Shiny Wilson: The first woman to carry the flag of India at Olympics

Shiny Wilson is a Titan in her own right. And no praise would be too high for her rich contribution to Indian athletics, both on and off the track. The legend, who will turn 56 on May 8, will be worthy and automatic entrant in the AFI Hall of Fame for her stellar performances and her incredible work in promoting athletics in the country.

She represented India in four Olympic Games, three Asian Games, six Asian Championships and seven SAF Games apart from other international meets. She has a collection of 1 gold, 2 silver and 1 bronze in the Asian Games as well as 7 gold, 5 silver and 2 bronze medals from the Asian Track and Field Meets.

Shiny Wilson has been a pathbreaker in more ways than one. She was the first Indian track athlete to make it to the semifinal stage at the Olympic Games, achieving the feat in Los Angeles in 1984 when she finished fourth in her heats in a time of 2:04.69. Eight years later, she was given the honour of being the first woman to carry the Flag in the Athlete’s Parade at an Olympic Games.

Yet, her return from matrimony and motherhood to produce an 800m National Record, breaking free of the old template when marriage usually meant athletes faded away distinguishes her. By returning to the track within months of childbirth, she raised the bar for India’s women athletes in a quiet, dignified manner and getting her actions to speak louder than words.

To be honest, she was distraught at having to leave her daughter at home when she travelled to the Asian Track and Field Championships in Kuala Lumpur in 1991. The manner in which she held herself together to win India’s only gold medal in the meet spoke highly of her temperament and desire to keep the Indian flag flying.

Besides owning the two-lapper, she was among the pioneers in the women’s 400m in the 80s, breaching the one-minute barrier back in the National Open in Lucknow in November 1981. Encouraged by her father to pursue a career in athletics, she made Kurishankal Abraham and the entire family proud with her exploits over a number of years.

As a 30-year-old, Shiny Wilson rewrote her own 800m National Record during the SAF Games in Madras in 1995, setting it at 1:59.85, becoming the first Indian woman to dip in under two minutes. That record lasted a good decade and a half. She finished her career on a high with a rich haul of medals to show. Small wonder then, she was accorded the Padma Shri in 1998.

One of her most admirable and endearing qualities is her readiness to assist the AFI in every way possible, sharing her insights and opinion with candour. Her contribution to Indian athletics extends way beyond her time on the track, dominating the 800m. In doing sustained work to keep the sport on the path of evolution, she ensures that her legacy is rich and unforgettable.