Sportskeeda's Indian Sportsperson of the Year – No. 15 to No. 6
2016 has been a good year for India when it comes to sports. Although the performance at the Olympics in Rio was not up to the mark, Indian athletes found success in the Paralympic Games in 2016. They excelled in all sports including cricket, football, badminton, tennis, hockey, kabaddi, and many others.
There were many hardships on the way but the athletes were able to overcome all the obstacles they faced. They persevered until they achieved success and it is this effort that needs to be lauded.
We, at Sportskeeda, have attempted to compile a list of India’s top 25 standout performers from the 2016 sporting season, culminating in the crowning of Sportskeeda’s Indian Sportsperson of the Year 2016.
#15 Pankaj Advani
Indian cueist Pankaj Advani has had a memorable year. Although the sport does not earn much recognition, Advani has strived to make his country proud. His performances throughout the year speak for themselves.
Advani started off the year by winning the bronze medal at the 2016 Asian Snooker Championship in Qatar. He then emerged as the winner of the Asian 6 Red Snooker title in Abu Dhabi. With this, he set a new record by becoming the first player to hold both the world and continental championships in 6 Red snooker at the same time.
He then claimed the bronze medal at the 2016 Six-Red World Championships along with Stephen Maguire of Scotland. The 31-year-old ace followed this up with another bronze medal at the IBSF World Snooker Championship in Doha.
Advani ended the year in sublime form claiming his 12th World Billiards Championship (150-up format). This was his 16th overall world title in cue sports, a remarkable achievement that shows his dominance in the sport. Advani is 15th on our list.
#14 Sunil Chhetri
Sunil Chhetri is perhaps the most successful footballer of the country, at least statistically speaking. He is the most-capped and the all-time leading scorer for India. His achievements this year only add to his already bustling reputation.
After his exploits with the national team where he led them to AFC Asian Cup qualification, Chhetri continued his good form for his I-League side Bengaluru FC. He helped his team to a second league title in three years, topping the scoring charts.
However, his greatest achievement of the year was to follow. After a slow start to the AFC Cup campaign, Bengaluru FC stormed their way into the finals. They even defeated defending champions Johor Darul of Malaysia in the semi-finals with Chettri scoring one of his all-time best goals to seal the deal.
However, the magnificent run came to an end in a lacklustre final. But this still remains the best performance by an Indian outfit in the tournament. He even helped his ISL team Mumbai City FC to a semi-final appearance which puts him 14th on our list.
#13 Pardeep Narwal
Pardeep Narwal is one of the many stars of the Indian national Kabaddi team. A raider who has used the dubki to great effect, Pardeep was one of India’s deadliest weapons at the Kabaddi World Cup. 2016 has been his year, as far as success is concerned.
He was the Best Young Payer and the Most Valuable player of the Pro Kabaddi League back in 2015. In 2016 he followed it up by claiming both the awards yet again in the 4th edition of the league. Of course, he helped his team, the Patna Pirates, win both the editions with ease.
Narwal was largely in the shadows of the far more experienced Rahul Chaudhari. However, he earned his spot in the Starting Seven at the World Cup. He earned a total of 47 raid points in seven matches to finish as India’s second best raider. India, obviously, went on to win the Kabaddi World Cup.
It is hard to imagine that someone so talented is only 19 years of age. With time he will only get better but for now, Narwal finds his name 13th on our list.
#12 Vijender Singh
Vijender Singh turned to professional boxing last year and has never looked back. This year he achieved new heights in his ever-soaring professional career when he clinched the WBO Asia Pacific Super Middleweight title.
He started off the year by knocking out Hungary’s Alexander Horvath in round 3 in the Flanagan-Matthews undercard. He then overcame Matiouze Royer of France at the Copper Box Arena, knocking him out in the fifth round. Then Vijender proceeded to defeat Poland’s Andrej Soldra at Bolton’s Macron Stadium securing yet another knockout.
The WBO Asia Pacific Super Middleweight bout was in July where Vijender overcame Australian Kerry Hope’s challenge in front of his home crowd. This time, though, he won by unanimous decision with two judges scoring it 98-92 while the third one scored it 100-90 in favour of the Indian pugilist.
The triumphs saw Vijender climb up to the 10th position of the WBO Rankings. The boxer then successfully defended his title in New Delhi against former world champion Francis Cheka, thereby maintaining his cent percent record this year.
#11 Varun Singh Bhati
Varun Singh Bhati has had a remarkable 2016. A year ago, no one knew his name, and now, especially after his performances at the Rio Paralympics, he has earned a lot of recognition. He jumped a distance of 1.86m at the Paralympic Games in Rio earlier in the year to win the bronze medal.
