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Axed from national side just before London 2012, Rupinder Pal Singh is Indian hockey's main man at Rio 2016

Tanuj Kar
830   //    23 Jul 2016, 10:53 IST
Rupinder Pal Singh is set to make his Olympic debut at Rio

“Success is achieved and maintained by those who try and keep trying” – W. Clement Stone

As things stand today, if one were to guess the order in which the Indian selectors had picked out the players to represent the nation in hockey at the Rio Olympics 2016, Rupinder Pal Singh would be the foremost outfield name to make the list. Quite rightly so, given how the man has cemented his place in the squad with his solid defending and prolific drag-flicking skills – two factors so crucial in turning the tide in India’s favour on any given day.

However, Rupinder has had to witness himself getting stationed away from such silver linings on multiple prior occasions in his career. As the stage looks set for the Faridkot-born Hockey star to leap towards the zenith of sporting glory at this year’s Olympics, let us look into the remarkable journey of the burly six-footer from the sidelines to the forefront of the Indian defence.

Former striker and Arjuna Award winner Gagan Ajit Singh’s illustrious career had done enough to motivate his cousin, a young Rupinder to take up hockey as a profession once he was accepted into Chandigarh Hockey Academy. By 19, he had broken into the senior team when he made his international debut at the 2010 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup which ended with India and South Korea sharing the winners’ title due to unfavourable weather conditions on the final day.

A hat-trick against Great Britain and the joint top scorer's honour at the same championship the following year announced Rupinder’s arrival at the big scene. With India gearing up to make their Olympic Hockey come back in 2012, the Punjab fullback seemed well on course to being a member of the London-bound team until a dip in form jeopardised his chances.

Also Read: Interview with Rupinder Pal Singh: Team now knows feeling of winning major tournament medals

A slew of disappointing performances which included India’s bronze medal winning campaign at the 2012 Sultan Azlan Shah Trophy culminated to the exclusion of Rupinder Pal Singh from the Olympic squad. Drag-flickers Sandeep Singh and V R Raghunath were chosen alongside veteran Ignace Tirkey to form a three-man defence lineup for the Blueshirts. As it panned out, India finished 12th i.e. last among the twelve participating nations in hockey at the London Olympics 2012.

Since then, playing in national colours meant that the goals kept coming through Rupinder’s stick while he established himself as a reliable penalty-corner specialist to join his trusted senior Vokkaliga Raghunath.

2014 proved to be quite an eventful year for Singh, who was named vice-captain at India’s forgettable Hockey World Cup in Netherlands before the side clinched silver at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games and went on to secure their 2016 Olympic berth by defeating arch-rivals Pakistan in the summit clash at the Incheon Asian Games.

Within a year, Rupinder found himself dropped from the Indian team, yet again, when coach Paul Van Ass opted for Raghunath as the sole drag-flicker heading into the 2015 Hockey World League semi-finals in Antwerp, Belgium. Destiny, however, had different plans for the hardworking fullback. A hamstring injury during training ruled Raghunath out of the tournament and Rupinder seized this opportunity with both hands.

Having justified his selection throughout the championship, it was Rupinder’s decisive conversion in the penalty shootout against the Netherlands in the Hockey World League 2015 finals that secured India’s bronze thereby ending a 33-year-old medal drought at an FIH tournament. From an Indian perspective, it also marked the commencement of India’s ascent towards the reclamation of their yesteryears’ lost glory in international hockey.

Coming to the brink of Rio 2016, Rupinder Pal Singh has had his fortunes swung propitiously. His Olympic ambitions are finally taking shape, and he remains positive about India’s podium chances now that they’re ranked 5th in World Hockey, their highest ever.

The most important thing is to take every game one by one. We will try to do that to our best at Rio. The teams in the group are at higher rankings, but in today’s hockey, we have seen that anything is possible and we can beat anyone on a given day. We have full faith in our coach’s training methods & in the strategies that he is making, so –  we are confident of a good show at Rio.” – is how the ace defender puts it.

Rupinder’s elation at the actualization of his Olympic dream was evident from his Twitter account:

Let us convey our best for the wall of India’s defence and the slayer of oppositions’ defences – Rupinder Pal Singh. Here’s to wishing he and his teammates do us proud at the Rio Olympics 2016.

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