The Indian women’s hockey team may have missed out on a medal in the recently concluded Tokyo Olympics, but they certainly won millions of hearts and made the country long-starved for Olympic glory in hockey – dreamed up again.
After losing his first three pool games, Rani Rampal-led team made a comeback To win the next three matches – including the quarter-final against world number two Australia – to reach the semi-finals.
The team then fought hard against Argentina in the semi-finals but missed out on a place in the final after losing 1-2. A similar gritty performance was seen in the bronze medal match as they were leading 3–2 after two quarters but then Great Britain won the medal by scoring twice.
In an exclusive interview with Naveen Bharat Editor-in-Chief Sudhir Choudhary, the players of the Indian women’s hockey team embark on their exciting journey at the Tokyo Olympics and share tales of sweat, tears and humble beginnings.
Question: Rani, what made you cry so much after losing the bronze medal match?
Answer: It was an emotional moment for us, we were very close to the medal. Despite being so close, it hurts a lot to come back without a medal. The life of an athlete is not that easy. We have sacrificed a lot in the time of COVID. I was away from family for a long time. I am so happy for all the love I have received from the nation. The women’s hockey team has never received so much love before.
Question: What was your thought process and how were you feeling before the bronze medal match?
Answer: We were full of confidence before the match. We played well in the semi-final against Argentina. We had decided not to give up the medal. Our team gave everything on the field and fought till the end, but unfortunately, it was not our day.
Question: Savita, how did you stop so many goals in the Tokyo Olympics?
Answer: It has been a long journey. We were not satisfied with our performance in the last Olympics. Our strategy was to go match by match. We decided, we have to finish well. We lost a few games in the beginning but later we came back and that was the turning point.
Question: Salima, how did you feel when you came to know that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is asking about you?
Answer: I was happy inside because I worked very hard. We improved with each passing game. I am the youngest so I didn’t have much experience.
Question: How does the team treat 19-year-old Salima?
Answer: Senior players always advise me to play my natural game and play freely.
Question: Lalremsiami, how was your experience?
Answer: Very nice sir I come from a small state of Mizoram, where people do not know much about hockey. I really enjoyed playing in the Tokyo Olympics.
Question: Navjot, what change did you see when you returned to India?
Answer: Many people came to welcome us at the airport. It is great that the country is supporting us so much. Heartily respect us. Our journey has just begun, so we will do well in the future as well.
Question: Queen, how much have you struggled to reach the hockey field?
Answer: I have seen a lot of struggle since childhood. I started playing hockey at the age of seven at Shahbad Hockey Nursery in Kurukshetra, Haryana. It was difficult for girls to move out of Haryana 20 years ago. The parents were not very educated and did not know about the sport. He was concerned about the society and what would people say if he would send his daughter out for practice. I come from very poor family. But difficulties give you the courage to do something big.