India won 107 medals—28 gold, 38 silver, and 41 bronze—at the 2023 Asian Games, its best showing ever at the continental event. The country’s previous best show was at Jakarta-Palembang 2018, where it won 70 medals.
The unprecedented three-digit haul also brought about countless memories to cherish. From the exhilarating victories on the athletics track to the skillful manoeuvres in other sporting arenas, Sportstar takes a look at 10 moments that have rightfully earned a place in the annals of the Games’ history.
1. Gold more than a medal for Parul
In the gruelling 3000m steeplechase, Bahrain’s Winfred Mutile Yavi beat Parul Chaudhary of India to the gold. It was Parul’s pet event, but she had to put that disappointment behind her, battle fatigue, and recover in time to run a punishing 5000m final inside the next 24 hours.
However, Parul pulled off a stunning heist in the second event, with a little over 50m ahead of the finish line to take the gold medal.
Japan’s Ririka Hironaka led comfortably for a major portion of the race, and quite naturally, she thought she had the win when the long strides of Parul kicked in and the Indian whizzed past her. The snapshot of the agony on Hironaka’s face and the jubilation on Parul’s encapsulated the story.
“Since I was not able to win a gold medal in steeplechase, I wanted to get a gold in 5000m. God was kind enough tonight,” said the 28-year-old.
At the end of the race, Parul fell to her knees and kissed the track before she got up and raised her hands in gratitude.
Parul’s gold was India’s first in the 5000m discipline at the Asian Games since it was introduced at the 1998 Bangkok edition. She also became the first female athlete to medal in both 3000m steeplechase and 5000m in the same edition.
And the gold was more than just a medal for Parul. When she was running to the finish line, all she could think of was the DSP (Deputy Superintendent of Police) job she could land with the UP Police.
“Hamari UP Police aisi hai ki gold medal lekar aaenge toh DSP bana denge. [In the UP Police, if you win a gold medal, they offer such a posting],” said Parul.
2. Clean sweep for the archers
In the 11 editions of archery competitions at the Asian Games, Japan only topped the charts in 1978 before South Korea displaced it for good. Until now. As the 2023 edition officially came to a close, it was India that beamed proudly on top.
After the successful lead-up to the Asian Games at the World Cups and World Championships, expectations from the compound archers were at an all-time high. However, who would have predicted a clean sweep? India won all five gold medals on offer in the compound archery events!
In the men’s individual final, it was two Indians—Ojas Deotale and Abhishek Verma—who were facing each other. The 21-year-old Ojas called it a ‘friendly battle’ but he wasn’t going to go easy on ‘ bhaiyya’ (elder brother) and went on to score 14 10s and a 9 to claim a maiden gold. In fact, the prospect of an all-women individual final was probably denied because Jyothi Surekha Vennam and Aditi Swami faced each other in the semifinal. The recurve archers, too, medalled silver and bronze.
India bagged nine medals in total, and they beat the lot – Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Kazakhstan, and Saudi Arabia. The whole lot!
The first gold came from the mixed team of Jyothi and Ojas who beat Korea’s Jaehoon Joo and So Chaewon. And it was Jyothi and Ojas who finished with a rare triple gold by claiming individual, team and mixed team golds. While compound archery is not part of the Olympic programme yet, rest assured, if it eventually gets included, the Indian archers will be ready.
3. Kishore Kumar Jena has arrived
While Kishore Kumar Jena deserves this moment for himself, it’s hard not to talk about Neeraj Chopra in the context of Jena’s rising popularity. When Arshad Nadeem pulled out on the eve of the final due to injury, Neeraj’s path to gold seemed guaranteed.
And when the controversy surrounding Neeraj’s first throw overshadowed the competition, Kishore stepped up by recording his personal best throw of 86.77 m, momentarily propelling himself to first place. Above the Olympic and world champion.
Neeraj immediately embraced his countryman to celebrate his achievement. This was good news for Indian javelin, after all. That throw may have even pushed Neeraj into shaking off the disappointment of the unregistered first throw and made him remember that his title defence was on the line.
