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Indian women's hockey history-makers: Meet the ladies who defied odds to fly high at Tokyo Olympics

The Indian women's hockey team scripted history on Monday by qualifying for the semifinals of the Olympics for the first time, stunning three-time champions Australia 1-0 in Tokyo.

August 02, 2021 / 06:53 PM IST
Source: Twitter/@Tokyo2020hi

Source: Twitter/@Tokyo2020hi

The Indian women's hockey team scripted history on Monday by qualifying for the semifinals of the Olympics for the first time, stunning three-time champions Australia 1-0 in Tokyo.

PTI takes a look at the lives and careers of the ladies, who made it happen in Tokyo with the odds stacked against them.

RANI RAMPAL: A truly inspirational leader, it was under her captaincy that India created history when they won the women's Asia Cup in 2017 after 13 years. She also led her team to more glory as the Indian side won the silver medal at the 2018 Asian Games.

Rani is a spectacular rags-to-riches story in Indian sport. The daughter of a cart-puller from cradle of Indian hockey, Shahbad Markanda in the Kurukshetra district of Haryana, she rose to prominence as a 15-year-old when she became the youngest player to make the national team.

Her parents often struggled to make ends meet and the talismanic skipper used to practice with a broken hockey stick.

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SAVITA PUNIA: The rock of Indian women's team, Savita is considered to be one of the best goalkeepers in the business. She made her international debut at the age of 18 when she was selected for the Spar Cup Four Nations Tournament in Durban, South Africa.

The 31-year-old, who hails from the Sirsa district in Haryana took up hockey because of her grandfather. He had been to New Delhi to watch a hockey match and liked the sport. If it wasn't for him, she would have taken up judo or badminton.

She initially disliked hockey and goalkeeping and had to travel almost two hours by bus, with 20kg worth of goalkeeping gear, from her home to the hostel.

NEHA GOYAL: The midfielder has impressed many in her short time with the national team. She was also a part of India's historic silver medal feat at the 2018 Asian Games.

The 24-year-old, who hails from Haryana's Sonepat, would work alongside her mother and sisters at a cycle factory. The midfielder's mother, Savitri Devi also worked as a domestic help.

Savitri enrolled her daughter to a hockey academy to keep her away from home where her husband would become abusive and violent while inebriated.

Neha first represented India at the age of 14 when she was picked for the Junior Asia Cup in 2011. In the same year, at the U-21 Four-Nations Lal Bahadur Shastri women's hockey tournament, she was declared the Player of the Tournament. She made her senior debut in 2014 and played her first match at FIH Champions Challenge in Glasgow.

SALIMA TETE: Tete hails from Badkichapar village in Simdega, one of the worst Maoist affected districts in Jharkhand. The 19-year-old, known for her tenacious defending on the field, captained the Indian team that clinched the silver medal at the 2018 Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires.

She is touted to be the next big thing in Indian hockey.

Her family back home has been unable to watch her play as the sole TV set in the village has been out of order for years and the internet connectivity is poor.

Her father, who is a farmer, himself played hockey and hence encouraged his daughter to take up the sport. In the absence of proper hockey blades, Tete would use wooden sticks to practice.

NIKKI PRADHAN: The 27-year-old hails from Hesal village in Jharkhand's Khunti which lies in the impoverished eastern tribal belt and is known to be a Naxal stronghold.

She became the first female hockey player from her state to play at the Olympic Games when India participated in Rio Olympics. Since then she has represented the women's team with aplomb at every important tournament.

Her father, was a police personnel in Bihar and would often stay away from home, while Pradhan's mother would take care for the family farm and the children.

The mid-fielder was earlier sacred of playing hockey as she feared the stick would one day break her legs.

LALREMSIAMI: One of the youngest players in the team, Lalremsiami was born and brought up in Kolasib in Mizoram. The 21-year-old is the first female player from her state to compete at the Olympics.

'Siami' as she is fondly called by her teammates, helped India secure a historic silver medal at the 2018 Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires.

Hailing from a state where hockey is not that popular, there weren't many supporters in the family when she decided to take up the sport. However, after a lot of convincing, she finally got the go-ahead.

When Lalremsiami joined the team, she struggled with the language as she could barely speak English or Hindi. She had to initially communicate with her teammates through hand gestures.

Lalremsiami headed to the Olympics on the back of a personal tragedy. She lost her father just a day before India's semifinal match against Chile in FIH Series Finals last year in Hiroshima, Japan. Instead of returning home, the young striker braved personal tragedy and decided to stay back with the team.

