Day 6 of the Commonwealth Games (CWG) in Birmingham, August 3, was a historic day for Indian sports—it was full of unprecedented highs, the kind of “first-time-ever” stuff that lifts certain sporting disciplines or sportspeople from obscurity and paves the way for a better future.We already saw that happening with lawn bowls on August 2 when an unlikely quartet—Lovely Choubey, a police constable from Jharkhand, Pinki, a PE teacher in Delhi, Rupa Rani Tirkey, a sports officer in Jharkhand and Nayanmoni Saikia, a forest officer from Assam—won India’s first medal in the sport, that too a gold, prompting a flood of celebrations on social media, where everyone from the Prime Minister to the President tweeted about them.
Congratulations to Lovely Choubey, Rupa Rani Tirkey, Pinki & Nayanmoni Saikia for doing the unprecedented by winning the gold medal in lawn bowls at #CommonwealthGames! Your resolve in the see-saw battle for victory in the finals made the country proud and inspired every Indian.
— President of India (@rashtrapatibhvn) August 2, 2022
On August 3, it was Saurav Ghoshal’s turn to do something truly special, winning India’s first singles medal in squash at the CWG, a hard-fought bronze against his friend and the defending champion James Willstrop. Ghoshal, who has been India’s best male singles player for some time now, is coached by James’ father Matthew, a legend of the game. With this win, Ghoshal has unlocked something that has been out of his reach since he came into the limelight by winning the British Junior title in 2004—a major men’s singles title. He had come close at the 2019 World Championship, where he had stretched the then World No. 2 to five battling games before being edged out. At the end of his CWG bronze-medal match, Ghoshal knelt in front of the glass walls of the court and wept.
Then came Tulika Maan’s silver medal in judo in the +78kg category. While India does fairly well in combat and power sports in the lower weight classes—indeed, Sushila Devi Likmabam had already won a judo silver at Birmingham a couple of days back in 48kg—it is exceedingly rare to see an Indian win in a higher weight category. In the previous editions of the CWG where judo has featured (it used to be an optional sport, but has become a core sport starting from this edition), India won a bronze in 1990 in the “extra-lightweight” class, a silver and a bronze in Under 60kg and Under 66kg in 2002, a silver in Under 60kg and in 48kg (Likmabam) and a bronze in 52kg and 78kg in 2014.
To see a heavyweight judoka in action for India is a thrill—and Maan, 23, seems to have a great future ahead of her. Maan’s story is one of great grit and courage—she was raised by a single mother, Amrita Singh, who is an assistant sub-inspector in Delhi Police’s Crime Branch. Singh’s husband was shot dead over a business rivalry, and Maan spent much of her childhood hanging around police stations with her mother. To give her something better to do with her time, Singh enrolled her in judo classes.
Like Maan, Lovepreet Singh’s bronze in the 109kg category in weightlifting is also special, for the same reasons. Singh’s win was followed by a tribute to his favourite singer, Sidhu Moosewala, the Punjab rapper who sang of social issues and was murdered earlier this year.
“I always have his music in my ears, and it was playing in my head as I approached the stage to compete,” Singh told reporters after his win.