Hockey

A dominant force that has gone dormant

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Hockey at the Olympic Games can be split into two halves, before 1976 Montreal Olympics and after. The Canadian federation’s reported inability to provide quality grass surface for a 14-team competition resulted in a shift to artificial pitches for the first time. The world hockey body went with the flow. European teams got a shot in the arm due to familiarity with such surfaces.

India embraced change from grass to turf with reluctance and with better-prepared teams joining the fray, got pushed back in the medals race. The successful run in Olympic hockey from 1928 (six back-to-back titles), appeared like a distant tale thereafter. Confident after a strong showing at the 1975 World Cup in Kuala Lumpur, India stumbled on the artificial turf. Four years later, Indian men stepped on the podium to receive gold medals at the 1980 Moscow Olympics. They have not finished in the top three ever since.

Dhyan Chand’s son Ashok Kumar is the link between a glittering past and the dark reality as India is doing the catching up with hockey’s elite nations.

Causes for downfall

The ace Indian forward attributed over-training on artificial turf after landing in Montreal and excitement about playing on a new surface as the causes for downfall. Ashok admitted that training like the Europeans, after watching them in preparation and practice matches, was a mistake at Montreal and it exposed India’s shortcomings on turf in matchplay. Asian dominance in Olympic hockey continued till 1960 Rome (Pakistan and India contested the final, finishing in that order).

Former Indian women’s hockey team captain Eliza Nelson echoed Ashok’s views when explaining Indian women’s difficulty in performing to potential at the 1980 Moscow Games, when the Olympics programme included women’s hockey for the first time.

Vasudevan Baskaran led the men to the gold under coach Balkishen Singh’s guidance, while the women were exhausted before the event began, due to mismanagement, explained Eliza. The players would arrive at the practice facility at the wrong time and waited hours for their turn to train. Indian coaches struggled to strike the balance between turf tactics and player skills till the late Balkishen took charge.

Respected in Australia for his knowledge and coaching technique, he moulded a skilful bunch into a winning squad in time for the 1980 Moscow Games. India drew with Spain in the men’s league, defeated the European nation again in the final. A podium finish in hockey remains a cherished dream since.

Indian team(s) at the Olympics: 1928 Amsterdam, 1932 Los Angeles, 1936 Berlin, 1948 London, 1952 Helsinki, 1956 Melbourne (all champions); 1960 Rome (second place), 1964 Tokyo (champion), 1968 Mexico (third), 1972 Munich (third), 1976 Montreal (seventh), 1980 Moscow (men: champion, women: fourth).

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2020 1:17:12 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/hockey/A-dominant-force-that-has-gone-dormant/article14506240.ece

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