It was a dream come true moment for a young and energetic hockey star from Mumbai, Devindar Walmiki, when he was selected in the Indian Men’s Hockey Team for the Rio Olympics in 2016.
Representing the country in an event like the Olympics is certainly a great moment for any sportsperson. It was the same for Devindar as well when the team was announced for the sporting extravaganza around five years ago.
Speaking exclusively to SportsKeeda over the phone, the midfielder recalled:
“It’s a feeling that you cannot describe in words. For every sportsperson, playing for the country at the Olympics is the ultimate dream. I started playing hockey at the age of seven and from then it was my dream to compete at the biggest sporting event in the world. I am glad that I achieved it in 2016.”
“I have never stayed in any academy and people thought it to be a disadvantage for me, but I never thought so. I always thought that I am under a good coach and I can achieve everything that boys in sports hostels could.”
Devindar played under Coach Merzban Patel (Bawa), a Dronacharya awardee and a legend in Mumbai hockey who has given his life for hockey in Mumbai.
He was inspired in his younger days by seeing his brother and another accomplished Indian international, Yuvraj Walmiki. Devindar mentions that after Yuvraj missed the bus to London, it was him who made sure that the dreams and aspirations of his parents and coaches are fulfilled.
“When I saw my brother Yuvraj missing the bus for London 2012, either one of us had to play for India at the 2016 Olympics, and I couldn’t afford to leave that opportunity,” Devindar mentioned.
When asked about the build-up to the Rio Games, the 29-year old commented:
“We had started preparing for Rio 2016 soon after the boys came back from London in 2012. It’s all about the preparation and hard work you've done in the last four years. Your performance must speak for you. And in the final phase, there are about 33 boys. Getting selected in 16 out of 33 is a tough task. Either you give everything to be on the team or you can back out. There is no place for someone who doesn’t work hard and doesn’t believe in himself.”
“In the last 200 days to the Olympics, I had made up my mind to give it everything I have. I didn’t want to have that regret all my life of not playing the Olympics. Every day is a new challenge, I challenged myself every day to get better the next day. I remember I used to switch off my phone every day after 9 PM and I was asleep by that time. I always tried to stay away from any distractions,” Devindar further added.
Devindar, who played for the Kalinga Lancers in the Hockey India League (HIL), was completely elated from the very first day of the previous Olympics. He says that sports plays an important role in bringing people together and that is something that he experienced at the Rio Olympics.
“Absolutely sensational. For me, that has been the biggest tournament of my entire playing career. Entering the games village is a different feeling altogether. Something that I cannot put forth in words. Taking pictures with world champions Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams is something that I will cherish forever."
"There are thousands of athletes in the games village and we don’t see anything there. We don’t see the color, skin, country, race, or anything. We all know that sport has united us. This is the beauty of sports. This is one thing I learned at the Olympics,” Devindar stated.
“For me, the best feeling was when I was standing for the national anthem with India on my jersey in Rio and when the anthem started, I felt like I was also flying with the tricolors. This is a feeling I can’t put down in words.”
India lost to Belgium in the quarter-finals and came back from Rio after a not so great performance. In that campaign, they finished fourth in the group stage below teams like Germany, Netherlands and Argentina.
When asked about what went wrong in the 2016 Olympics, Devindar responded, “I don’t see anything happening wrong, it was not our day. A complete misfortune I can say. We could have done better in the Canada game, where we drew 2-2. On some days, you need luck and we didn’t have that on that particular day. Drawing with a team like Canada was not what we all expected."
"If we had won that match, we would have played Spain in the quarters with whom we had played test matches before the Olympics and had won easily. Our confidence was sky-high before going to Rio. I would say when we got to play Belgium in the quarters, it became a little difficult for us.”
“That regret will always be within me and our whole team that we couldn’t win a medal in the 2016 Olympics. I still get goosebumps when I think about that match. It’s a lifetime moment. That feeling is different. It is unmatched. It’s special. I feel so proud when people call me Olympian Devindar Walmiki,” says Devindar.
In 2019, Devindar, signed for Dutch club HGC and played in the biggest hockey league in the world. The dashing midfielder, who works for BPCL, has been learning the game both from a player’s point of view and also from that of a coach.
Devindar was also the head coach of the Dutch club’s U-14 team
Devindar says, “I have been taking sessions to understand the coaches’ perspective from the top coaches of the world. So, everything I answer about the current team’s performance will be very practical.”
Devindar believes it’s all about the process. After finishing 12th and 8th respectively, the time has now come that we can expect a medal out of the Indian Men’s hockey team in Tokyo.
Devindar is of the opinion that the current bunch of players getting ready to travel to Tokyo has the caliber in getting a medal.
“They have done exceptionally well in the last few years. In 2021, we are looking for a medal and it’s absolutely spot on. We should have nothing to lose and just go out and play all-out hockey. I feel India has 99.99% of the chances to win a medal in Tokyo,” he asserted with pride.
The 29-year-old is still eager to play for India and is looking forward to making a comeback into the national side soon after the Olympics.
“It’s too early to decide. I am still playing professional leagues. I think I can play for my country for another 4-5 years and I am looking to make a comeback after the Olympics,” concluded Devindar when asked about his future after hockey.