Tokyo 2020: The Making Of An Olympic Bronze Medal

Article by Shahid Judge, Shashank Nair, Mihir Vasavda of The Indian Express
Graphic courtesy Hockey India

rom Karnal to Kochi, and from Imphal to Varanasi, India's history-makers assembled in Tokyo to end an excruciating 41-year-long wait for an Olympic hockey medal. Here are the members of India's bronze medal winning Olympic hockey team.

1. Rupinder Pal Singh (30, Defender) - Faridkot, Punjab

Rupinder's elder brother, once a budding state-level player, gave up his hockey career and education to support the financially distressed family and ensured Rupinder's foray into the sport would not be affected. A cousin of former Olympian Gagan Ajit Singh, it's easy to recognise Rupinder Pal Singh in a crowd, given his 6-foot-4 frame. He's known, curiously, as "Bob" or "Bobby", among his roommates, and is considered one of the most lethal drag-flickers ever. He scored four times in Tokyo, including a penalty stroke against Germany in the bronze-medal playoff.

2. Surender Kumar (27, Defender) - Karnal, Hariyana

The man from an unlikely hockey destination, Kurukshetra, began playing on pebble-laden grounds near his home. In a very short time, Kumar has turned into one of the calmest and most self-assured defenders in the team, and has great tackling abilities. His stellar rise has also sparked a revolution of sorts in Kurukshetra, where dozens of young kids play the sport wearing jerseys with his name on the back. His family is working in full swing to make sure his new house is ready when he returns - complete with the national flag and Olympic rings as decoration.

3. Manpreet Singh (29, Midfielder) - Mithapur, Punjab

The most capped player on the team, Manpreet was lured into the sport by the prizes his elder brothers won when they played. There was opposition at home though, as his mother was not keen to play lest he hurt himself with the hard hockey ball. On one occasion his brothers locked him in a room to stop him from attending training, but he managed to escape. One of his first cash awards was ₹500. There will be a lot more now, for the inspirational and hard-working captain of the national hockey team.

4. Gurjant Singh (26, Forward) - Amritsar, Punjab

Gurjant started playing after watching his elder brother, who played at the national level. He's got family on the Olympic team as well, and he paired up well with his cousin Simranjeet to assist India's equalising third goal against Germany. He had also scored the second goal at the 2016 Junior World Cup - a powerful tomahawk (reverse stick) drive. It earned him the nickname "Mr. Backhand" from German stalwart Florian Fuchs.

5. Harmanpreet Singh (25, Defender) - Jandiala Guru, Punjab

Harmanpreet scored six times at Tokyo 2020, behind just three players on the leaderboard. He claims that he started developing the shoulder muscles needed for the art when, as a 10-year-old, he'd sneak his way onto his father's tractor but would have to wrestle with the rusty gearstick before he could get it started. A few years later he'd move to the famed Surjit Academy where he'd develop his craft further. He's not just a threat in front of goal, but also a reliable defender and passer.

6. P. R. Sreejesh (33, Goalkeeper) - Kizhakkambalam, Kerala

Growing up in a rural suburb of Kochi, the farmer's son played whichever sport that came his way, except hockey, which hardly struck a chord among the youth in Kerala. But his shift to Thiruvananthapuram's G. V. Raja School, a residential sports school, turned his life around. It was here that he got hooked to hockey after a coach spotted his reflexes. He cemented his legend in the bronze medal game with a massive save at 5-4 with seconds remaining. He's also an avid reader and a book is one thing constant in his kitbag, no matter where he travels.

7. Amit Rohidas (28, Defender) - Sundergarh, Odisha

Amit Rohidas is used to taking blows. Be it the 20-25 hits to the body that he takes rushing out to defend a penalty corner routine, or seeing his sister's education being halted because the family simply couldn't afford it. Hailing from the same village as Dilip Tirkey, Rohidas' father would earn his money working on other farmers' fields. The player's first big break came when he was drafted by the Ranchi Rhinos for ₹16 lakh in 2013 in the Hockey India League. Rohidas used the money to fund his sister's education. He is currently regarded as the best first rusher in the team - i.e., the first defender to rush towards the drag-flicker during a penalty corner.

