Pritam Rani Siwach is 34 years old and a mother of two. This former India hockey skipper has not been in the national squad for six years. Rani Devi is 13 and was a toddler when Siwach captained India to the Bangkok Asian Games silver in 1998. She has never played international hockey.
On Monday, in Lucknow, both the veteran and the rookie were in tears after they were named in the 22-member Indian women’s hockey squad for the Olympic qualifiers in Kazan, Russia, next month.
While Siwach is the oldest player in the team, Rani is the youngest ever. Siwach always dreamt of playing in the Olympics but was left out of the 2000 Sydney Olympics qualifiers. “It was really disappointing. But now I am relieved,” she said.
In something that might be familiar to cricket-crazy Indians debating the policy of senior and junior players, Siwach was first rejected because of her age. After taking up the issue with the federation and going through a special fitness test, she made it to the list of 32 probables.
Rani, in contrast, burst into the Haryana team that won the National Games in February 2007. If Siwach fought prejudice against age, Rani fights poverty. Daughter of a labourer, this Class 9 student took to hockey four years ago and made her mark by helping Haryana win gold in the under-17 schools nationals. With 25 goals, she was the tournament’s highest scorer.
Her coach Baldev Singh is a happy man. “Last year, when I introduced Rani to Amrit Bose, secretary of the Women’s Hockey Federation of India, I thought she would make it to the 2010 Commonwealth Games team. I didn’t think she’d make the cut so soon.”
For India, smarting from the men’s dropping out of Olympics for the first time ever, these spirited women bring hope and cheer.