The Indian women’s hockey team did not quite carry medal-winning hopes at the Tokyo Olympics. At best, a quarterfinal finish at the showpiece event would have been considered highly satisfactory for the Indian eves. Not many would have expected our girls to be on the doorstep of winning a medal, especially after they were handed defeats in their first three league ties by the Netherlands, Germany, and Great Britain. But when pushed to the wall, the pugnacity of our girls came to the fore as they overcame Ireland and South Africa hurdles before shocking mighty Australia in a famous last-eight stage game triumph. Their narrow 1-2 loss to Argentina in the semifinals and a heart-breaking 3-4 defeat to Great Britain in the bronze medal play-off match almost gave out a feeling that our girls have won much more than just winning or missing a ‘medal’. A lot of credit for our girls’ magnificent campaign in the Olympics must be attributed to the Indian women’s hockey team Sjoerd Marijne.
The 47-year-old Dutchmen, who stepped down as Indian women’s team coach after the Tokyo Olympics, understands the importance of building on the positives of the Olympics. “Indian girls have been outstanding at Tokyo – they now need to continue the good work. The girls have set a benchmark for all players coming into the national fold, who will have to raise the bar and that will make this side even stronger,” observes the former Netherlands women’s hockey team coach.
It’s never easy for any team to pick themselves up after three straight defeats in Olympics, but the girls took it as a challenge. “We knew those three games were top games which we could lose. There is no shame in losing to good teams. We did not allow those losses to affect our game plans and the girls really rose to the occasion.”
Marijne feels that a women’s hockey league can do wonders for Indian women hockey. “I’m not sure how a women’s hockey league can fit in a packed international schedule. Having said that, having a league on the lines of Hockey India League will be a big boost to women’s hockey in the country.”
The drag-flicking prowess of Gurjit Kaur was in full display at the Tokyo Olympics but a lack of options was felt when she was off the pitch when the rolling substitution was in place. “Gurjit has been fantastic for us. Deep Grace Ekka is also good with her flicks. India can do with few more drag-flickers but we must not lose sight of the fact that not many world teams have drag-flickers like men team as the ‘power’ factor is involved,” he shares his perspective.
Marijne, who took over as Indian women’s hockey team chief coach in February 2017, was briefly associated with the men’s team as chief coach before taking over again as women team coach in 2018, is excited about the overall feel of the Indian forwardline. “Rani Rampal obviously brings a lot of experience to the forwardline but we never depend on any one player. You need good goal-creators and I thought Navneet Kaur did a great job at Tokyo. Sharmilla, Lalremsiami, and Vandana all played their part. The good thing about the forwardline is that it has a solid blend of goal-scorers and goal-creators,” he quips.
He has high hopes from his successor Janneke Schopman. “India is not new to Janneke – she has been around for one year and a half. I’m sure she will drive Indian women’s hockey to new heights,” he signs off.