Women’s hockey in India has undergone a major change since then. For the second consecutive time, Indian eves have qualified for the Olympics this time. Their ranking has improved from 12th in 2016 to 9th in 2020.
For any sportsperson, representing your country in the Olympics is the ultimate dream. For the then 29-year old Deepika Thakur, it was no different. With over 200 caps to her name, Deepika was the most experienced player in the entire team.
SportsKeeda had an exclusive chat with the former Indian player to know the team’s experience of qualifying for Rio 2016.
“We ourselves couldn’t believe that we have qualified for the Olympics. It was a dream for everyone in the team and it came true. When we found out the dates of our flight to Rio, we started counting days, and suddenly it felt like the days stopped. The days became longer and it seemed like the time has stopped for us,” says Deepika when asked about the excitement at the camp after hearing the news.
Arjuna Awardee Deepika says that the love they received from their seniors, families, friends, and the whole of India was really encouraging.
“Our seniors couldn’t qualify for the Olympics but they were happy for us. Everyone wants India to play at the Olympics and we were lucky enough to help that happen,” recalls Deepika.
The Haryana girl, who was the highest scorer of the Asian National Championship in 2016, remembers meeting the sprint legend Usain Bolt in Rio. She adds that the treatment they received in Rio was unmatched and couldn't be put into words.
Women’s hockey has made unbelievable progress in India. Taking inspiration from the Indian eves at Rio, many young girls have taken up the sport and have decided to make a career out of it. Deepika says that states like Haryana and Odisha have taken big steps in helping girls unleash the power of sports. There has been a change in the lifestyle of hockey players, more jobs have become available, among various other things.
When asked about her expectations from the Indian women’s team at this Olympics, she refused to reveal any specific expectations. She says that the team has been working hard for the last few years and should perform well in Tokyo.
“Last time, it was our first Olympics. We were all a bit nervous about how to play, how to perform. This time the team looks settled, the core team has been there for a long time, and there are so many young girls in the team. I hope they will perform to their best,” she said.
India is placed in a very tough group this time. If we go by the rankings, India is fifth in the group, with only South Africa below them.
Asked if India can make the quarters, the former Indian defender says that, “If we go to Olympics thinking about the ranking, better we shouldn’t go. It gives us a mindset that we are just going to lose.”
The team has got an excellent coach Sjoerd Marijne, and Deepika is confident that he will pull something magical out of his hat.
“Time is precious. It can be Australia’s bad day and our girls can script history. You can never guarantee what is going to happen at the Olympics,” explains Deepika.
Deepika has recently been nominated for the Khel Ratna Award
An Indian Railways employee, Deepika has recently been nominated for the Khel Ratna award by Hockey India and she is really grateful to them for nominating her.
“Public forget a player after they retire. The association/federation is the one that keeps the name and records alive. Hockey India has always been supportive of every player and has been doing their best to promote hockey in India,” mentions the ever-cheerful Deepika.
Deepika recalls that they were just told to enjoy the game in Rio and not think about anything else.
“We didn’t have any pressure on us. This time also the girls won’t be having any. They just need to play to their capacity and play all-out hockey. One who gives their best can never lose.”
Asked if we can expect a medal out of the women’s team in 2024, Deepika says, “They might come back with a medal this time too. You never know what is going to happen at the Olympics. But the way women’s hockey is shaping up, 2024 or 2028 should be the year when we can expect India to make a podium finish.”
Also Checkout: Tokyo Olympic Hockey Schedule