With the year coming to an illustrious end, here are the top sportspersons of 2018:
A true fighter. Heavy pressure sits on her shoulders everytime she enters the ring and MC Mary Kom has delivered. For decades, Mary has been fighting her way through, winning umpteen accolades and bringing laurels for the country, but this year, she surpassed herself as she became the first woman boxer in the world, to win 6 world championships.
With the gold, 'Magnificent Mary' also matched Cuban men's legend Felix Savon as the joint most successful pugilist (men and women) in the World Championships history.
The feisty Manipuri also won gold in the 2018 Commonwealth Games and she is now gunning for the 2020 Olympics, that is if, AIBA is not excluded from the global tournament. The mother of three isn't slowing down and other than knocking her way through, she is also now schooling children with techniques. She will have to shift to a heavier weight division by 2020. But till then, 'Magnificent Mary' will always have the eye of the tiger.
Virat 'King' Kohli. This cricketer needs no introduction. Passionate, aggressive and lethal on the field, Virat Kohli has been on a run-fest this year. He has scored five Test centuries - South Africa (Centurion), England (Birmingham & Southampton), West Indies (Rajkot), Australia (Perth) taking his tally to 25 this year and 38 in ODI cricket. King Kohli was also the fastest to reach 10,000 ODI runs this year, surpassing his idol, Sachin Tendulkar's record. He also became the first Indian to score three successive ODI centuries (vs West Indies). In 2018, Kohli scored 6 ODI tons.
He was also bestowed with the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award this year. Not only did he lead the Indian team to the No.1 Ranked Test team, but has also led from the front. With the World Cup next year, Kohli will look to emulate Kapil Dev's 1983 moment at Lord's.
Five silver medals in 2018 would count for success in most books but not in the case of PV Sindhu. Despite reaching the finals on five occasions, the star shuttler had to settle for silver, facing severe criticism and pressure for finishing runners-up way too often. However, the heavy scrutiny came as a motivational booster to shut her critics at the end of the year when she became the first Indian to win the World Tour Finals. She broke her finals jinx and overcame her fear. She also became the first Indian to win a silver medal in any women's singles event in the Asian Games.
Sindhu won the season-ending tournament and in the process, she also tamed the indomitable world no.1 Tai Tzu Ying, who tormented the Indian and her colleague Saina, for the most part, this season. This makes Sindhu one of our top sportspersons of the year.
Young, quick, bold and confident. The 'Dhing Express' has made a name globally. Hima Das became an overnight sensation when she scripted history by becoming the first Indian woman to win a gold medal at an IAAF event, posting a time of 51.46 seconds in the 400 metres at the World Under-20 Athletics Championships.
A few months later, she was leading India's hopes at the Asian Games in Jakarta, where she excelled as well. She won a silver in the 400m final, setting a national record of 50.79 seconds. The 'Dhing express' also won gold in the Women's 4x400m relay. She eventually went on to end the season ranked 23 in the world and second in Asia. With the Olympics in 2020, Hima Das is one person who has the ability to bring home a medal.
Wrestlers created history in 2018 and Bajarang Punia was one of the two wrestlers to meticulously put up shows that made the country proud. With the national federation's decision to introduce a contracts system for 150 grapplers in India, the sport is set to be professionalised like never before. The Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games saw Bajarang create history, winning golds for India. Bajrang won a silver at Budapest Worlds to end the year with medals at every major championship this season.
Vineesh Phoghat is the other Indian wrestler who bagged headlines this year in the sport. It was not just the gold medals but the manner in which the two won them, which raised hopes of India getting its first gold-medallist in the sport come Olympics in less than two years' time. Vinesh began her victorious Jakarta campaign with a revenge win over Chinese Yanan Sun against whom she suffered the career-threatening knee injury which ended her Rio Olympics campaign in excruciating pain. The Commonwealth Games may not be the best yardstick but considering that the Asian bloc is a powerhouse of the sport, Bajrang and Vinesh's gold medals at the Jakarta Games assume significance.
Mr Dependable, the man who has all eyes set on him when he walks on to the field, right from the start to the end. Be it whenever he dons the Blue national jersey or the Bengaluru FC crest, Indian football skipper Sunil Chhetri is the epitome of determination, passion and the never-give-up player you would want in your team. He led India back into the FIFA 100 rankings and helped India qualify for the AFC Asian Cup 2019. Recently, he was nominated for the 'Best Footballer in Asia 2018' award for his performances. The year 2018 has seen it's ups and downs for the India and Bengaluru FC skipper.
He led the Blue Tigers to win the Intercontinental Cup, where he netted in 8 goals. The biggest upset for the star forward would be missing out on winning the 2017-2018 ISL with Bengaluru FC. They lost the finals to Chennaiyin FC. However, he pulled himself up after that loss and led Bengaluru FC to win the Hero Super Cup. The year 2018 would also be a special year for the Indian skipper as he equalled 5-time Ballon d'Or winner and FC Barcelona star, Lionel Messi, as highest international goalscorer among the active footballers.
2019 will be a challenge and a herculean task for India to do the never done before and that is, winning the AFC Asian Cup. India are grouped with Bahrain, Thailand and hosts UAE. This could be the best chance for India and for their skipper, to revolutionise Indian football.
A prominent and reliable death over specialist, a bowler who is improving on a daily basis and has a trademark of consistency, Indian team's Jasprit Bumrah is a player in the making. Be it any format, ODI, T20 and now even Test cricket, Bumrah is the bowler the team wants. Be it any condition, the pacer knows exactly what has to be done.
Since he made his Test debut in January when he received India's 290th Test cap, Bumrah has been steamrolling his way through. He made his debut in India's tour of South Africa. Along with India's experienced bowling attack, Bumrah has tasted rare success with the team this year in Test cricket, but overall as an individual, his name will be there in the team's first choice playing XI. He has played 9 Tests so far, claiming 48 wickets, has three five-wicket hauls to his name and best figures of 6/33. He is an exciting talent in the squad who is eager to learn and improve.
The 2018 Commonwealth Games birthed a new star in the making in a sport, which isn't generally given much attention to. But the way this youngster made a sudden impact with her quick strikes in a matter of seconds with a pad, Manika Batra became India's new sensation. Manika won gold in the Commonwealth Games in the singles and women's team, won a silver in the women's doubles and a bronze in the mixed doubles in the tournament.
Manika won the 'Breakthrough Table Tennis Star' award at the prestigious International Table Tennis Federation (ITFF) Star Awards, which no Indian in history has achieved. She was also nominated for the Arjuna Award by the TTFI (Table Tennis Federation of India). Her breakthrough has made Manika one of India's top sportsperson's this year. She now eyes gold in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
In a cricket-obsessed nation, for an athlete to stand out, he or she would have to do something very extraordinary to stand out. So, meet Neeraj Chopra, who did something extraordinary to achieve a status in a short span. 2016 announced the arrival of a young athlete who broke on to the scene with a junior world record. His impressive throws in Javelin brought him gold in the 2018 Commonwealth and Asian Games. He broke his own national record twice during the year, which catapulted him into the world's elite.
Neeraj finished fourth in the prestigious Diamond League Series by accumulating 17 points, a feat never achieved by an Indian thus far in an elite field which featured best of the world.
Neeraj could well become the first Indian athlete to win an Olympic medal in the 2020 Tokyo Games.