Bhopal: “During last three matches, we knew we had to fight till the last moment, win or lose. It feels great when someone recognizes your efforts and gives you a push to do better. This is a nice gesture to bring more women and young girls into sports.” These were the thoughts of the Indian Women’s Hockey team that finished fourth at Tokyo Olympics this year. The members were awarded with a cash prize of Rs 31 lakh each at a ceremony organized at Minto Hall on Tuesday.
Rani Rampal, 26, captain
Rani Rampal's mother worked as a maid and her father was a cart-puller. There was a hockey academy near her home, and she would spend hours watching the teams play, and longing to join them. Her father, who earned around Rs 80 a day, could not afford to buy her a hockey stick, she recalls.
"Every day, I'd ask the coach to teach me too. He'd reject me because I was malnourished. Finally when I managed to get into the academy, learning with the broken sticks of senior players, I thought things would get easier. But there, everyone was expected to start training early in the morning. With no clock at home, my mother would stay up and look at the sky to check if it was the right time to wake me up,” she says.
I had come to Madhya Pradesh in 2010 for a camp and Shivraj Singh Chouhan helped us when we were in trouble. If there is one such chief minister in every state, no girl in our country will ever lag behind,” said Rampal.
Nikki Pradhan, 27, all-rounder
“Madhya Pradesh government’s initiative to honour us, has made us more confident and motivated for the next Olympics. We have come fourth this time and will bring back gold at the next Olympics,” said Pradhan.
When asked about the preparations for the 2024 Olympics, she says, “We had a strong team this time and have many more players getting pumped up for the next Olympics. Girls are coming out into the field to play more and more. This is utterly satisfying and gives the confidence that we will soon make a mark in the history.”
Gurjit Kaur, 25, drag-flicker
When asked about the top drag-flickers in the national team getting ready for the next Olympics, Kaur says, “I cannot name the names but I can assure you we have them in plenty. The team requires fit players and we all work a lot on the same. This time we will be back with a fresh and rejuvenated mindset, and ensure that we finish at the podium with gold resting on our chests. The felicitation is very motivating and it gives us the glimpse of how our people see us and how an Olympic medal matter to them.” Making her debut only at the age of 22 in a team where players normally slip out in their late 20s, Gurjit is the team’s primary drag-flicker and goalscorer. Having worked hard on her fitness to lose fat and build strength, the 25-year old has been a consistent and reliable scorer with enough variations.
In the Olympics quarter-final against World No 4, it was Gurjit who rose to the occasion and converted India’s lone penalty corner in the 22nd minute to surprise the confident Australians.
Sushila Chanu, 29, midfielder and former captain
The midfielder from Manipur with explosive speed is natural at scoring from acute angles inside the circle. When asked about playing under the captaincy of Rani, the captain at Rio Olympics in 2016 says, “Rani is great as a captain. She knows her game and know how to lead all of us into a match-winning performance.”
When asked about her father, Chanu says, “Yes, he used to run a tea shop, but right when I went for Olympics, I asked him to shut the shop. He now has a truck that he drives, but not outside the city.