He promptly responded with a throw of 88.88m to reclaim his position at the top.
Jena had one more level to go, and he did that with another massive throw of 87.54m.
He finished with silver, but, importantly, made it count on the big continental platform. The 28-year-old, who has been making steady strides, has improved on his personal best by nearly 10m.
This year, he had an 81.05m in March, 82.87m in June, then 84.38m in Diyagama, followed by an 84.77m throw in Hungary before his two successive personal best throws in Hangzhou.
This shows that he is not just there to play second fiddle to Neeraj, but can also make the Indian champion sweat for the podium.
And if Neeraj ever has an off day, Jena will be ready to grab the opportunity.
4. Satwik-Chirag juggernaut rolls on
While Neeraj Chopra will inevitably be the headline maker for India at world events with his supreme talent and star quality, two other Indian athletes are quietly getting there too. There is a kind of air about them that puts them in the ‘world-class’ bracket.
Each time Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty step on to the badminton court, Indian fans can expect them to get the ‘W’ against their names. After wins at the Swiss Open, Indonesia Open, Korea Open, and the Asian Championship, the duo has punctuated its stellar 2023 by winning the Asian Games gold—India’s first in the continental Games.
En route to the gold, Chirag and Satwik even beat their archnemeses, Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik from Malaysia, who held an 8-1 superior advantage over the Indian pair before the semifinal. It was a close battle until the 10-all mark of the opening game before Chirag and Satwik rolled the Malaysian pair over for a swift 21-17, 21-12 win. The manner of victory seemed so routine that the neutral supporters in the venue became subdued by the one-sided dominance of the Indians. The win also confirmed their status as the world no. 1 doubles pair.
India coach Pullela Gopichand felt the gold at Asian Games is tougher than winning one at the Olympics. “For me, the Asian Games are tougher than the Olympics. I’m very happy they peaked at the right time. If you look at the competition, teams such as Malaysia, Korea, Japan, and Indonesia send two teams. In all, there were nine nations here that sent two teams, which is not the case at the Olympics,” said Gopichand.
According to Satwik, he is the ice to Chirag’s fire, and the off-court pals are getting set to keep the momentum going as they head into the Olympic year.
5. Abhay squashes Pak challenge
Noor Zaman had Abhay Singh’s number. The 19-year old from Pakistan had already bested the Indian once and looked set to do it again—the stakes much higher this time around. India had lost to Pakistan 2-1 in the group stage, Abhay taking off a game but failing to keep Noor from walking away with the match. The Pakistani youngster, with impeccable squash pedigree and imperious talent, was confidence personified in that clash. But it was still only a battle; the war was yet to come. Winning against Malaysia in the semifinals was critical and Abhay was key to that. And when the final came, the 25-year old was ready to get his revenge.
With India and Pakistan having won a match each, just like in the group tie, the stage was set for an Abhay-Noor decider, and it was expectedly a tense affair. Challenging for every point, trudging the fine, blurred line between legal and ethical, and making it clear this was no friendly rivalry, both went for broke every second. Abhay drew first blood, winning the first game, and Noor hit back immediately to take the second. Third went to Abhay, 4th to Noor, bringing it all down to the last game of the last match of the team’s event, between the youngest members of either side. And at 10-8, Noor was firmly in the driver’s seat. Unlike earlier, Abhay had other ideas, even as the Indian supporters, in a minority in the stands, more than made up for it vocally.
He would surely go back and watch the videos at leisure; at that time, flushed with the adrenaline of victory, he would admit he remembered nothing of whatever happened next. From outside, it was madness. Abhay saved a match point, then another to make it 10-10. Then he reeled off two more points, and as Noor hit down the tin, Abhay let out a roar, threw his racquet into the stands, and leaped into the arms of his teammates before breaking down into tears. He had bottled up his feelings throughout the match to stay in the moment, never showing emotions, but they came gushing through after it was all over.
(To be continued in Part 2)