The Tokyo Olympics proved to be a magnificent tournament for both teams.

The Indian women’s hockey team had a historic campaign at the Tokyo Olympics. The Women in Blue achieved a fourth place finish at the Games. They suffered a narrow 4-3 defeat against Great Britain in the bronze medal match.

This is the Indian women’s hockey team’s joint best-ever finish at the Olympic Games. The team had previously achieved a fourth place finish at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, though the format was very different back then. The girls have come a long way in the last couple of years. Despite missing out on a podium finish by a whisker, this achievement is significant in many ways.

Let’s look at the reasons why this performance in Tokyo could be the beginning of greater successes to come:

Helping India regain its competitive status in hockey

India’s record in hockey on the grandest stage is unparalleled. The Indian men’s hockey team has had a glorious past in the Olympics like no other. The women’s hockey tournament at the Olympic Games was introduced in the year 1980. The Indian women’s team had qualified for the inaugural edition in Moscow.

The format was very different back then. Six teams had participated and faced each other in a round-robin format. There was no knockout round and the team that topped the table won the competition. India finished in fourth place, claiming wins over Austria and Poland. A draw against eventual champions Zimbabwe was also picked up. India finished with five points from five matches, just a point behind the bronze medalists, the Soviet Union.

Since then, the Indian women’s hockey team has suffered a slump. They failed to qualify for the Olympics until Rio 2016. Though an inexperienced side finished bottom of the group, it was a step in the right direction. This time around, the performances in Tokyo are there for everyone to see.

Following the men’s team’s bronze medal triumph in Tokyo, the women’s team’s fourth place finish will be a morale-booster. Infact, at the Tokyo Olympics, India is one of the seven countries whose both women’s and men’s teams reached the knockout stages. This confirms the fact that the sport of hockey is back on track. This also means that India could become one of the superpowers of hockey in the coming years.

Bringing women’s hockey into limelight

Watch: India played brilliantly against Great Britain

Before the commencement of the Tokyo Olympics, the Indian women’s hockey team was not expected to be amongst the medal contenders. Their performances have certainly caught the attention of the entire country.

Cricket is undoubtedly the most dominant sport in the country. However, in the past week, hockey has gone toe-to-toe with it. If we are to go by Twitter hashtags, the country was glued to women’s hockey over men’s cricket. That in itself is a ground-breaking development. Several women’s hockey team players have become household names during Tokyo 2020. The hope is that this will be a turning point for the women’s hockey players in the nation.

Teamwork makes the dream work

The travelling Indian women’s squad to Tokyo was selected on the basis of form and fitness and not past reputation. This has proved to be a major decision by coach Sjoerd Marijne. The team had a perfect blend of youth and experience.

There were experienced campaigners such as Rani Rampal and Vandana Katariya, but the team played as a formidable unit. Prior to the start of the Tokyo Olympics, midfielder Sushila Chanu had said that she doesn’t have any personal goals for the Tokyo Olympics and will do anything for the team’s betterment. The team had spent a large amount of time together in Bengaluru prior to the Olympics, to build chemistry amongst themselves. There is no doubt that teamwork has been pivotal to their success. It is a lesson for the next generation, that success can be achieved in hockey, but only if everybody fights together for a common cause.

Increased mental toughness

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Gurjit Kaur scored crucial goals for India (Courtesy- Hockey India)

The start for the Indian women’s national team wasn’t good, in particular. They started the Tokyo Olympics with losses against the Netherlands, Germany and Great Britain. However, the team didn’t let their heads drop.

The Indians bounced back with crucial victories over Ireland and South Africa. This is due to the fact that Sjoerd Marijne has stressed on the mental side of the game. The players didn’t give up, even under the toughest of circumstances.

This is another thing to be noted. Yes, hard work and dedication are important, but at the highest level, you are likely to come under the toughest of circumstances. That is when mental strength can prove to be so crucial in overcoming those situations. This was not the case with the previous teams, and the current crop has certainly improved on this aspect.

No longer there just to make up the numbers

Watch: India staged a big upset against Australia

In 2012, the India women’s national team was aiming to qualify for the London Olympics. In the final of the Olympic Qualifiers, they took on South Africa at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium. They went on to suffer a 3-1 defeat. Poor finishing and a lack of coordinated effort were the major factors.

The team did bounce back, four years later. By qualifying for Rio 2016, the Indian women had secured a spot for themselves at the quadrennial event for the first time in 36 years. That experience gathered in Rio, paved the way for success in Tokyo. The team now has the habit of regularly playing against the top teams. The women’s team are currently ranked eighth in the world, which is the highest among Asian nations and the Women in Blue’s highest-ever ranking. Owing to the performances in Tokyo, the girls will no longer have a mentality of just qualifying, but to better what they have already achieved.

Garnering international attention

Reputed international media organization British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has covered the Indian women’s hockey team regularly. This is a testament to how far the team has come, that even in the UK they are being spoken about as inspiring role-models. Actually, the Indian women’s national team’s performances have made the world stand up and take notice.

From the fringes to the limelight, this will inspire the team to perform even better. Performing well for the national team gives you satisfaction, and it becomes even sweeter when you receive global attention.

Inspiring the next generational hockey players

The showings of the Indian women’s national team have been extraordinary. It was being said that hockey is a dying sport. Tokyo 2020 completely changes the scenario. There could now be more funds for the sport, especially for the women’s game. The girls have gone out on the biggest stage and proven themselves.

It will not just befit a unit that has worked very hard over the last couple of years, but will also give India the roadmap for years to come. There will be belief oozing through the young girls waiting in the ranks.

Emerging players from North-Eastern India

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Sushila and Lalremsiami have been a crucial part of the team (Courtesy- Hockey India)

Two of the unsung heroes of this achievement are Sushila Chanu and Lalremsiami. Chanu is from Manipur, whereas Lalremsiami comes from Mizoram. Both of them have been crucial in this run in for the Indian national team.

For years, it is a known fact that the Northeastern region of India is a mine full of talents. However, due to the lack of infrastructure and a proper platform, the country loses several of these talents even before they come through. In addition, hockey is not a very popular sport in the region compared to football.

Due to their achievements in Tokyo, Sushila Chanu and Lalremsiami will now become role-models for other young girls in the region. The state of Mizoram has already granted industry status to sports. The central government should now take steps to unearth hidden gems from the region. It could make children pick up the stick even in remote areas of this vast nation. Chanu and Lalremsiami have ignited the flame, now it’s the chance to give them the platform to showcase their talents.

Cementing the female wave in sports

Five of the last seven Olympic medals for India have come from women. The Indian women’s hockey team has captivated the nation through their efforts in Tokyo. This further cements the fact that Indian women can compete against the very best on the planet.

Women are today role-models not just for young girls, but even for their male counterparts. We are living in a new era, where women are paving the way forward. This is extremely significant because it is not something that has happened often in the country’s history. Being a conservative country, it is not always easy to forge a successful career as a woman, more so in sports.

However, the outlook has improved. More and more girls are getting into sports and they are also excelling at the highest level. The inspiration provided by the Indian women’s national team will further contribute towards this phenomenon. Long may this continue.

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