8. Lalit Upadhyay (29, Forward) - Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh

The son of a cloth-shop owner, Lalit and his elder brother followed one of their cousins to the popular UP College ground. His natural dribbling skills and grace caught the eye of experts. Lalit was recommended to an academy in nearby Karampur, where a hockey-loving philanthropist and politician, late Tej Bahadur Singh, built a hockey pitch between fields.Without his knowledge, his name was used by a news channel in a sting operation on an IHF official. Almost 10 years and many rejections later, Lalit is an India regular. His father, these days, delivers couriers for a few banks in Varanasi.

9. Birendra Lakra (31, Defender) - Rourkela, Odisha

Lakra and his two siblings have played for the national men's and women's teams. The popular defender had an anterior cruciate ligament injury in 2016, which ruled him out of the 2016 Rio Games. He came out of the ordeal a better player and has been instrumental in holding down India's defence in large parts of the matches at the Tokyo Olympics.

10. Krishan Pathak (24, Goalkeeper) - Kapurthala, Punjab

The son of a Nepalese immigrant who worked as a crane operator, Krishan used to help by moving debris in construction sites to help ends meet. Tragically, he lost his mother when he was 12, and then his father in 2016; both dying of sudden heart attacks, the latter six months before Krishan was to play at the Junior World Cup in 2016. At his father's insistence, he moved to the Surjit Academy when he was 12. The youngster has been an understudy to P. R. Sreejesh, and is one of the players vying for the spot once the veteran calls it quits.

11. Neelakantha Sharma (26, Midfielder) - Imphal East, Manipur

Manipur has Mary Kom, it has Mirabai Chanu and now it has Neelakantha. The 26-year-old, standing at a diminutive five-foot-four, began his journey at the Posterior Hockey Academy in Manipur and then made the life-altering decision of moving to Bhopal at the age of 16 to continue bettering himself. Destined to be a part of the bigger picture from the juniors itself, he has blossomed into a quiet hard worker with the penchant to fill any hole in defence or thread in a pass to for attack.

12. Sumit Kumar (24, Forward) - Sonepat, Hariyana

Born into a family that had no land and could barely scrounge up the money for two meals, hockey was a distant dream and yet one which he and his brother Amit shared. Even milk was a luxury that they couldn't afford. Both brothers worked as cleaners at local dhabas in Murthal, Haryana, and would then head to hockey practice afterwards. This practice of working while continuing to quietly nurture the hockey dream led him to inter-district tournaments, a sports hostel in Gurugram and eventually the Indian national team. Nicknamed "James Bond", he was part of the junior team that won the World Cup in 2016.

13. Vivek Sagar Prasad (21, Midfielder) - Hoshangabad, Madhya Pradesh

Mentored by the son of Dhyan Chand, Ashok Kumar, he became the second-youngest player, at 17 years and 10 months, to debut for India when he played against New Zealand in 2018. His hockey career was buoyed by a move to Bhopal when he was 15 before a collarbone fracture threatened a premature end. The son of a school teacher, Prasad was patient during the recovery stage - a testament to his calm demeanour and his penchant for being an avid chess player. He led the junior team to the Youth Olympic Games silver medal in 2018. Now he's got bronze at the senior level.

14. Shamsher Singh (24, Forward) - Attari, Punjab

Hailed by Graham Reid as an "Australian type of player" and forged in the halls of the famed Surjit Academy, Shamsher started out as a midfielder and gradually moved towards the forward line. Hailing from the Attari district, a few kilometres from the India-Pakistan border, Shamsher struggled for hockey equipment from a very young age, and his father's meagre earnings as a farmer were the only financial support. His first hockey stick would be repaired by his father using nails and tape and used for two years. He had won just six senior caps before leaving for Tokyo and his selection had triggered a huge debate. However, he proved his critics wrong with some credible performances under his belt during the Tokyo campaign.

