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Olympics 2021:  Fourteen days that transformed Indian hockey

Germany v India - Hockey - Olympics: Day 13
Germany v India - Hockey - Olympics: Day 13

Bad fortune is what die-hard Indian hockey fans often attribute their team's lack of success to, but following the side's stellar showing at the Tokyo Olympics, references to fate and providence seem to have taken a back seat.

From Jugraj Singh's career being cut short by a car accident in 2003 to Sandeep Singh being accidentally shot at on a train in 2006, the history of Indian hockey is replete with tales of misfortune both on and off the pitch.

So near and yet so far - the gold that eluded India in Breda

India and Australia were involved in an epic duel in the gold-medal match of the prestigious Champions Trophy in 2018 when the Indians had a golden chance to take the lead three minutes from time.

With the Dutch crowd cheering the Indians on, SV Sunil looked mesmerizing as he weaved his way past the Aussie defense to cut into the striking circle with the scoreline reading 1-1.

As the Kookaburras focussed on stopping Sunil, the Karnataka striker refused to take a shot but passed one smartly to Manpreet Singh who was positioned at the back post.

Goalkeeper Tyler Lovell would have been in no position to stop Manpreet's deflection but, for once, the midfielder from Mithapur couldn't make contact as the ball veered past his stick by a few centimeters.

If only Manpreet had scored, the Indians could possibly have won their first gold in a big international event since 1980, but as things turned out, Harendra Singh's boys went on to lose the shootout that followed.

Despite the fact that they won silver in Breda, the focus back then was on the FIFA World Cup quarterfinals which coincided with the final edition of the elite hockey competition.

Indian girls fall short in Women's World Cup

A month after the Indian men very nearly made Champions Trophy history, the women were up against Ireland in the quarterfinals of the Women's World Cup in 2018.

It was a watershed moment for the women's team who could have made it all the way to the finals in London after Spain had upset Germany to book a semi-final encounter with the winner of the India-Ireland clash.

The Indians had earlier drawn a 5-match series with Spain the same year and would have backed themselves to win against the Red Sticks women - but it was not to be as Sjoerd Marijne's team went down to the Irish in a cruel shootout.

Three years later, as the Indians embarked on a tryst with Olympic history in Tokyo, not many were convinced that they would achieve anything more than their predecessors following a 1-7 mauling at the hands of Australia in their second group encounter.

Few outside the hockey fraternity were familiar with the names of the players on the Indian women's team - or even with those on the men's team - when the Olympic hockey competition began.

Great Britain v India - Hockey - Olympics: Day 14
Great Britain v India - Hockey - Olympics: Day 14

As the women's team lost three matches on the trot - despite the fact that they were against formidable teams - interest levels, which were low in any case, waned even further.

Memorable turnaround in Tokyo

A dramatic turnaround was on the cards, however, as the Indian men stormed into the quarterfinals with wins against Spain and Argentina while the girls beat Ireland and South Africa while waiting for Great Britain to do them a favor by getting past the Irish.

Both teams made it to the quarterfinals but neither side stopped there.

The Indians beat Great Britain convincingly to advance into the semifinals while the girls shocked the mighty Australians as the hockey world watched on in awe.

Northstanding semi-final defeats for both, a substantial amount of history had already been rewritten for the Indian men's and women's teams.

Who could have predicted that, by mid-morning on Day 14 of the Games, both teams would have hit the headlines in India and elsewhere?

Germany v India - Hockey - Olympics: Day 13
Germany v India - Hockey - Olympics: Day 13

While the Indian men won an Olympic medal after four decades on Thursday, the women's team came ever so close to earning one a day later.

Both teams became the toast of the nation for the first time in conscious memory as the erstwhile national game hit the headlines in India and abroad.

In a short span of fourteen days, Indian hockey has perhaps changed forever - from being a sport on the fringes to now being catapulted into the limelight like never before.

Players from both the men's and women's teams are being spoken of as sporting icons in the national media who lapped up the euphoric moment with delight.

For once, superstition and misfortune took a back seat as Indian hockey basked in the glory of success in Tokyo.

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Edited by SANJAY K K
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