Even though India are still the most successful men’s hockey team at the Olympics, with eight gold medals, they are yet to claim a podium finish since the 1980 Moscow Games. However, with a rejuvenated squad gearing up for the mega-event, this might be their best chance to end the trophy drought.
We are generations past the golden age of Indian hockey when the men’s team established a monopoly in claiming top honours at the Olympics. But, the nation are yet to win a medal, forget gold, since their last dance at the 1980 Moscow Games. It’s high time the most successful men’s team in the history of the Olympics revive their glory.
However, with an influx of some exciting new talents and an assortment of some veteran players, it has seen hopes renewed once again which has ignited Indian hockey fans, with less than 50 days left for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics to begin. Some experts have even gone on to say that they possess all the ingredients to break the 40-year medal drought at the Games, which is shocking but up to the hype.
Meanwhile, the Indian women’s hockey team have shown meteoric rise off-late, commencing with a qualification to the 2016 Rio Olympics, which was their first appearance since the 1980 Moscow Games. With the promising displays in the build-up to the event, the eves are also boarding the Tokyo flight to prove a point.
Indian Men’s Hockey Team
The quarter-final exit at the 2016 Rio Olympics was hard to digest, especially after taking an early lead against eventual Silver medallists Belgium. But, the scars left on the Indian team have only helped them develop in the subsequent years, having ticked-off their flaws one-by-one over the last four years. The 2018 Asian Games bronze medal and the 2018 Commonwealth Games fourth-place finish have documented the fact that they are not going to the 2021 Tokyo Olympics as mere pushovers.
India completed formalities with a thumping 11-3 aggregate over Russia to book tickets for the 2021 Tokyo Games back in 2019, during the FIH World Olympics Qualifiers. But, with the pandemic striking a few months following the feat, preparations have been hardly ideal, even though the postponement helped the cause.
After more than a year, the Indians returned to competitive action earlier in 2021, with a trip to Europe, where they remained unbeaten against teams like Great Britain and Germany. Graham Reid’s side followed it up with two victories over reigning Olympic champions Argentina at their own backyard, in the FIH Pro League fixtures.
On the back of inspiring victories, the Indian men’s team are gearing up for the upcoming event with force at the SAI (Sports Authority of India) centre in Bengaluru. Veteran players like P Sreejesh, Manpreet Singh, Amit Rohidas and Mandeep Singh will hold the key for the Indian team when the action begins in Tokyo.
Pitted alongside Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, Spain and Japan in Group A of the men’s event, the Indian men’s hockey team will begin their 2021 Tokyo Olympics campaign against New Zealand on July 24.
Having made his international debut back in 2011, Manpreet Singh was part of India’s squad for the 2012 London Olympics as well as the 2016 Rio Olympics. A stalwart in the playmaking area, the Punjab-based hockey star has played 269 matches so far, during which he guided the Indian team to several trophies, including the 2014 Asian Games gold medal win. From 2016 onward, he was appointed as the captain of the national side and even won the 2019 Men's FIH Player of the Year Award. With loads of experience under his belt, Mandeep’s services will hold key to India’s fortune at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.
Indian Women’s Hockey Team
This will only be their third-ever appearance at the Olympics since the women’s event was introduced at the 1980 Moscow Games. The disappointing outing at the 2016 Rio Olympics hardly explains what’s in store for us in the upcoming edition, with the eves drastically escalating their game over the last few years. Top-finish at the 2017 Asia Cup and a Silver medal at the 2018 Asian Games are some of the positive results Rani Rampal and Co. have churned out in the recent past.
The team held on a narrow 6-5 lead on aggregate in an intense encounter against the USA during the 2019 Women’s FIH Olympic Qualifiers, in Bhubaneswar to qualify for the upcoming event. Likewise, their plan of action in the run-up to the Games collided with the pandemic as the team had to start from scratch once again.
Like their men compatriots, the eves have also toured South America earlier this year for some gruelling encounters with Argentina, followed by their trip to Germany. While the results were not enviable like the men’s team, Sjoerd Marijne’s side has shown sparks of brilliance on occasions. More importantly, the exposure received has been invaluable in the build-up to the quadrennial event.
For the time being, they are working on their weaknesses at the SAI centre in Bengaluru, their base until the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. Under the supervision of the Dutch head coach, the Indian women’s team are running drills to overcome mental pressure as part of their training regime. To step up the level, they have synched their practice sessions in a manner that the biological clock is already set according to the Tokyo time.
The Indian women have been drawn alongside Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Netherlands and South Africa in Group A of the qualifiers. The eves will begin their Tokyo campaign against the Netherlands on July 24.
Hailing from Haryana, Rani Rampal has been the poster-girl of Indian women’s hockey for several years now, with her goal-scoring prowess complementing the same. Having made her debut in 2009, Rani has played 241 international matches so far, during which she’s netted a whopping 118 times. It was mainly due to her heroics that India claimed the bronze medal at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games and bettered it with silver at the 2018 Jakarta Asian Games. However, the Olympics has been a domain where she is yet to showcase her potential. The 2021 Tokyo Games might well be her best opportunity to inspire India to a maiden podium finish at the showpiece event.