15. Varun Kumar (26, Defender) - Mithapur, Punjab

He dreamt of making a career in hockey since he was in Class 6. Three attempts to make a comeback from injuries, and support from a school friend and national team captain Manpreet Singh propelled Varun. The path wasn't easy, as his father had to manage Varun's hockey needs within the ₹5,000 he earned as a truck driver. Varun made his way to the Surjit Singh Academy and promised to be one of the best finds in Indian hockey. The family's financial problems eased after his elder brother was inducted into the Armed Forces and are now likely to vanish after this historic bronze.

16. Mandeep Singh (26, Forward) - Jalandhar, Punjab

The talented forward has been a consistent performer since he debuted in 2013, though he didn't make the team that went to Rio in 2016. As a child, he was more interested in cricket, though he did start playing hockey when he was five. It was only after watching his brother play that he decided to take up the sport full-time. He was a part of the team that won bronze at the 2018 Asian Games and silver at the 2018 Champions Trophy.

17. Simranjeet Singh (24, Forward) - Chahal Kalan, Punjab

His cousin Gurjant Singh, also in the Olympic squad, was given a nickname "Mr. Backhand" for his reverse-hit skills. But it was Simranjeet's backhand shot that scored India's first goal in the bronze-medal match. He later got an assistg from Gurjant and scored the decisive fifth goal for India, with the match ending 5-4 in India's favour. The cousins were also a part of the India team that won the Junior World Cup in 2016 in Lucknow.

18. Hardeek Singh (22, Forward) - Khusropur, Punjab

The youngster comes from a long lineage of international hockey players. His grandfather Preetam Singh Ray, a former Indian Navy coach, introduced him to the sport. His father Varinderpreet played for the national team. An aunt, Rajbir Kaur, played four consecutive Asian Games from 1982 to 1994 and was the national team captain. An uncle, Jugraj Singh, the talented drag-flicker whose career tragically ended after a car accident. Then there's another uncle, Gurmail, who was a part of the team that won gold at the 1980 Moscow Games. Hardik now becomes the second Olympic medallist in the family. He scored India's second goal in the bronze medal match.

19. Dilpreet Singh (21, Forward) - Butala, Punjab

The youngster took up hockey on the grass fields of his village when he was seven, inspired by his father Balwinder who served in the army. His talent was evident, and he made his way to the famous Surjit Academy in Jalandhar. He honed his skills as a prolific goalscorer and earned his senior team call-up at just 18. He scored twice at Tokyo, including India's opening goal in the quarterfinal against Great Britain.

Hockey MP Win 11th Hockey India Sr. Women's Nationals

Photograph credit The Bridge

he 11th Hockey India Sr. Women's National Hockey Championship was held in Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh from October 21 to 30. 28 teams took part in the tournament.

The 28 participating teams were divided into eight groups, with the group winners qualifying for the quarterfinals and subsequent knockout stage of the tournament.

Hockey Madhya Pradesh won the tournament with the following results.

Stage Date Hockey Madhya Pradesh Hockey Hariyana
Pool Oct 22 beat Bengal 15-0 beat Le Puducherry 25-0
Oct 24 beat Gujarat 28-0 beat Uttarakhand 6-0
Quarters Oct 27 beat Jharkhand 5-1 beat Uttar Pradesh 1-0
Semis Oct 29 beat Maharashtra 2-1 beat Punjab 3-0
Final Oct 30 beat Hariyana 1-0

Hockey Punjab went past Hockey Maharashtra 2-1 to finish third. This was the first senior national women's hockey championship for Hockey Madhya Pradesh.

Hariyana Win 11th Hockey India Junior Women's Nationals

Photograph of the Junior Women's National Champions Hariyana courtesy Hockey India

hr 11th Hockey India Jr. Women's National Hockey Championship was held in Simdega, Jharkhand from October 20 to 29.

