It’s hockey: On India’s Olympic medal after 41 years

A splendid fortnight in Tokyo has steered Indian hockey back to the limelight tinged with an Olympic halo. Before this, for years the sport, much akin to the West Indies in cricket, had only the good-old-days cliché to fall back upon. Champions of the distant past but plagued by middling results, was the standard template. There was the odd flicker and the nostalgically inclined with their fond remembrance of legends such as Dhyan Chand, Mohammed Shahid and Dhanraj Pillay, would hope for a sunrise. It often proved to be a mirage while cricket, football, tennis and Formula One lured the fans. That India had to wait for 41 years for its next Olympic hockey medal tells a long tale of diminishing hope. Thankfully an upward graph has been finally etched due to the grit and skill-sets of Manpreet Singh’s men, who despite an early 1-7 loss to Australia held their own and winged into the semifinals where they ran into eventual champion Belgium. The soul-numbing defeat was quickly cast aside and India prospered to wrest the bronze with a 5-4 triumph against Germany during Thursday’s third-place play-off. Mentored by coach Graham Reid, India had turned a corner and hockey was the flavour of the season. The ancient game which melded magical wrists, sprinting feet, sticks and a speeding ball, has seemingly reclaimed its Indian heart.

If men as diverse as Manpreet and goal-keeper P.R. Sreejesh showed that India was at home in modern hockey, their female counterparts showed they are equal to the very best. Rani Rampal’s unit had a dream run but a bronze was missed by a whisker. It is one of the greatest fourth-place results in Indian sporting history and on a par with where Milkha Singh and P.T. Usha finished in their respective 400m and 400m hurdles finals during the 1960 Rome and 1984 Los Angeles Games. If the men revived an old romance with hockey, the women stole hearts with a riveting performance. A semifinal berth followed by a 3-4 loss to Great Britain during Friday’s third-place play-off, left the nation with a lump in its throat as the women gave it their all on the ground. Rani, goal-keeper Savita Punia, Salima Tete and other stars showed that India has its heroes on either side of the gender-divide. To battle past stereotypes, misogyny, poverty and casteist boundaries, demands a bigger heart. The women’s hockey team had it in abundance and credit is also due to coach Sjoerd Marijne, who ended his tenure on a high. The effort put in by SAI and the sponsorship from the Odisha Government, played a big part too. Indian hockey has found its feet and this is a redemption song of the finest kind.

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2022 11:16:42 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/its-hockey-the-hindu-editorial-on-indias-olympic-medal-after-41-years/article35776125.ece

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