A ticket to Tokyo Olympics

Issue 05, 2019

A ticket to Tokyo Olympics

Dhanraj pillay |author

Issue 05, 2019

Hope is high and so is the pressure to perform as the men’s and women’s Indian hockey teams qualify and get ready to shine in Tokyo next year

It is common knowledge that India has won more Olympic gold medals in hockey than any other country! India has won eight gold medals in hockey in the history of Olympics, which is the highest in the world. While this may have happened decades ago, the country demands an encore and after many years, our players seem geared up to deliver. A glimpse of the same was witnessed at the qualifiers for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics that were held on November 1 and 2 in Bhubaneswar, Odisha, and saw India’s men’s and women’s teams crush their respective opponents, Russia and USA. A clean victory for the men’s team and an aggregate victory for the women’s team has earned them a place in the Tokyo Olympics.

Though the men’s team has felt the apprehension and exhilaration of a strong public focus in the last three to four years, the women’s team, ranked ninth in the world, has gotten the lesser of the disproportionate share. However, their progress over the past two years has not left any doubt about their skill and strength. Add to this, the glittering win of the Asia Cup in 2017, runner-up at the Asian Games, an eighth spot at the World Cup and a win at the FIH Series Finals against Asiad winner Japan; the team is blazing a fast route to the Olympics.

Indian women hockey players Navjot Kaur, Savita Punia, team captain Rani Rampal and Navneet Kaur after winning the final of the Women’s Asia Cup Hockey Tournament against China

There are a few in the women’s team who deserve a special mention, including captain Rani Rampal. The young blood is performing very well and I am very sure they will shine in the 2020 Olympics. If the think tank – coaches, administrators, trainers- are able to draw out the best possible strategy and convert the maximum penalty corners, our girls and boys can relive Indian hockey’s golden era.    

The current Indian hockey fraternity has no shortage of talent or leadership. We have coaches like Graham Reid (men’s team) and Sjoerd Marijne (women’s team), who have successfully altered the mindset of players to be more aggressive and confident of their skills. We have had one of the best line-ups in the men’s team right now. Manpreet Singh Pawar, the captain of India’s men’s national field hockey team, is a strong player. Sreejesh Parattu Raveendran, SV Sunil, Chinglensana Singh Kangujam, Amit Rohidas and Amit Gowda are all seasoned players. As far as this team is concerned, it has had good international exposure and very strong skillsets and I think we have an excellent chance at the Olympics. As we saw in the qualifiers, our boys made light work of their opponents Russia and the Russian team’s lack of turf action in the past few years was more than evident! At the ground level too we are seeing more talented youngsters playing hockey. There was a phase when children who were sports-oriented would only aim for cricket. However, that scenario is changing and tide is turning for hockey again.

Harmanpreet Singh ( second from left) and Kumar Varun (far right) pose after winning Hero Top Score after the final match between India and South Africa

The Indian government, over the last few years, has offered a lot of support and motivation to boost hockey in the country. This is the reason we are seeing such positive results and can expect even better performances ahead. When the Khelo India campaign was launched, athletes got a fair opportunity, be it at the school or varsity level. Several policy changes have taken place and infrastructure has been upgraded to facilitate the progress of athletes and the coaching staff as well.

Mandeep Singh , Indian hockey forward takes a shot during the final match of FIH Series Final

For any game, a player has to be prepared in all spheres. I prepared myself for a game from the night before. You have to ensure that you take the right amount of water and nutrition to be able to play soundly on the field. One should also plan his/her strategy, how much risk has to be taken, etc. Once all is in perfect proportion, you will go forward with full confidence and perform very well. While there is a lot of pressure on both the men’s and women’s teams, specially now that the Olympic schedule has been declared (the women’s team will open its campaign against world champions Netherlands while the world number 5 men’s team will face New Zealand in its first match) hope remains strong that India will clinch medals.

Dhanraj pillay

Dhanraj pillay made his debut in 1989 with the national team. As captain, he lead the squad to conquer the Asian Games of 1998 and 2003 and has been awarded the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna and the Padma Shri.
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