The 27 participating teams were divided into eight pools, with the pool winners qualifying for the quarter-finals, and the subsequent knockout stage of the tournament.

Hariyana won the tournament with the following results.

Stage Date Hariyana Date Jharkhand
Pool Oct 22 beat Rajasthan 19-0 Oct 20 beat Tamil Nadu 8-1
Oct 24 beat Assam 23-0 Oct 24 beat Kerala 10-0
Quarters Oct 26 beat Odisha 5-3 Oct 26 beat Punjab 6-2
Semis Oct 28 beat Chandigadh 3-2 Oct 28 beat Maharashtra 3-1
Final Oct 29 beat Jharkhand 3-2

In the bronze medal match, Maharashtra registered a comfortable 6-2 win over Chandigadh.

Railways Win 38th Indian Oil Servo Surjit Hockey Tournament

Graphic courtesy Surjit Hockey Tournament

he 38th Indian Oil Servo Surjit Hockey Tournament was held at the Katoch Astroturf Hockey ground, Katoch Stadium, Jalandhar Cantonment from October 23 to 31. The tournament is organised every year by the Surjit Hockey Society to keep alive the name of ex-Olympian Surjit Singh Randhawa, who lost his life in a fatal car accident near Jalandhar on January 7, 1984

The 12 participating teams were divided into four pools, with the pool winners qualifying for the semi-finals. Bharatiya Rail won the tournament with the following results.

Stage Date Bharatiya Rail Date Punjab & Sindh Bank
Pool Oct 24 beat Kendriya Reserve Police Bal (CRPF) 4-2 Oct 24 beat Bharatiya Vayu Sena (IAF) 4-3
Oct 28 beat Niyantrak Evam Mahalekhaparikshak (CAG) 1-0 Oct 29 beat Seema Suraksha Bal (BSF) 3-0
Semis Oct 30 beat Punjab National Bank 2-1 Oct 30 beat Punjab Police 1-0
Final Oct 31 beat Punjab & Sindh Bank 3-1

The two finalists were introduced to Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi before the title match. The winners bagged ₹5 lakh while the runners up were awarded ₹2 lakh. Pardeep Singh of Bharatiya Rail was declared the Player of the Tournament and awarded ₹51,000. Gakhal Brothers gave ₹11 lakh to Indian men's and women's hockey teams for their performances in the Tokyo Olympics. Indian hockey teams members Rupinder Pal Singh, Harmanpreet Singh, Hardik Singh, Mandeep Singh, Gurjant Singh and Shamsher Singh were also present on this occasion.

The semi-finals and final were broadcast live on the PTC channel.

Photograph of the Month

Photograph of Rani Rampal and her father with Prime Minister Narendra Modi
This was on the occasion of Rani Rampal winning the Padma Shri award

he Photograph of the Month for November 2021 is a photo collage posted by Indian women's hockey captain Rani Rampal on her Twitter account. The occasion was Rani Rampal getting the Padma Shri award at a function held at the Rashtrapati Bhavan on 8 November, 2021.

Rampal posted a photograph collage of her father's days as a horse cart driver, and one where he is being greeted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the awards ceremony. She put the following accompanying text, "A father is the only person in the world who wishes that his children be more successful than him."

Rani said, "Coming from a rural, humble background, receiving an award from the President with your parents in attendance is a feeling that is hard to put in words. I feel so blessed."

Money Matters

he 2021 National Sports Awards were held on 13 November at a glittering function organised at the Durbar Hall of the Rashtrapati Bhavan. This was an in-person event, compared to the virtual awards ceremony last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Present at the ceremony was sports minister Anurag Thakur along with a host of other dignitaries, including his predecessor Kiren Rijiju. The President of India, Ram Nath Kovind, gave away the awards.

The Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna award is given for outstanding performances by a sportsperson over a period of previous four years. The Khel Ratna award carries a cash prize purse of ₹25 lakh, a medal and a scroll of honour. Of the 12 Khel Ratna winners in 2021, two were from hockey - goalkeeper P. R. Sreejesh and captain Manpreet Singh.

