(As told to Debayan Sen)
For my ranking methodology, I followed the same principles I did last year -- I went with strong performances that put these athletes into medal contention at the Tokyo Olympics later this year, and I also looked at 'firsts' -- Indians breaking into a sport dominated by other countries.
PV Sindhu gets my vote for best sportswoman (again). Becoming the first Indian to win the World Championship in her sport is a massive achievement, and I hope she continues her form and stays healthy through to Tokyo. Mary Kom also continues to amaze us with her prolific run of medals, and she would definitely be an Olympic medal contender, should she qualify. Apurvi Chandela is the other big medal hopeful, with her run through 2019.
Among the men, both Amit Panghal and Saurabh Chaudhary continued with some fine form at global events and marked themselves out as future stars of their sport. However, I must make a special mention of Sathiyan. He's gone from 175th in the world rankings just after Rio to no. 24 last year. He's had some great wins against the best in the world, and has the Chinese players thinking of India as a genuine threat.
In other inspiring stories, Koneru Humpy returning to her sport after two years off due to maternity leave stood out. It is never easy -- just ask Kim Clijsters! To cap off a full comeback year with the world championship was a terrific achievement. Rupinder Pal Singh and Ritu Phogat also deserve special mention -- for the latter, stepping in from wrestling to MMA so effortlessly shows her versatility and intelligence as an athlete.
The thing that struck me about all the emerging sportspersons is how young they are getting. Divyansh Singh Panwar picked up qualification for Tokyo in some style, and Diksha Dagar showed why it is so difficult to win on the Ladies European Tour. The standout for me, though, was Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa. At 14, he's sent such a strong signal of his talent and prowess to the chess world. Grandmaster and U-18 world champion...way to go!
Among the coaches, Gopichand continues to produce world champions in his sport, and keeps showing he's worth more than just one player. For S Raman, all I will say is that a hallmark of great coaches is introducing us to players greater than themselves. Given his frame, past records and focus on academics, nobody would have thought much of Sathiyan's average talent when he came on the scene. Two working years has allowed Raman to turn him into a true world-beater.
For the team of the year, both Bengal Warriors-- an underdog winning a league is always a great story -- and the history-making cycling team made a strong case for themselves. However, the winner was easiest to pick here -- Manu and Saurabh swept virtually every gold on offer in the mixed team event in world shooting events. Reminds you of Lee-Hesh and their Midas touch for those couple of golden years!