DEEP GRACE EKKA: Born in a modest tribal farmers' family, Grace is the youngest among three sons and two daughters. She had never touched a hockey stick till she was 12 years of age.

When she began playing, her family received sharp criticism for allowing her to compete rather than learn household chores.

One of the best defenders to emerge from Odisha, Grace initially wanted to be a goalkeeper. Despite getting hit by the ball, the 27-year-old was determined to play as the custodian until her brother and maternal uncle, who used to be a goalkeepers, pushed her to be a defender.

Grace was selected in the senior team which won the bronze medal in the women's Asia Cup in 2013. She has since been a regular fixture in the side, amassing over 200 caps for India.

SUSHILA CHANU: Sushila Chanu is one of the most experienced players in the team. She had led the side in the Rio Olympics.

The 29-year-old halfback from Imphal, Manipur, started playing hockey when she was 11. The daughter of a driver, she worked as a ticker collector when she was 18.

She has been part of India's important wins and represented the country at the 2014 and 2018 Commonwealth Games.

In 2019, Chanu was part of India's victory at the FIH Series Finals as well as the FIH Olympic Qualifiers in Bhubaneswar.

However, she almost gave up hockey after she wasn't picked for her state team.

GURJIT KAUR: A vital cog in the team, she plays the dual role of a defender and is also the designated drag-flicker. Her goals have contributed to big victories for the team in recent years, biggest being this morning's strike against Australia.

Born in Miadi Kalan in Amritsar to a farmer's family, Kaur and her sister studied at a private school and knew nothing about hockey till they shifted to a boarding school.

Kaur would watch other girls play hockey all day and that is how her passion for the sport stemmed.

VANDANA KATARIYA: Hailing from Roshnabad village in Uttarakhand, Vandana forms the attacking line in the Indian team.

As a child, she would sneak away to practice her moves with tree branches, away from the elders who disapproved of her passion. But her father, who was a wrestler, encouraged her to play.

When her father died three months before the Tokyo Games, the 29-year-old couldn't even go home because of training.

NAVJOT KAUR: The Kurukshetra born attacking midfielder made her international debut in 2012 in a series against New Zealand in Napier at the back of some impressive work at the Junior Asia Cup and International U-21 tournament in the Netherlands. Since then she has been part of the team's important victories.

The 26-year-old, like several of her teammates, comes from a humble background. Her father is a mechanic while her mother is a home-maker.

NAVNEET KAUR: One of the most consistent forwards in the Indian team, Kaur, like Rani, hails from Shahabad Markanda in Haryana.

The 25-year-old forward suffered a setback in May when she contracted COVID-19.

SHARMILA DEVI: Sharmila made her senior team debut at the Olympics test event in 2019. The 19-year-old forward featured in just nine games ahead of the Tokyo Games Sharmila, including the Olympic Qualifiers.

MONIKA: The 27-year-old creative midfielder from Haryana is the backbone of the team, churning out inspiring performances in several major tournaments.

She plays an important job of linking the play from defence to attack, and has featured over 150 times for the national team.

She played a key role in India's campaign in the FIH Olympic Qualifiers in Bhubaneswar where the team clinched the berth for Tokyo after beating USA 6-5 in goal aggregate.

NISHA: The 26-year-old midfielder from Sonepat made her international debut against Uruguay in the 2019 FIH Women's Series Finals in Hiroshima.

Her father, who works as a tailor in a retail store, supported her unconditionally when she decided to take up hockey.

Although the family wasn't flourishing financially, Nisha's father somehow managed to keep aside some money that would help her travel for tournaments.

UDITA: Born in Hisar in Haryana, the 23-year-old made her senior team debut during the Indian team's tour of New Zealand in 2017. The defender has played 32 matches for the Indian team.

Although she picked up sports at an early age, the forward started playing hockey only six years ago. Initially she played handball, following in the footsteps of her father.

COACH: SJOERD MARIJNE: The former Dutch player took over the reins of the Indian women's team first in 2017 but was appointed the coach of the men's side later that year.

However, in 2018, he was re-designated the women's coach in a rejigging of roles.

Marijne, who has played for The Netherlands, led the Dutch Under-21 women's side to a World Cup title and the Dutch senior women's side to a gold at the Hockey World League Semi Finals in 2015. He had earlier also coached the Indian men's side.

The 47-year-old has been unable to visit his family due to the COVID-19 travel restrictions.
PTI
first published: Aug 2, 2021 06:47 pm

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