The Arjuna award carries a prize money of ₹15 lakh, a bronze statue of Arjuna and a scroll of honour. Of the 35 Arjuna Puraskar winners, two were from women's hockey - Monika and Vandana Katariya, and the entire bronze medal winning Indian Olympic men's hockey team - Dilpreet Singh, Harmanpreet Singh, Rupinder Pal Singh, Surender Kumar, Amit Rohidas, Birendra Lakra, Sumit, Neelakantha Sharma, Hardik Singh, Vivek Sagar Prasad, Gurjant Singh, Mandeep Singh, Shamsher Singh, Lalit Kumar Upadhyay, Varun Kumar, Simranjeet Singh.

Srjeesh and Manpreet were not in the Arjuna Puraskar list as they were awarded the Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna award.

Other awards given on the occasion were the Dronacharya Puraskar, Dronacharya Puraskar (Lifetime Coaching) and Dhyan Chand Award for Lifetime Achievement. Punjab University (Chandigarh) received the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Trophy for execllence in sports at the university level for 2021.

This year's awards selection committee was headed by Justice (Retd.) Mukundakam Sharma (former Judge of Supreme Court) and included three-time Paralympic medal-winning javelin thrower Devendra Jhajharia, former cricketer Venkatesh Prasad, and ex-world champion boxer L Sarita Devi among others.

Media Matters

Article excerpted from The Hockey Paper, photograph credit Debbie Christopher, courtesy Hockey Writers Club

he UK-based Hockey Writers Club has launched a Photo of the Month competition for club photographers and its members - and Debbie Christopher has been announced as the inaugural winner.

Christopher's colourful image of the men's Premier Division match between Oxted (Surrey) and Wimbledon, which captured a short corner moment with Mikey Hoare's face mask coming loose, won the plaudits.

The Hockey Writers' Club said: "The selection committee felt that the image captured the moment nicely, telling the story of the penalty corner being successfully defended, with all the players watching the ball deflect away from the goal. Congratulations to Debbie."

Debbie spoke to The Hockey Paper about the image. "Short corners often produce a variety of emotions, and this was a rebound off Mikey Hoare defending. I took a series of photographs as the players tracked the ball, and they all looked my way! I use a Nikon D500 and a 70-200 2.8 Nikon telephoto lens. I started taking photographs at my son's school matches five years ago, mainly of him, but then the other parents asked for photographs of their children too. This grew into hockey year books for the team. When my son joined Oxted, I offered to take the photographs at the games and it grew."

Records and Statistics

his month's edition of records and statistics is on the men's and women's Asian Champions Trophy hockey tournaments.

Asian Champions Trophy Hockey (Men)

  • India and Pakistan are the only winners of the 5 editions of the tournament held so far
  • Pakistan has been in the final in all 5 editions
  • India has been in the final in 4 editions, with only the 2013 tournament seeing India finish a dismal 5th
  • Malaysia has ended with the bronze medal in all 5 editions of the tournament
  • The 5 editions conducted so far, and the upcoming 6th edition of the tournament, have been held in 6 different Asian countries
Year Venue Gold Silver Bronze
2011 Ordos (CHN) India Pakistan Malaysia
2012 Doha (QAT) Pakistan India Malaysia
2013 Kakamigahara (JPN) Pakistan Japan Malaysia
2016 Kuantan (MAS) India Pakistan Malaysia
2018 Muscat (OMN) India-Pakistan Joint Winners Malaysia

Asian Champions Trophy Hockey (Women)

  • South Korea is the only multiple winner of the tournament, having won 3 of the 5 editions held so far
  • In 2016, India won both the men's and women's Asian Champions Trophy hockey tournaments
Year Venue Gold Silver Bronze
2010 Busan (KOR) South Korea Japan India
2011 Ordos (CHN) South Korea China Japan
2013 Kakamigahara (JPN) Japan India Malaysia
2016 Singapore (SGP) India China Japan
2018 Donghae (KOR) South Korea India China