India has been a powerhouse to legendary sporting talents for umpteen centuries. From the majestic Gama Pehelwaan to Rustam-e-Hind Dara Singh to the flying Sikh Milka Singh and the Golf Maestro Major Dhyaan Chand, all the prominent sports personalities from the past to the present have contributed beyond any measure to change the paradigm of their sport in India, break stereotypes, and carved a golden image of Indian in sports on the global map.
It would be mind-bending for anyone if given the task to create a list of the top 10 most famous sports personalities in India of all time based on their achievements as there are umpteen influential sports personalities to choose from. The only way to assess the greatness of sports personalities is by evaluating them on the basis of vital parameters like individual records, accolades, longevity in career, influence on the sport, and off-the-field contribution.
This comprehensive and enticing blog post comprises the names of the top 10 most celebrated sports personalities in India of all time and their achievements that actually depict their profoundness and influence over game and generations. Let’s get started!
Top 10 Most Famous Sports Personalities in India
1. The Great Gama
Widely acknowledged as the only undefeated Indian wrestling legend, the Great Gama also hailed as Gama Pehelwan is perhaps the most iconic and influential sports personality in India with a magnificent record of 5000 bouts won in his five-decade-long career.
Such is the impact of The Great Gama training regime and wrestling career supremacy that even the greatest martial artist of all time, Bruce Lee, took utter inspiration from his bone-crunching training methods and built an unparalleled physical strength and agility. The diet of Gama Pehelwan can put even a monster to shame. He reportedly consumed 15 liters of milk, three kilograms of butter, mutton, nine kilograms of almonds, and three baskets of fruits daily.
Legend says that in an exhibition enclosing thousands of spectators, The Great Gama lifted a stone weighing more than 1200 kg at the age of 22 and walked a fair distance. For a person weighing merely 250-300 pounds, and lifting a stone almost 100 times of weight is by far the most incredible feat of strength in the history of mankind. He was rewarded by the title of Rustam-E-Hind and was the undisputed world wrestling champion.
2. Dhyaan Chand
Dhyaan Chand is a name that alone is equal if not bigger than the history of the Indian Hockey team. Regarded by many as the best Hockey player ever to grace the game, Dhyaan Chand achieved a remarkable feat in Hockey sport that others can only dream about – three gold medals in three consecutive Olympics ( 1928, 1932, and 1936).
Umpteen Indian Hockey legends believe that the Indian hockey team witnessed its golden era under the visionary leadership of Dhyaan Chand and was a force to be reckoned with. The influence of Dhyaan Chand’s Hockey prowess can be judged by the fact that Adolf Hilter offered him the citizenship of Germany and the honor to play for the German Hockey team which he politely refused. In the three editions of the Olympics (1928-1936), he scored a staggering 37 goals in 12 matches and won Player of the Match umpteen times.
What Carl Lewis is to athletics, Dhyan Chand is to hockey. He bid adieu to the world on 3 December 1979 due to severe liver cancer. Indian Army awarded him the position of Lieutenant and he also got Padam Bhushan award.
3. Sachin Tendulkar
Sachin Tendulkar is not a name, it’s an emotion to Indian cricket fans. He is perhaps the greatest cricketer to ever walk on the god’s green earth. The prime Sachin Tendulkar made the Indian streets empty numerous times as people used to be glued to TV When he hopped on to pitch. He is affectionately touted by fans as the “Little Master” and “God of Cricket“, is arguably India’s most famous and iconic sports figure. In his remarkable 24-year-long career, Tendulkar broke countless batting records and captivated the nation with his prodigious talent. He scored more than 34000 international runs and 100 international centuries which are still intact as records.
As the leading run-scorer in international cricket across all formats, he single-handedly carried the dreams of over a billion Indian cricket devotees for more than two decades. Tendulkar’s sporting achievements made him a demigod in a country where cricket borders on religion. His superhuman feats with the bat elevated him to a status unmatched by any other Indian athlete before or since. Though he has long retired, Tendulkar remains etched in the public consciousness as the benchmark for cricketers present and future. His legendary career guarantees that no discussion of Indian sports legends will be complete without respectfully uttering the name “Sachin Tendulkar”.
4. Milkha Singh
In the realm of Indian athletics, Milkha Singh enjoys a god-like status because of his commendable achievements on track events which are yet to be surpassed. Also known as ‘The Flying Singh’, Milka Singh’s journey from a traumatic childhood (his parents were killed in violation during partition) to becoming one of the most celebrated athletes in India is moving like nothing else.
He spent most of his childhood in the refugee camps with his married sister and worked hard to get selected for the army. Milka Singh’s raw talent was acknowledged by sports coaches in the army and since then there has been no turning back for him. However, the real turning point in his career was the setback in the 1956 Olympics where he crashed out in the heats. The humiliation of loss ignited a different fire in Milka Singh and he became the first Indian to bag a gold medal in the 1958 Commonwealth Games as well as gold in the Asian Games in 1962. His stellar achievements in the track and field events have inspired countless youngsters to do well in sports and bring glory to their country.
5. PT USHA
P.T. Usha deserves a rock-solid spot in our list of most famous sports personalities in India of all time. What Milka Singh is to male athletes, PT USha is to female athletes in India. She was the first Indian female athlete to win five gold medals (in the 100m, 200m, 400m, 400m hurdles, and the 4x400m relay) at the Jakarta Asian Meet in 1985.
The “Payyoli Express” P.T. Usha rose to inevitable prominence on the international stage at the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Though she fell just short of a medal in the 400m hurdles, she had her redemption at the 1982 Asian Games in New Delhi where she claimed silver in both the 100m and 200m track events. Her major breakthrough came at the 1984 Los Angeles Games where Usha overcame setbacks in other events to focus on the 400m hurdles.
