India have competed at every summer Olympics for the last 100 years and yet the medal haul only reads a total of 28 – 9 gold, 7 silver and 12 bronze. Tokyo 2020 is just a few short months away and they’ll be aiming to add more to that total. If the recent test event is anything to go by then Hockey could prove one of their best opportunities.
The men’s event saw India face off with New Zealand, who are coached by former player Darren Smith, in a group phase match that the Black Sticks narrowly won 2-1 but India responded well in their next fixture and triumphed over Japan with an entertaining 6-3 victory. That win presented another shot at New Zealand in the final and coach Graham Reid will take enormous courage from an impressive display.
India started the match brightly and went straight for the New Zealand jugular with the breakthrough coming in the 7th minute as Harmanpreet Singh, the team’s skipper, converted a penalty corner. Then 10 minutes later Shamsher Singh doubled the advantage. India refused to relent and three goals – one each for Nilakanta Sharma, Gursahibjit Singh and Mandeep Singh in a matter of minutes saw their opponents staring a humiliating defeat in the face.
With just over one half remaining the Blacks Sticks would have been fearing the worst, but the last two quarters passed with minimal action and Reid could leave with an extremely comfortable victory and a clean sheet to boot.
The mini competition was a good marker of where the men are right now, and it will give the nation hope that they can achieve great things net summer. India are keen to be among the online sportsbooks outsiders for the hockey competitions to surprise at Tokyo.
India’s women had also a test of their own
Of course, it’s not just the men who have been part of the test series and India's ladies had the chance to showcase their talents ahead of the Olympics as well.
The women met hosts Japan in the final match and, although, they couldn’t mirror the winning margin of the men they gave a positive account of themselves and did enough to clinch the win.
The match got off to a blistering start as India took the lead through Navjot Kaur, but they couldn’t hold the lead for long as Minami Shimizu pulled her team level. Even Japan coach Anthony Farry felt India were shading the match and they found what would prove the decisive blow at the start of the third quarter when Lalremsiami made the most of a penalty corner.
In addition to winning their respective test events, the other benefit is surely the opportunity to have been inside the actual arena, the Oi Hockey Stadium, that will host the games in 2020.
Tougher tests will lay ahead next year with Australia, Netherlands and Argentina all strong contenders for gold in both the men’s and women’s competition.
India won’t want all their medal eggs in one basket though and wrestling, badminton and shooting provide other possibilities of a place on the podium. One event they definitely won’t be competing in though is American Football as the application to add the sport in Tokyo was denied, with it now likely to make it’s first Olympic appearance in 2024.
That will be considered a big disappointment for a nation that launched their own professional league back in 2012.
India are definitely good enough to have a record-breaking summer, but a lot will boil down to how they handle not only the hope but, for the first time in a long time, the expectation of success.