Medals galore at the Asian Games in Hangzhou, unprecedented dominance in archery, bigger and better strides made in athletics, and a prestigious new milestone achieved by Virat Kohli.

There was a lot that made up the 2023 sporting calendar in India.

The writers at The Field look back at the season and pick their highlights from the year.

Armless, and the one to beat

by Shahid Judge

An armless archer, seated, raised the heavy bow with her right leg. With her right shoulder, she pulled back the string, and there is barely a shudder from her legs when she held the equipment steady as she took aim and fired. Often, Sheetal Devi would hit the ten on the target placed 50 meters away.

This was the year when Sheetal was first introduced herself to the big stage, and she left an endearing mark, becoming the first female armless archer to win a medal at the World Para Championships. She won a silver at the event in Pilsen, Czech Republic, battling fever and an upset stomach.

Also read: How para archer Sheetal Devi embraced who she is to find international success

But it laid the foundation for a great deal of success yet to come for the 16-year-old from Kashmir.

At the Asian Para Games, she won gold medals in the mixed team and individual events, and silver in the women’s doubles event. By December, the girl who once hoped prosthetic arms could earn her a dream job of becoming a teacher, had become the world No 1 para archer.

And then she became the first Indian to win a World Archery award, clinching the Para Woman Archer of the Year Award.

She is the one to beat.

Sheetal Devi competing at the Asian Para Games in Hangzhou (Courtesy: Hector RETAMAL / AFP)

World domination

by Tanya Kini

In conversation with this publication from his home in Italy, Sergio Pagni, the coach of the Indian compound archery team recalled how journalists in Hangzhou during the 2022 Asian Games commented on his frequent appearance on the TV screen. The reason – India had competed in every final of the compound event and swept all five gold medals.

Due to South Korea finishing with four golds in recurve, India were adjuged the best nation in archery in Hangzhou, an unprecedented achievement.

Also read: Success with a smile – the story of Indian compound archery in 2023

The 2023 calendar year was one that saw the Indian team win 34 medals across World Cups, Asian Games, World Championships and more. The men’s, women’s and mixed teams all won 12 gold medals while, in individual events, seven different archers won gold – Jyothi Surekha Vennam, Aditi Gopichand Swami, Parneet Kaur and Prathamesh Jawkar all won more than one gold medal.

Swami became world champion twice in the same month, at the Under-18 and senior level. Alongside her, Ojas Pravin Deotale was crowned world champion in July while Deotale and Vennam took gold in the individual events at the Asian Games in August.

Juxtaposed against the disappointment that was seen in recurve archery, with only one Olympic quota so far courtesy Dhiraj Bommadevara, the sheer domination of the Indian compound archers was simply delightful to watch.

Although both Pagni and coach Pravin Sawant expressed disappointment at the lack of compound’s inclusion in the Olympics, the camaraderie of the team shone through the frequency of their successes.

The Indian compound archery team swept all five gold medals at the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou (Courtesy: AFP)

Certified legend

by Samreen Razzaqui

It had been in the making for many, many years. It was early in his career that the cricketing world had learnt about his potential greatness. Over the years, he did many things to be called great, but on one Wednesday evening in November, Virat Kohli became a certified legend.

As his own hero, Sachin Tendulkar, watched on in the iconic Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, Kohli broke Tendulkar’s record of most One-Day International hundreds, scoring a 50th century. As if it wasn’t enough that he etched his name in history in front of several legends watching, the occasion served as poetic justice too.

Also read: ICC Men’s ODI World Cup: Virat Kohli paints the perfect picture at Wankhede

He had already equalled Tendulkar’s record of 49 ODI centuries against South Africa and so the wait had begun. Then, in a high-pressure semi-final match of a World Cup, with all eyes on him, Kohli delivered yet again.

The occasion was extraordinary and Kohli topped it up with an even more special celebration. It was one that had a hint of everything that made Kohli the man he is – an acknowledgement to his hero, respect of his peers, adulation of the fans and the love of his partner.

In that moment, he also transported people back to his younger days where the aggression used to be a frequent sight, but he also reminded that he is indeed a man who has aged and learnt.

It was Kohli that had fallen to his knees but you could tell that the world had fallen to its knees too.

Virat Kohli celebrates his 50th century during the 2023 ICC Men's Cricket World Cup semi-final between India and New Zealand at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai (Courtesy: Punit PARANJPE / AFP)

Budapest dream run

by Abhijit Nair

2:59.05 minutes.

It’s a timing which is now etched in the annals of Indian athletics. More than the time on the clock, it was the manner in which it was achieved which stood out on that August evening in Budapest.

Up against the likes of heavyweights United States, Great Britain, Asian giants Japan and others, the Indian men’s 4x400m relay quartet ran the race of their life in Heat 1 of the 2023 World Athletics Championships.

If veteran Muhammed Anas Yahiya started off well with a split of 45.27s, Amoj Jacob improved to 44.68s in the second leg. Then came the famous run from Muhammed Ajmal Variyathodi putting India in serious contention with a blistering 44.17s run before Rajesh Ramesh finished off the job clocking 44.93s.

Such was the effort of the Indians that the Americans, who were expected to cruise along, had to dig deep. Justin Robinson, running the anchor leg for the US, had to physically nudge Ramesh to keep him from surging ahead.

India eventually finished second behind the US and took the automatic qualification spot from the heat.

Just as the race ended, Ramesh tumbled down with cramps. He had to be stretchered off the track following which he spent an hour puking.

The run was an Asian record, surpassing Japan’s 2.59.51 minutes. It was also the first time an Indian relay team breached the 3-minute mark. The best until that point was 3.00.25 minutes.

India’s timing on that evening was even better than the Jamaicans, who clocked 2:59.82 minutes to win Heat 2. They would eventually go on to finish fifth in the final two days later.

But, the run in the heat was a bliss. 2:59.05 minutes of pure bliss. One that forced the entire world to sit up and take note.

The Indian team of (L to R) Rajesh Ramesh, Muhammed Ajmal Variyathodi, Amoj Jacob and Muhammad Anas Yahiya celebrate after setting the Asian Record (Courtesy: Sarah MEYSSONNIER / Reuters)

Chopra keeps inspiring

By Dilip Unnikrishnan

2023 was the year when Neeraj Chopra further enhanced his status as India’s greatest track and field athlete by finally becoming a World Champion.

With his throw of 88.17m at the National Athletics Centre in Budapest, Chopra added a World Championship gold medal to his titles – which include titles at the Olympics Games, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games, Asian Athletics Championships, Diamond League Final and Junior World Championships.

But it was at the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Park in October that we got a glimpse of Chopra’s legacy.

Also read: Neeraj Chopra – the new World Champion who has now conquered it all

With Pakistan’s Arshad Nadeem withdrawing through injury, many rightly expected the men’s javelin throw event to be a cakewalk for Chopra. However, to everyone’s pleasant surprise, another Indian in Kishore Kumar Jena challenged Chopra for the Asian crown.

With his third throw, Jena threw a personal best 86.77m to leapfrog to the top spot. Chopra raised his level and threw a season best 88.88m to snatch the lead again. Jena bettered his best with an 87.54m throw but could not go past Chopra’s mark.

At the end, Chopra and Jena shared a bear-hug and wrapped themselves in the Indian flag.

Since that fateful day in Tokyo, Chopra has been at the forefront of the Indian track and field revolution. He finally has company.

Neeraj Chopra (L) and Kishore Kumar Jena (R) won gold and silver respectively at the Asian Games (Courtesy: Marko DJURICA / Reuters)