A year that features the Commonwealth and Asian Games was bound to throw up memorable, historic even, performances. But the range of nominees in the ESPN.in Awards for 2018 reveals how Indian athletes excelled through the year, on the badminton court and in the boxing ring -- and sometimes, as in Hima Das's case, when least expected.
The winners will be selected by a jury that includes some of the biggest names in the Indian sports fraternity: Abhinav Bindra, the only Indian to have won an individual Olympic gold; athlete Ashwini Nachappa; badminton champion and now commentator Aparna Popat; footballer Renedy Singh; Rohit Brijnath, who has covered Indian sport at all levels for the past three decades; and ESPN's senior writer Sharda Ugra.
Most of the nominations in the nine categories reference the year's two big multi-national events. At the Commonwealth Games, Indian athletes, recording their third-best tally ever, made headlines with breakthrough medals: the women's table-tennis team winning gold, or Neeraj Chopra's javelin throw that not only made him the first Indian to win the event at this level but would have been good enough for a bronze at the Rio Olympics. As Sharda Ugra wrote at the time, the Games "served notice that our athletes are pushing, striving and moving forward".
The Asian Games yielded the best-ever tally, including some genuine surprises: more TT medals and, ranking high on the emotional quotient, silver for sprinter Dutee Chand. No surprise, but equally commendable was the women's 4x400 relay team, which continued India's perfect run in this event this century.
There was another sub-plot to India's 2018 success: youth. As Susan Ninan put it in our year-end essay, "You could spot baby faces lining up at the starting blocks, shaping up for a perfect 10.9 at the target, hurling themselves past the finish line, climbing up podiums, wrapping themselves in the tri-colour and just telling the world they'd arrived." For example, six of India's 23 shooting medals at the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games this year were won by athletes under 18 years of age.
The nominations recognise the relatively low-profile, but equally significant, achievements. Real Kashmir, for example, a football team forged out of a natural disaster, rose above their environment of violence and discord, tapped into "Kashmiriyat" and became the first team from that state to qualify for the I-League's top division. Bengaluru Bulls claimed their first PKL title and it owed much to the tactics of their coach Randhir Singh Sehrawat -- both are nominees. Or any of the six nominees in the differently-abled category.
The ESPN.in Awards recognise the best individual and team performances in Indian sport on a calendar-year basis. They were first instituted for 2017, when badminton swept the awards -- PV Sindhu, Kidambi Srikanth and Pullela Gopichand winning awards for best sportsperson and best coach. The Indian women's hockey team, which won the Asia Cup, won the award for Team of the Year, and Aditi Ashok was named Emerging Player for a standout year on the golf course.