For Olympic quest, Lalremsiami braves father’s death
Lalremsiami could not have been in a better mood.
The Indian women’s hockey team had won all three of its group games and qualified for the semis of the important FIH Series Finals in Hiroshima, and the teenage striker from Mizoram, one of the youngest in the team, had already scored two goals.
It was June 21, and Siami, as she is called by her teammates, was looking forward to the next day with both excitement and anxiety—the team had to take on Chile in the semi-final; if they lost, it would be the end of India’s quest to qualify for the Olympics.
It was then that Siami received a phone call from her home. There was bad news. Her father had passed away.
The team heard news of the tragedy and rallied around the 19-year-old. Chief coach Sjoerd Marijne told her she could return immediately to her family if she wanted.
But Lalremsiami decided against it.
“Sir (Marijne) left the decision to me,” she says. “We had worked very hard for the tournament, we had to make it to the Olympic qualifiers.
“I thought my papa would be proud of me if I complete my work and not leave it unfinished.”
For Siami, the Indian squad is full of didis (elder sisters), and now her didis told her that they would win this tournament for her.
“The mood in the team changed from being excited about the semis to being grim,” says India’s captain Rani Rampal. “It was important to lift ourselves from the tragedy and give emotional support to Siami. It was obviously the toughest moment for her. It was difficult but we had to deal with it as a team and as a family.”
The very next day, Siami took the field for one of the most important matches in her short career. It had taken the Indian women’s team 36 years to qualify for the Olympics in 2016. Rani and Co want to maintain that record and play at Tokyo 2020. But for that, they had to win this match; simply making the final would be enough to make the cut for the Olympic Qualifiers later in the year, but a loss would mean the end of the road for Tokyo.
“Our aim was always to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. But this news made us more determined to win the match the next day and win the tournament for her and her father,” says Rani. “She chose to stay on and played the semi-final and final. It was her father’s wish to see India qualify for the Olympics. We are now one step away from making this dream come true and will remain focused on this goal.”
India not just entered the qualifiers by beating Chile but defeated reigning Asian Games champions and hosts Japan in the summit clash to end with gold.
Only then did Siami return home to complete the rituals.
“It (to qualify for Olympics) will be very big for me. Every sportsperson dreams of playing at the Olympics. Plus, my father would also have been really happy if he saw me play at the Games,” says Siami.
The bond with Rani
Though the lively Siami makes friends easily, she is closest to her captain Rani, and the two are roommates at tournaments and camps, and on the field, work in tandem on the forward line.
Rani has been a pillar of support for Siami in the team ever since the Mizo made her India debut in 2017. From standing by her through the tragedy of her father’s death to teaching her Hindi when she first came into the squad, Rani is always on the job, as a captain and as a friend.
“Rani didi ke saath bahut mazza aata hai (It is always fun with Rani),” Siami says. “She keeps teaching me, on or off the field, whether it is about the game or anything else. Even in our room if I don’t understand something I ask her to explain. Then on the field, she instructs me—where to move, the structure etc. If she feels that I need to be taught something, she comes and explains it to me on her own.”
Two years ago when Siami joined the national setup, not knowing Hindi became a major obstacle for Siami—the striker was even benched by then chief coach Harendra Singh as she couldn’t follow his instructions in Hindi.
Now, Siami converses in the language with ease.
“Yes, now I am comfortable in Hindi but it is still not that good,” she says sheepishly.
“Rani didi keeps teaching me in the room. At home nobody speaks Hindi, only Mizo. So when I joined the national academy in 2016 in New Delhi I knew nothing and could only say my name. It was only in national camps that the didis taught me. Now, even Rani didi says, ‘You speak very good Hindi’. I also have a Mizo-Hindi dictionary and keep reading it,” says Siami, who won the Asian Hockey Federation’s (AHF) Rising Player of the Year (Female) award in February.