Tokyo Olympics, a watershed moment for Indian hockey
Tokyo also marked a significant milestone as the men's team rose to world No.3 and the women's team jumped two spots to be world No 8, their highest-ever rankings in the sport.
Their delightful finish at Tokyo 2020 had Prime Minister Narendra Modi reaching out to both the captains, Manpreet Singh and Rani Rampal, to praise and motivate them for their journey ahead.
The 2018 Asian Games bronze-winning team had last stepped on an Olympic podium in Moscow 1980 and were knocked out by Belgium in the quarter-finals in Rio 2016. A new-look Indian team at Tokyo 2020, however, had a perfect blend of youth and experience. The comeback wins they had during the competition were sheer treats for the spectators.
The women’s team, on the other hand, had finished last at Rio 2016 and with little expectations to carry, the team flourished. They didn't have the best of starts and had to rely on an Ireland defeat to qualify for the knockouts, but their attitude in the following rounds was brilliant, to say the least.
"A lot has changed in the mindset of our team in the past few years, we don't fear the stronger opponents anymore. Earlier, when we used to play against the Netherlands or Great Britain, we used to panic. That's not the case now," forward Navneet Kaur told hockey India.
Following a disappointment in Rio 2016, both men’s and women’s teams made massive transformations that were appreciated and praised by all. India was the only country to feature in both men’s and women’s semi-finals. In a gripping encounter, the men’s team recovered from a two-goal deficit in the bronze medal match to beat Germany 5-4.
Harmanpreet Singh, with seven goals, emerged as the leading goal scorer for India and Rupinder Pal Singh (4), Gurjant Singh (3), and Simranpreet Singh (3) rose to the occasion too. Goalkeeper PR Sreejesh held the Indian post like a wall.
The women, too, had their share of thrill against defending champion and world No. 2 Great Britain. In a matter of five minutes, India transformed a 0-2 deficit into a 3-2 lead at half-time, only to miss by the narrowest of margin.
For the women, Vandana Kataria became the first Indian woman to score an Olympic hat-trick. She scored four goals at the Games. Drag-flicker Gurjit Kaur (4), Rani Rampal, Neha and Navneet Kaur led the Indian charge as experienced Deep Grace Ekka along with other defenders averted threats. Goalkeeper Savita saved eight shots against Australia in the quarter-finals and seven against Great Britain in the semis.
Both teams lived up to their expectations and at any time during the competition didn’t stop believing. Their performance against the top teams speaks volumes of their future achievements.
Featured photo: Hockey India