Sjoerd Marijne lauds consistency as Golden Girls emulate Indian men to win gold at Tokyo
Hosts India first came closest to clinching a golden double when women's hockey was first introduced into the Asian Games in 1982 - but while the girls won their first gold, the men succumbed to a formidable Pakistan side at New Delhi.
At the Bangkok Asian Games, goalkeeper Ashish Ballal won a million hearts by helping India win a pulsating tie-breaker against South Korea in the finals, but the Indian girls failed to get past the Koreans in their final in 1998.
The Koreans have achieved the feat of winning a golden double at the Asian Games while the Australians have done so at the Commonwealth Games.
Golden double at Tokyo
While the Olympic test events in Tokyo may not be quite in the same league as the Asian Games or the Commonwealth Games, Indian hockey fans have every right to feel as pleased as both the men and women hit peak form - and won gold ahead of the Olympic qualifiers which are scheduled later this year.
Graham Reid's chargers thrashed New Zealand 5-0 in the gold medal match after having lost to the Black Sticks in the round-robin pool stage while the Indian girls beat Japan in their second consecutive final after having beaten the Asian Games champions in the summit clash of the FIH Series Finals in June.
What's more, the Indian girls finished ahead of World No. 2 Australia after holding the Hockeyroos to a 2-2 draw in the round-robin match, but coach Sjoerd Marijne was far from satisfied even though his team put up a gallant fight against the Pro League silver-medalists.
"I was not so happy with our performance against Australia and told the team we need to reach a higher level. The team agreed with this and lifted the level on their own."
In an exclusive interaction with Sportskeeda, just after the finals, the Dutchman said the biggest positive was the consistency of the girls who punched above their weight and did so fearlessly to record a memorable title triumph.
"Most important for me at this moment is the process - and if this is good, the outcome is also good. The process went very well with the focus points and we wanted to improve with every match - especially in the last two matches we played at a very high level."
"The biggest positive for me was the consistency in the last two matches (against China and the finals against Japan)."
"We showed that we are not afraid of any team"
It was the first meeting between India and Australia since last year's Commonwealth Games semifinals which the Australians won by a goal to nothing but since then, Paul Gaudoin's side has impressed with a stellar performance in the Pro League.
Coach Marijne, however, was emphatic that the Indian girls are not intimated by the best of teams which helped them show their class on the same pitch that will be used in the Olympic Games next year.
"We showed that we are not afraid of any team and this will give the girls even more confidence."
The Indians earned the right to meet Japan in the final after a hard-fought goalless draw against the Chinese girls who had finished seventh ahead of Great Britain and the United States in the Pro League earlier this year.
Youngsters like Sharmila Devi gave a good account of themselves and Marijne was appreciative of the camaraderie between the seniors and juniors in the team.
"For juniors, it’s good to experience what it is to play at this level and what is necessary to play consistently. At their age, they will experience ups and downs but that doesn’t matter because the experienced players will help with this. It’s nice how this works in our group."
The Indian girls defeated Japan by a 2-1 margin in the first match of the competition and beat the hosts by an identical margin the finals as well. Their male counterparts thrashed Malaysia 6-0 and Japan 6-3 but lost to New Zealand 1-2 in the pool stage before turning the tables on the Black Sticks in the title clash.