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From Shahabad Markanda to Tokyo – the journey of Indian women hockey players to Olympic glory

The 16-member Indian women's hockey squad to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games includes eight stalwarts and as many Olympic debutants (Image courtesy: Twitter/@TheHockeyIndia)

Drag-flicker Gurjit Kaur, who scored the solitary goal in the stunning quarterfinal victory over Australia on Monday, is among the eight debutants fielded by Indian women's hockey team at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

While the 16-member squad includes eight stalwarts who have had the experience of representing India at the historic appearance of the Indian women's team at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games after a gap of 36 years, the rest eight are now credited with scripting history in their very first Olympics.

Having amassed a total of 1,492 India caps between them, skipper Rani Rampal, Savita, Deep Grace Ekka, Sushila Chanu Pukhrambam, Monika, Nikki Pradhan, Navjot Kaur and Vandana Katariya, who were part of the Indian team at Rio Olympics, were expected to lead India's charge in Tokyo as well.

However, the eight Olympic debutants – Gurjit Kaur, Udita, Nisha, Neha, Navneet Kaur, Sharmila Devi, Lalremsiami, the first player hailing from Mizoram in the team, and Salima Tete – have played a stellar role as the Indian team made it to Olympic semis for the first time.

Their quest for glory at the Tokyo Olympics and rock solid determination was however quite evident during the final preparation camp at the SAI Centre in Bengaluru.

Here's a look at what a few of them had told Hockey India before departing for Tokyo:

25-year-old forward Navneet Kaur from Haryana's Shahabad Markanda who is taking part in her first Olympic campaign in Tokyo:

"A lot has changed in the mindset of our team in the past few years, we don't fear the stronger opponents anymore. Earlier, when we used to play against the Netherlands or Great Britain, we used to panic. That's not the case now. We fight until the final whistle. It's not over until it's over."

21-year-old striker Lalremsiami, fondly known as Siami, is the first female player from Mizoram to make it to the Olympics:

"My dad wanted me to represent India and win a medal at the Olympics. I always wanted to make him proud, and I am pretty sure he would be proud of me today. But, the job isn't done yet because I am yet to win a medal."

25-year-old midfielder Nisha, whose father works as a tailor in a retail store in Haryana's Sonipat, is among the eight Olympic debutants in the Rani Rampal-led Indian squad in Tokyo:

"My father always dreamt of seeing me play for India and even though he toiled day in and day out to ensure three meals a day for my family, he never discouraged me from playing hockey. He somehow managed to keep aside a few hundred rupees that would help me travel for a tournament. I feel very fortunate that I was picked in the squad for the Tokyo Olympics. Very few people get to live this dream so early in their international career."

23-year-old forward Udita from Haryana, who was part of the Silver Medal-winning team at the 2018 Asian Games, also lost her father in 2015 but never lost sight of achieving her ultimate goal:

"It's amazing where life takes you. I only started playing Hockey six years ago. Before that, I was busy playing handball. But life had other plans for me. My handball Coach was absent for three consecutive days and led me to choose Hockey as an alternative sport. And the choice to play Hockey changed my life entirely."

25-year-old defender Gurjit Kaur, who created history at the Oi Hockey Stadium by scoring the lone goal in the match against the Hockeyroos of Australia on Monday, was born in a farmer's family in Amritsar's Miadi Kalan: 

"My sister and I had spent most of our early years in a private school close to our village. We then moved to a boarding school in Kairon which was around 70 kilometers from our home. It was here where both of us got a chance to try something new. I knew nothing about the game so the whole day I used to just watch the other girls play. And that made me want to play the game."

25-year-old forward Navneet Kaur from Haryana who had suffered a setback after being infected with Covid-19:

"The team environment is like a family, where the seniors and the juniors can exchange ideas about each other’s game. The seniors motivate us to ride to perform better in top events. I hope we can use that during the Tokyo Olympics and come back with a medal."

The team with the right mix of experience and youth has indeed used it fully at the Tokyo Olympics. By stopping the three times Olympic gold medallists from even scoring a single goal today, the Indian women have shown that they can match the achievement of their men's team in every possible way.

Also Read: Fans say 'chak de India' after women's hockey team scripts history at Tokyo Olympic Games