Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

From Neeraj Chopra to Nikhat Zareen and Avinash Sable: 2023 Showstoppers, sports edition

2023 didn't turn out to be the year we lifted the cricket world cup again, but Indian sports beyond cricket saw many firsts, records, and historic wins. Here are the most prominent

Published: Dec 29, 2023 11:58:22 AM IST
Updated: Dec 29, 2023 12:45:49 PM IST

From (L to R): Neeraj Chopra, Avinash Sable and Nikhat Zareen.From (L to R): Neeraj Chopra, Avinash Sable and Nikhat Zareen.

Top performers of 2023 who turned heads, made headlines.

Avinash Sable

Middle-distance runner Avinash Sable won the 3,000 m steeplechase in the Asian Games, eclipsing the previous Games record by nearly three seconds. He won a second medal in the Hangzhou Games, bagging a silver in the 5,000 m. The 29-year-old also made it to the final of the Diamond League, a marquee competition for the top eight athletes who qualify through a series of track and field events. 

D Gukesh

Early in the year, 17-year-old grandmaster Gukesh was awarded the Player of the Year by the Asian Chess Federation. In August, he proved why he indeed was one as he toppled Viswanathan Anand—five-time World Champion and India’s first Grandmaster—as the top-ranked Indian chess player in the Fide rankings for the first time in 36 years. He also beat compatriot Raunak Sadhwani to become the 2023 Junior Speed Chess champion. 

Kishore Jena

India’s second-longest javelin throw of the year (after Neeraj Chopra) belongs to this 28-year-old from Odisha. With 87.54 m, Jena not only won the silver in the Asian Games, but also earned himself a spot for the Olympic Games in Paris. Earlier, Jena put up a spectacular performance in the World Athletics Championships, where he qualified for the finals and ended up just two spots shy of medal positions.

Equestrian team

The Indian equestrian team won a historic gold medal in the team dressage event in the Asian Games. The quartet of Anush Agarwalla, Hriday Vipul, Divyakriti and Sudipti Hajela overcame a stiff 10-hour competition to become the first Indians to win a gold in the event in the Games, while also bringing home the first Asiad equestrian gold in 41 years.

Md Shami

The 33-year-old fast bowler won the Purple Cap in the IPL, being its highest wicket-taker, scalping 28 wickets in 17 matches. But his most lethal avatar was on display in the ODI World Cup, where he picked up 24 wickets in seven matches, the highest in the tournament, despite being on the bench for the first four matches. The tally had three five-wicket hauls and a four-wicket one, including his career-best 7-57 against New Zealand in the semi-final. 

Men’s relay team

The quartet of Md Anas Yahiya, Amoj Jacob, Muhammad Ajmal and Rajesh Ramesh scripted history in track and field as it became the first Indian men’s team to reach the finals of 4x400 m relay at the World Athletics Championship, setting an Asian record in the qualifying round of the event. In October, the team capped a successful year with a podium finish, winning the gold in the Asian Games.  

Neeraj Chopra

Neeraj Chopra’s hot streak continued in 2023 as he became the first Indian to win a gold medal at the World Athletics Championships, bettering his own record of a silver-medal finish last year. He also came second in the finals of the prestigious Diamond League, while also winning the Doha and the Lausanne legs of the series. Later he defended his Asian Games gold as he won the title in the Hangzhou Games.  

Nikhat Zareen

Pugilist Nikhat Zareen won a gold medal in the 50 kg category of the World Boxing Championships, defending the title she had won for the first time last year. The 27-year-old performed a tad under par in the Asian Games, winning the bronze in her category, but earned herself a qualification for the Paris Olympics, where she would be one of the foremost medal contenders.  

Parul Chaudhary

An athlete who specialises in the 5,000 m and 3,000 m steeplechase, Parul Chaudhary won gold in the 5,000 m at the 2023 Asian Games—the first Indian woman to do so—after winning a silver in the 3,000 m at the same games, in October. Chaudhary plans to join the Uttar Pradesh police force in the future.

Pankaj Advani

The veteran cueist won the IBSF World Billiards Championship title in November for the 26th time, beating compatriot Sourav Kothari in the final. Pankaj Advani—who has won 18 billiards and eight snooker titles—defeated 2018 winner Kothari 1000-416 in a rematch of last year’s title clash in Kuala Lumpur. Advani’s longevity in the game is evident from the fact that he had won his first world title in this competition in 2005. 

R Praggnanandhaa

At 18, Chennai-based Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa is the fifth-youngest chess Grandmaster in the world, having defeated World No 1 chess champion Magnus Carlsen twice in 2022. In 2023, Carlsen extracted revenge by beating him in the FIDE World Cup final. Praggnanandhaa—whose elder sister Vaishali Rameshbabu is also a Grandmaster—has booked his spot for the Candidates Tournament in 2024. 

Satwiksairaj Rankireddy-Chirag Shetty

The doubles pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty have had an impressive year with five finals wins, after starting the year in a scratchy manner with pull outs due to injuries. But the year was capped by the Asian Games gold medal—India’s first-ever badminton gold and climbing to the top of the world doubles rankings soon. Yet, the duo did not get enough points to make the cut for the BWF World Tour Finals where the top eight of the current year compete for the last major title of the year.

Sheetal Devi

Armless Kashmir-born archer Sheetal Devi became the first Indian to win three medals, including two golds, at the Asian Para Games, in Hangzhou, which also marked India’s best performance ever with 111 medals. Having taken to archery training only about a year ago, the 16-year-old uses her feet to shoot.

Sunil Chhetri

Sunil Chhetri captains India’s football team and the Indian Super League Bengaluru FC club. A Padma Shri and Khel Ratna awardee, the 35-year-old led India to victory at the SAFF Championships in 2023, winning the Golden Boot award after scoring five goals. Chhetri is currently the fourth-highest scorer of international goals among active footballers with 93 goals in 143 matches—after Cristiano Ronaldo, Ali Daei and Lionel Messi. 

Shubman Gill

The ace opening batsman continued to cement his position and role in the team with an impressive record in 2023, particularly in ODI cricket and the recently concluded World Cup. In ODIs, he scored five centuries for 1,584 runs in 29 matches, including 354 runs (average 44.25) in the World Cup. He’s now been appointed captain of IPL team Gujarat Titans and is tipped to lead the Indian cricket in the future.

Category coordinators: Kathakali Chanda, Salil Panchal

Forbes India Showstoppers, in its second year, is a list of 70 achievers who have outperformed in their respective fields—cinema (theatrical release), OTT, music and sports. The timeline considered is January 1 to November 30, 2023. Three months ago, a team of journalists and senior editors at Forbes India started putting together a long list of close to 150 names of actors, filmmakers, musicians, singers and sportspersons, through primary and secondary research. They arrived at the final list of 70 in the first week of December after internal deliberations. For cinema and OTT, the factors under consideration were quality of work, appreciation (critical acclaim and popularity), level of challenge and diversity in roles, pipeline of projects, and box office success. For sports, it was achievements this year, while for music, it was popularity across mainstream genres in 2023.