India’s men’s and women’s hockey team say they are on the brink of a return to greatness at these Olympic Games
There was a time when India was synonymous with hockey success, winning eight Olympic gold medals over a 60-year span from 1920 to 1980. In recent years, other hockey teams have dominated the medal podium, but the Asian country feels it’s close to regaining its former glory.
India’s men’s hockey team has steadily moved up world rankings in the past year and the women’s side qualified for the Olympic Games for the first time since 1980.
Men’s goalkeeper and captain Sreejesh Parattu hopes the Rio 2016 Games will prove to be a watershed moment in Indian hockey history.
“I think the mental make-up of the team has changed tremendously,” he said. “We have started to believe in ourselves that we have the capability to beat the top teams in the world.” Parattu says the team is bubbling with excitement, especially now they are actually in the athletes’ village.
“For several players in the team, it’s their first Olympic Games and naturally they are quite nervous but we have soaked in the mood ever since we checked into the Olympic village and each one of us are upbeat and motivated.”
1‘Golden Girls of Hockey’ return after 36-year gap
The women’s side is equally enthusiastic. “Since this will be the first time in 36 years that a women’s team is participating from India, the mood and excitement is incredible back home,” defender Sushila Pukhrambam said.
“Most of us come from modest backgrounds and hockey in many ways has provided us with a new lease of life. The fact that people take notice of us, come take selfies with us and that we are in the news many times brings a lot of pride to our families and friends.
“Our qualification will do a world of good for women’s hockey in India. Our efforts here in Rio will motivate thousands of young girls in small villages across India to take up the sport. We have shown that one can make a career out of hockey in India.
“If we win a medal, it will mean bringing back the glory days of hockey in India,” Sreejesh said. “A good result here at the Olympic Games, I am sure, will ensure the younger generations will pick up the sticks.”