A victim of untreated polio in his childhood, Varun lost the ability to move his right leg. However, he never let his deformation become an obstacle. The high jumper shot to prominence by winning the gold medal at the 2016 IPC Athletics Asia-Oceania Championship.
He recorded a jump of 1.82m, a new Asian Record. Of course, he later bettered his own mark at the Rio Paralympics. A month before the Paralympic games, he took part at the IPC Berlin Open Athletic Championship 2016. Although he set three more event records, Varun lost out to compatriot Mariyappan Thangavelu.
His achievements this year have seen him climb up the World Rankings chart. The 21-year-old is ranked 2nd in the world and finds his name 11th on this list.
#10 Ajay Thakur
Ajay Thakur proved yet again that he is the man for the big occasion. 2016 definitely saw the resurgence of the tall, lanky raider. Those who have seen the man in action at the Kabaddi World Cup would attest to this.
Thakur’s performance at the Pro Kabaddi League did not really live up to his reputation. He managed to score only 63 points in the league and ended as the 11th most successful raider of Season 4. He mainly played second fiddle to Deepak Niwas as his team Puneri Paltan crashed out in the semi-finals.
However, he did make it to the World Cup squad where he proved his mettle. He was selected for his experience and legacy and justified his selection. In the national colours, Ajay was an all-together different player.
He finished as the best raider scoring 64 raid points in seven matches in the World Cup as India lifted the trophy. With 5 Super 10’s, including one in the final match he scripted a fantastic comeback and finds his name in the 10th spot.
#9 Deepa Malik
Yet another hero emerging from the Paralympic Games in Rio, Deepa Malik has truly made her mark this year. Not only did she manage to win a medal for India, she became India’s first woman and oldest athlete to ever win a medal at the Paralympics.
Her herculean effort saw her clinch the silver medal in F53 Shotput. The world number 7 registered her personal best with a throw of 4.61m that saw her secure a podium finish at the Paralympic Games.
Deepa, who was diagnosed with a tumour that inhibited the functions of her spinal cord in her childhood, also won a gold medal and a silver medal in Javelin throw and Shotput at the IPC Oceania Asian Championship, in Dubai earlier in the year.
Her remarkable achievements have brought glory to the country and Deepa is ranked 9th on our list of top 25 Indian sportspersons of the year.
#8 Dipa Karmakar
2016 was largely the year of women with respect to sport in India with Dipa Karmakar being yet another success story. The artistic gymnast became the first Indian gymnast to qualify for the Olympics.
It took India 52 years to have its first participant in gymnastics at the Games and no, Dipa’s story does not stop here. She went ever so close to winning a medal for the country but lost out by a whisker.
Dipa’s score of 15.066, her personal best at the Women’s Vault Gymnastics event of the Rio Olympics, was not enough as she finished fourth, and missed out on a medal by the smallest of margins.
What is remarkable about Dipa is that she is no ordinary gymnast. She performs the Produnova, or the ‘Vault of Death’, that few in the world dare to attempt. She practised on a broken scooter and makeshift equipment to train for the Olympics and still managed to come so close to a medal.
Dipa’s performances see her secure 8th position on our list.
#7 Sania Mirza
Sania Mirza is undoubtedly the best tennis talent that India has produced in recent years. In 2016, she showed yet again why she is one of the top players around the world. This year she started off by winning the Australian Open women’s doubles title along with Martina Hingis.
However, after winning two more trophies the pair split up despite having an extremely successful partnership. Together they won 41 titles – the third highest in women’s doubles history. Sania also made it to the finals of the French Open mixed doubles but lost out to Leander Paes and Hingis.
Pairing up with Barbora Strycova in women’s doubles, Sania continued her good run by winning three more tournaments and finishing as a runner-up in one. Later on, the Indian ace teamed up with Hingis yet again at the 2016 WTA Finals in Singapore but lost out in the semi-finals.
To remain World Number 1 in the WTA doubles rankings for 84 straight weeks is an incredible achievement and her performances throughout the year see her secure 7th spot.
#6 Devendra Jhajharia
Often called the ‘father of para-athletics in India’, Devendra Jhajharia ascended new heights in 2016. He became the most successful Indian athlete by securing a gold medal at the Rio Paralympics in September this year.
He started off 2016 by winning the gold medal at the 2016 IPC Athletics Asia-Oceania Championship in Dubai. At the Paralympic Games, he emerged as the victor in the men’s javelin throw F46 event with a world record throw of 63.97m.
This was only the second instance that an Indian had managed to break a world record on the biggest stage. The previous occasion was when Devendra set the world record at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.
This remarkable achievement by the 35-year-old has imbibed his name in the history of Indian sports and Devendra sees himself sit 6th on our list.