She set a new Commonwealth record in the heats and looked poised for a medal in the final. However, a false start by another runner disrupted Usha’s her flow and she ended up fourth by the slimmest of margins, 1/100th of a second from the podium. Though missing out on an Olympic medal, Usha’s heroic effort and narrow defeat propelled her to fame as one of India’s greatest track athletes and sports personalities of all time.
She is the first woman in India to become the president of the Indian Olympic Association in 2022.
6. Mahendra Singh Dhoni
Mahendra Singh Dhoni aka MSD is one of the few famous sports personalities in India that doesn’t need any introduction. The story of a small-town guy becoming one of the most marketable athletes in the world seems no less than a fairytale story. With team India and under his sagacious captaincy, India has won everything that could be won including the ODI World Cup, the T20 World Cup, 1st position in test ranking, the Asia Cup, and the Champions Trophy.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni boasts commendable ODI and T20 records and more than 17000 international runs which is astonishing considering his batting position. He achieved the tag of greatest finisher to ever grace the game of cricket. His most recent performance in IPL 2023 proves that age is not a factor in his performance. Therefore whether he can return with IPL 2024 in the year 2024 remains the main question for his humongous fan base. MSD has inspired millions of youngsters to pursue cricket and never give up on their dreams. He definitely deserves a spot in our list of the most popular sports personalities in India of all time.
7. Neeraj Chopra
Often touted as the man with a golden arm, Neeraj Chopra is perhaps the only Indian sports personality who won a gold medal in the track and field events (Javelin Throw) at the Tokyo Olympics and rose to unprecedented fame at the most expeditious rate. Neeraj Chopra burst onto the world athletics scene in 2016 when he won gold in the javelin throw at the IAAF World U20 Championships by setting a new world junior record with a throw of 86.48 meters. But this was just the beginning of young talent’s meteoric rise. In 2018, Chopra continued his winning streak in Javelin throw by winning gold in the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games consecutively and became the first Indian to win the javelin event at both competitions.
Chopra cemented his legacy further and attained a legendary status in 2021 when he won the gold medal in the javelin throw at the Tokyo Olympics. This historic achievement made him the first Indian to win an Olympic gold medal in track and field. Riding high from his Olympic triumph, Chopra broke his own national record in 2022 with a throw of 89.94 meters at the Stockholm Diamond League and bagged a gold medal once again.
The peak of Neeraj Chopra’s career came in 2023 when he captured another gold medal at the World Athletics Championships and proved to the whole world that his Olympic heroics were not a matter of luck. With his consistent podium finishes and record-breaking throws, Neeraj Chopra has become the face of Indian athletics, inspiring a nation with his electrifying performances on the world stage.
8. PV Sindhu
In the Badminton sport, if Saina Nehwal and Pulela Gopichand marked the presence of the Indian flag on the international stage, PV Sindhu instilled dominance like no one else. Two-time Olympic medalist and touted as top 5 shuttlers in the world, PV Sindhu is a shining example for all those aspiring young girls who desire to bring glory to their country in the Badminton sport.
PV Sindhu has everything in her trophy cabinet that a shuttler dreams about. She won a silver medal in the Rio Olympics 2016, a bronze medal in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, 5 world championship medals, and a glittering gold medal in the Commonwealth Wealth Games 2022 held at Birmingham. Furthermore, She also won the women’s singles title at the Singapore Open 2022 BWF Super 500 tournament after beating Chinese shuttler Wang Zhi Yi in July 2022 which itself is a monumental accomplishment.
Even a serious injury couldn’t hold her back and she made a classic comeback from the Malaysian Open 2023 injury by helping the Indian team secure a bronze medal at the Badminton Asia Mixed Team Championships. PV Sindhu has truly shaped the face of Indian Badminton and surely inspired millions to excel in this sport.
9. Vishwanath Anand
In a sport where Russians, Americans, and Europeans hold complete dominance, Vishwanath Anand is the only Indian chess player who beat the top-seed Russian players in their own game and created an indelible history that will be remembered till the end of existence.
Vishwanath Anad holds the record of being the top-ranked Indian chess master for almost 37 years which is an era-defining feat. He is a 5 times world champion and India’s first grandmaster who carved the way for millions of young chess enthusiasts in India who dream of becoming a grandmaster one day.
The intriguing thing here is Vishwanath Anand dominated the chess sport in India for so long that people barely remember any other name as an icon in the sport except him. There is no denying that it will be daunting for anyone to match his legacy in chess, however, Vishwanath Anand’s records, achievements, and legacy will continue to inspire millions and billions of Indians across the globe and make the country proud by aiming for grandmaster trophy.
10. Sunil Chhetri
Last but not the least, Sunil Chhetri deserves a place in our list of top 10 most famous sports personalities in India of all time and their achievements because of his unparalleled contribution to uplift the level of football sport in India and marked its noteworthy presence on the global stage. Football is a sport where European countries hold complete dominance and produce the finest football talents in the world. However, Sunil Chhetri marked his place on the football map in his own ways.
Still standing tall at the age of 38, Sunil Chhetri is the only Indian football player who stays third in the list of most goals in football in international matches among the active players and competing with the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. He has 93 strikes in the 143 matches and the tally is still growing strong. He led the Indian football team to humble victories in the Inter-continental Cup and SAFF Championship. The achievement is remarkable considering the fact that he lives in an ecosystem where resources, facilities, and talent are limited in India for this sport. Sunil Chhetri’s awe-inspiring contribution has inspired countless young football enthusiasts to work hard and amplify the image of football sport in India and on the global stage.