobacker will be looking to leap his way to history this summer

AFI

Hailing from Kerala, Abdulla Aboobacker is an Indian Air Force man who started as a sprinter. The 26-year-old switched to triple jump when he realised the competition was too stiff on the track. His training, which had started in school, got a boost after he joined the Air Force, where coach Harikrishnan took him under his wing. Aboobacker was only the third Indian to cross the 17m barrier when he clinched gold at the Indian Grand Prix 3 in May this year. His leap of 17.19m ensured his qualification for the Commonwealth Games, where he will be trying his best to earn a podium finish.

Sangita Kumari (Hockey)

Kumari is part of a hockey contingent that is expected to be in contention for a medal

Kumari is part of a hockey contingent that is expected to be in contention for a medal

Hockey India

The youngest member of the women’s hockey team, as well as the least experienced, 20-year-old Kumari has donned the India colours six times and will be hungry to make the most of the minutes she gets in Birmingham. A forward who came into the limelight by netting 8 out of 14 goals, including two hat-tricks, for India at the 2016 U-18 Asia Cup, Kumari made her senior team debut against Spain in the Pro League 21/22. Coming from a family of farmers based in Simdega, Jharkhand, Kumari fell in love with hockey by playing in the open fields of her village, where she would make balls out of green custard apples or bamboo roots. Her finishing skills and appetite to shine on the big stage make her a wildcard equipped to break the deadlock in tight contests. 

Last updated on 27.07.22, 12:44 PM
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