Haryana and Punjab: The home to India’s Olympic champions

Haryana had 31 athletes in the contingent, which is nearly 25% of the total, while Punjab had 19

Haryana and Punjab: The home to India’s Olympic champions

Rohit Bhandiye

The northern Indian states of Haryana and Punjab is home to just 4.4% percent of India’s population, but both these states together accounted for 40% of the Indian contingent by sending 50 athletes to the Tokyo Olympics 2020.

Haryana had 31 athletes in the contingent, which is nearly 25% of the total, while Punjab had 19.

“It’s the sports culture in Haryana that is producing so many Olympians. There is something special about the soil over here,” says Neeraj Chopra, India’s only gold medalist at the Tokyo Games. Chopra himself comes from the Panipat district of Haryana.

Infact, all the three men – Neeraj Chopra (Gold in Athletics), Ravi Kumar Dahiya (Silver in Wrestling) and Bajrang Punia (Bronze in Wrestling) - who won an individual Olympic medal for India in Tokyo have come from the rural villages of Haryana.

Before the Tokyo Games, India had won 14 individual Olympic medals and Haryana had accounted for four of them - Vijender Singh, Saina Nehwal, Yogeshwar Dutt, and Sakshi Malik. Infact, all these seven individual Olympic medalists have come from different parts of the state - Panipat, Sonepat, Jhajjar, Bhiwani, Hisar and Rohtak.

“After Sushil Kumar (2008 and 2012) and Yogeshwar Dutt (2012) won Olympic medals, we saw how much respect; name and fame the wrestlers got. This inspired me a lot to win an Olympic medal one day,” says, Ravi Kumar Dahiya won a silver medal in wrestling at Tokyo.

Haryana has traditionally been good in wrestling, boxing and hockey. Infact, all the seven wrestlers in the Indian squad were from the state apart from nine players in the women's hockey team including its captain Rani Rampal who comes from Shahabad Markanda in Kurukshetra district of Haryana. The women’s hockey team narrowly missed out on a podium finish as they finished fourth.

Wrestling has been a tradition since ages especially in rural Haryana. Most of the villages in Haryana have akharas where young boys practice on the mud pit. In rural Haryana, where gyms are very few, wrestling is seen as a good sport for exercise and to burn those extra calories gained from their high fat diet consisting of dairy products.

The villages in Sonepat district of Haryana are famous for producing champion wrestlers having produced Olympic medalists Ravi Kumar Dahiya and Yogeshwar Dutt. With six players, four in hockey and two in wrestling, Sonepat district contributed to the most number of Olympians, followed by Kurukshetra and Jhajjar.

Ever since Vijender Singh won India’s first boxing medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, it created a new boxing revolution in the Bhiwani district of Haryana, Vijender’s home town. Now, Bhiwani boasts of a lot of boxing academies and has become a hub to some of India’s finest boxers. Infact, four out of the nine boxers in the Indian team were from Haryana including two from Bhiwani.

Not far behind is the state of Punjab. Ten members in the men's hockey team including its captain Manpreet Singh are from Punjab which won the historic bronze medal in Tokyo, India’s first hockey medal at the Olympics after 41 years. Infact, majority of the players came from the rural villages of Punjab with Jalandhar and Amritsar districts contributing to the most number of Olympians.

For most Punjabis, hockey is their first love over any other sport, more than even cricket. It is a state where parents prefer their kids to choose hockey over academics and have been very supportive about it. Besides this, AstroTurf grounds are found even in smaller cities of Punjab. With many tournaments being held throughout the year at the district level, starting from under-12 to seniors, so when players become 17-18, they are good enough to break into the national camp.

India has won a record 12 medals in hockey at the Olympic Games including eight gold medals. Not surprisingly, majority of the players from the Olympic medal winning hockey teams over the years have come from Punjab.

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