Hyderabad: Indian hockey has a rich legacy in the history of the Olympics. The men’s team had a golden period from 1928 to 1956 where they remained unbeaten and won six gold medals in a row. After winning silver in 1960, they won gold in 1964. They also won two bronze medals at 1968 and 1972 editions before clinching the yellow metal for the last time in the 1980 Games. This also remains the final hockey medal for India in the Olympics.
India’s lowest point came when they failed to qualify for the 2008 Olympic Games. Though they returned to the Olympic fold in next edition in 2012 in London Games, finished last in the fray Four years later in Rio, they finished at a lowly 8th.
Forty-one years after their last medal, Indian men’s team enters the field as one of the favourites. The team under Manpreet Singh’s leadership hopes to end the title drought in Tokyo.
India has been in good form in the last three years. They won the Asia Cup in 2017 and won Asian Champions Trophy in 2018. A year later, they also won the FIH Series Finals. Apart from that, they also reached the quarterfinals in the 2018 World Cup in Bhubaneswar In 2019, they emerged champions of the World Series. They also jumped to world no.4 in rankings.
Manpreet, who will be playing his third Games, led India successfully in the recent tour to Europe and Argentina. They had impressive results against top teams like Germany, Great Britain and reigning Olympic champions Argentina and that augurs well for the Tokyo Games.
Going by form, Manpreet Singh and Co are aiming to finish on the podium. However, it is easier said than done. They are clubbed alongside defending champions Argentina, three-time world champions and current world No.1 Australia, New Zealand, Spain and hosts Japan in Pool A.
The veteran players like Manpreet, PR Sreejesh and Birendra Lakra will be crucial for India’s campaign. There were a few eyebrows raised when the likes of SV Sunil, Akashdeep Singh, and Ramandeep Singh were left out of the squad. However, coach Graham Reid assured that the team was selected considering the conditions in Tokyo and it is the best in given conditions.
Tough challenge for women’s team
Indian women’s team will be playing their third Olympics at Tokyo. Having played in 1980, they failed to qualify for next editions. After a gap of 36 years, they qualified for the Rio Games.
However, they were eliminated in the group stage. This will be their second successive Games’ appearance.
But this edition will be very challenging as they are clubbed alongside top teams like world No.1 Netherlands, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland and South Africa.
Under Rani Rampal’s captaincy, the Indian team has achieved significant results over the last few years, including winning the Asia Cup in 2017, a silver medal at the Asian Games in 2018, silver at the 2018 Asian Champions Trophy as well as winning the FIH Series Final in 2019.
Rani also led the side to the quarterfinals of the 2018 FIH Women’s Hockey World Cup in London.
The team has both experienced and youth in the side. Eight of the players have been part of the team since the Rio Olympics while the others will debut at Tokyo Games.
Ideally, the women’s team’s target is to reach the knockout stage. Coach Sjoerd Marijne was realistic in his approach and said even if they fail to reach the knockout stage, they would aim to give their best on the field. With Games in focus, the team confined to the SAI centre in Bengaluru and worked hard on their fitness in lengthy camps due to Covid-19 restrictions. They hope to come up with their best performances in Tokyo.
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