Jude Felix and Baljeet Singh Saini : The men behind India's debut at Youth Olympics
18 December 2016
Amidst a packed crowd of at least more than 9000 spectators at the Major Dhyan Chand Stadium, Lucknow, the Indian hockey team did the unthinkable. Defeating Belgium by 2-1, under the superb guidance of coach Harendra Singh and mentor cum star goalkeeper of the senior team Parattu Raveendran Sreejesh, India not only won their first Junior Hockey World Cup in 15 years, but also earned the distinct honor of becoming the first nation to win the World Cup on their home soil.
2 years later
On the lines of the dream run of the junior hockey team, India were on a roll in the Under 18 Asia Cup, which also served as a qualifier for the Hockey 5 segment of the Youth Olympics. Without breaking a sweat, both the Indian hockey teams [boys and girls] cruised into the finals of the Asian tournament, earning the distinction of qualifying for the Youth Olympics for the first time. While the boys went on to win the gold medal, the girls went down fighting to China and had to ultimately settle for the silver.
After the Junior Hockey World Cup victory, this is another glorious feather that can be added to the cap of a resurgent Indian hockey. Given that India hadn't succeeded in qualifying for the previous two editions, this qualification is nothing less than historic and sets a bright future ahead for this explosive sport in India.
No doubt the teams should get the lion's share of applause, but a shout out should also be given to the people, who silently worked behind the stage, to give the desired results. In the success of their teams, they're probably finding a chance to redeem their own unfulfilled dreams, and this is what makes the unsung heroes, i.e. the coaches of the respective teams, Jude Felix Sebastian [for boys] and Baljeet Singh Saini [for girls] worthy of praise.
Jude Felix: The man with a mission
One of the finest halfbacks of his era, this man fell tragically short of giving India their 2nd ever FIH World Cup 1994, when India missed the semifinals by a whisker. Infighting and maladministration cost him his precious dream of an Olympic medal, and once he retired, Jude Felix made up his mind: he wouldn't rest without giving his nation the medal he once longed to have in his own collection.
He gave it his all to field hockey, as he trained young, budding players the intricacies of the sport. Though desirous of a post that could help him achieve his unfulfilled dreams, he was hardly rewarded of his efforts, until 2014, when he was appointed as assistant coach to Terry Walsh, who led India to their third and historic gold medal at Incheon Asian Games.
After Harendra Singh stepped down as the coach of the junior hockey team, post his legendary success at the FIH Junior Hockey World Cup, the responsibility to maintain the dream run fell on Jude Felix, and going by India's success, where they conceded merely 14 goals, as compared to a whopping 79 goals, even against the likes of a team like South Korea, the only competing power in Asian hockey, whom India comfortably defeated by 12-5.
If Jude manages to land India on the podium of the Youth Olympics, and even take them to the unthinkable: a possible gold medal, he will create a historic moment in Indian hockey, that will inspire generations to come. We hope he does it the way he is famous for : letting his achievements do the talking.
Baljeet Singh Saini: The Game Changer
On the other hand, Baljeet Singh Saini has done what none ever expected, leading the Indian girl's hockey team to their first ever Youth Olympics ever. The Asian Games gold medalist, who had seen the tragic miss to the semifinals at Sydney Olympics, hopes to achieve history through his pupils on the field, when they meet for the Buenos Aires Youth Olympics on 3rd of October.
Post the historic performance at the FIH Junior Hockey World Cup 2013, where the Indian girl's team had climbed for the first time on the podium, this is another historic moment for women's hockey in India. One can understand the massive level of improvement, simply from the fact that except for their loss to China in the finals, the girls' team had scored a whopping 37 goals in their road to the finals, while conceding only 2 goals, that too in their semifinals against Malaysia.
If the women's team even manages to reach the semifinals, it would be nothing less than historic for this man, who can achieve with these girls what he couldn't himself as a player, a Youth Olympics medal.
Whether or not these two heroes create history at Buenos Aires is a matter of discussion for future, but one cannot ignore the role they've played in the resurrection of Indian hockey, for which they shall never be forgotten.