Wonderkids Rudrankksh, Gayatri-Treesa and Jyothi light up Indian sports in 2022

Treesa Jolly and Gayatri Gopichand, Rudrankksh Patil, Jyothi Yarraji ESPN

It's perhaps the best part of sport - an unheralded name making a breakthrough and being catapulted into the spotlight. There's excitement at having to learn of a new athlete, attaching hope (often unfairly) to a career that's yet to be blighted, and as is wont in India, hype.

The struggles to get there are at times glossed over, but there's no denying that the young talent emerging within India in a year where the Commonwealth Games and other World Championships offered a national spotlight are there to stay.

Here are ESPN India's Emerging Athletes of the Year (2022):

Treesa Jolly and Gayatri Gopichand

The name 'Gopichand' in Indian badminton is hardly a new one, but Gayatri, daughter of legend Pullela Gopichand and PVV Lakshmi, is scripting her own tale alongside Treesa Jolly. The two have gone from strength to strength in 2022. It bears out in the numbers - the pair were hovering around the 50th rank in women's doubles, before ending the year ranked 18th in the world overall and 13th in the World Tour rankings for 2022.

Treesa Jolly and Gayatri Gopichand: From reserves to history books

En-route has been the small matter of a Commonwealth Games bronze medal, a semifinal run at the All England Badminton Championships that they only qualified for on account of others withdrawing, reaching the semifinal of the Hylo Open, the final of the Syed Modi International as well as a maiden title in the form of the Odisha Open in January. Not bad for a pair that came together during the COVID-enforced lockdown.

They came together because they complement each other incredibly well - Gayatri's nimble movement and soft hands at the net dovetails well with Treesa's aggressive, power-packed game from the baseline. Mathias Boe, who's been crucial in Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty's rise in men's doubles, has been coaching them recently as well, although the credit for most of their achievements this year lays solely at their feet. The pair have had to struggle to climb up the rankings - even sponsors were hard to come by at times.

From mud courts in Cherupuzha to CWG medals in Birmingham - Treesa Jolly's fascinating journey

Aged 19, and with a trajectory that's only pointing upward, the Jolly-Gopichand pair is looking to emulate the success of Ashwini Ponnappa and Jwala Gutta in women's doubles. Could they aim higher? "By next year we want to try to go higher and step and step become top 10," said Treesa.

Do so, and the Asian Games and Paris Olympics look ever more enticing for Indian badminton fans.

Rudrankksh Patil

India has had its share of teen prodigies emerging in shooting, but after the debacle at the Tokyo Olympics there's an air of reticence when it comes to showering praise on newly emerging stars. Yet, when it comes to 19-year-old Rudrankksh Patil, that hesitation doesn't exist, simply because his achievements in 2022 have heft to them.

World Cups in shooting happen four times a year, with the field often not as competitive. India's young shooters have thrived in the past at such events, winning multiple World Cups that led to high expectations in Tokyo. A World Championship, however, is far more infrequent, with a stacked field usually including Olympic medallists. Rudrankksh beat them all.

How process-driven Rudrankksh Patil became 10m air rifle world champion at 18

He beat his idols - former World no. 1 Istvan Peni of Hungary and Tokyo Olympic bronze medallist Yang Haoran and silver winner, Lihao Sheng of China. It was a qualification score (633.9) no Indian had achieved at the event before. Despite trailing in the final round to another young hotshot, Danilo Sollazzo of Italy, Rudrankksh stormed back to win 17-13, and the gold in the 10m air rifle event.

A World Champion aged 18, confirming his Olympic spot in Paris 2024. Abhinav Bindra was 23 when he won his first (and only) World Championship. The comparisons are there, yet the Olympic gold medallist is not one to add pressure, saying "He's a fantastic prospect but I don't want to put added pressure on the boy... The future seems bright."

In a sport like shooting, where fortunes vary by the second, consistency is what separates the champions from the rest. It's evident in Rudrankksh's career trajectory that he's consistent - winning world championships at the junior level, before taking part in two World Cups in 2022 that he looked upon as experience-builders. The senior World Championship followed, after which he repeated his feat in the President's Cup (where the top 12 compete), defeating Sollazzo once more. He ended the year as the World No.1, but his target as ever, is that Olympic gold.

Just a couple of years of process-driven, steady progress then. Rudrankksh Patil is the real deal.

Jyothi Yarraji

The spate of 'Who is Jyothi Yarraji' articles in 2022 is proof enough that the hurdler from Andhra Pradesh has been catapulted into the spotlight this year. And why not? The 22-year-old has been trouncing a national record that had stood for 20 years (Anuradha Biswal, 13.38s) in 100m hurdles all year.

Meet Jyothi Yarraji - India's multiple record-breaking 100m hurdler

A pesky tailwind and the lack of a doping official denied Jyothi her national record despite beating Biswal's time (she broke down in tears the second time), before finally grabbing it officially at the Cyprus International Athletics meet with a time of 13.23s. She's chipped away at her own record all year since, which now stands at 12.82s, set at the Open Nationals in Bengaluru in October.

That's the 11th fastest time set by an Asian woman, ever. The second-fastest among Asian women in 2022 [only Japan's Mako Fukube has run faster (12.73s)]. With the 2023 Asian Games to come, a medal isn't exactly a pipe dream. Yet, that's similar to how her career began, with Jyothi beating off opposition from her family and her humble beginnings, to pursue her athletic dream.

Inside Jyothi Yarraji's history-making record

An exposure trip to Europe, followed by competing for India in the Commonwealth Games has resulted in Jyothi not being as overawed any more - she will continue to chip away at her own record, pesky tailwinds be damned (12.79s is her fastest time, albeit with a +2.5m wind speed).

Fame, however, is still a stumbling block, as Jyothi still has to explain what she does to the general populace. "Today, most people know of javelin throw because of Neeraj Chopra bhaiyya. I want to do something similar for athletics and hurdles."

That's quite the hurdle - but you wouldn't bet against fleet-footed Jyothi Yarraji sailing over it.