Indian women’s hockey team has prepared in full force for its appearance at Tokyo Olympics.
Indian women’s hockey team has prepared in full force for its appearance at Tokyo Olympics.

Chak de! Women’s hockey team set for Olympics 2021

Indian women’s hockey team is armed with sticks and the will to give their 100% at the Tokyo Games. Alongside intensive training, amid the pandemic, the players have been bonding on and off the field, and prepping hard to clinch the Olympic gold!
By Mallika Bhagat, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON JUL 16, 2021 01:56 PM IST

In 2016, the Indian women’s hockey team made its first appearance at the Olympics in 36 years, at the Rio Games. It was then eliminated at the group stage, but now armed with a will to better its previous show, at the Olympics this year, the team is all set to board the flight to Tokyo.

Olympics – the ultimate goal

Savita Punia, goalkeeper and vice-captain of the team.
Savita Punia, goalkeeper and vice-captain of the team.

Since the team qualified for Olympics, it has left no stone unturned to train and prepare in full force, at their session in Bengaluru. Savita Punia, goalkeeper and vice-captain of the team, says, “For any athlete, competing in the Olympics is an achievement in itself. The Olympics is kind of an ultimate goal for every athlete. Even when we were young and playing at the state or district level, we weren’t familiar with the names of other competitions, but everyone knows about Olympics. So, it’s like a dream come true. My previous Olympic wasn’t a pleasant experience as I wasn’t satisfied with my performance. I had this pressure constantly that we have to qualify this time so I can give my best this time.”

And the source where they derive the strength to work from, is their family, which they miss every day. Punia adds: “I’m very close to both my parents, and talk to them almost every day. My mom sometimes gets worried for me because the training is quite hard and she can sense that I’m tired just by my voice. I’ve a special bond with my father and talk to him for around 20-30 minutes everyday. He’s my constant source of motivation.”

Competitive streak

Midfielder Sushila Chanu.
Midfielder Sushila Chanu.

The pandemic has been hard on most of the players, and with the postponement of the Olympics, things looked bleak. The women’s hockey team, however, gathered its strength when on a tour earlier this January. “The Argentina and Germany tour gave us that much needed practice with other country’s teams,” says Sushila Chanu, team’s midfielder, who is grateful to Hockey India and Sports Authority of India (SAI), adding, “They ensured our safety and fitness, both physically and mentally. They made every possible effort to keep our spirits high! Our coach and physical trainer ensured our practice and fitness remains intact. They ensured that it was not hampered because of the Covid scare and staying indoors all the time.

Chanu feels they are better prepared this time around. “At the 2016 Rio Olympics, there were not enough seniors or experienced players in the team, but this time the side is looking balanced with a mix of experienced and junior players. So, we are confident of giving a better performance this time,” she adds.

Music for the soul

Deep Grace Ekka, defender and vice-captain.
Deep Grace Ekka, defender and vice-captain.

The team practices twice a day, in the morning and evening, and the players try to make time for themselves to stay mentally sharp. Deep Grace Ekka, defender and vice-captain, says, “I like to listen to music in my free time and if I’m tired, I try to get some sleep, like for an hour or so in between the practice sessions. But it’s music that relaxes my mind and a good sleep relaxes the body as well. These two things help me feel refreshed and energised.”

Music is something that even the captain, Rani Rampal vouches for. “I like to listen to some peppy Punjabi music or old Hindi songs of Kishore Kumar before going into a session or a match. But generally, I like to be calm and composed before a game and listening to music really helps.”

A family, even off the field!

Navneet Kaur, forward player.
Navneet Kaur, forward player.

“I do miss eating together with my family at home, but I also like the food that we get here at the camp because it’s amazing to be with the team, and we’re all like a family here,” shares Ekka.

The team’s camaraderie shows off field too, as the women’s hockey team juggles work and play effortlessly! Navneet Kaur, forward player, says, “We invent our own fun games, to bond and improve communication with each other. We also do mimicry sessions. If I pick a chit with Neha (Goyal; mid fielder)’s name, I’ve to imitate her and it’s fun! Sometimes, we also organise small parties over weekends. All of us dress up a little and get together for games or just a girl chit-chat at the dinner.”

“There are no pranksters in the team as such but Neha is quite an entertainer,” reveals Kaur, adding, “Neha likes to crack jokes and teases everyone. She also dances to Bollywood songs. Neha, Gurjit (Kaur; defender), and I always indulge in some light-hearted comedy.”

With enough dance, drama and daring, does the team feel their successful exploits could make them probable candidates for a Chak De sequel? “Not just a Chak De sequel, I feel a biopic can be made on each player of the current team,” says Chanu, adding, “Everyone’s story is so inspiring!”

Going for gold

Rani Rampal , captain of the team.
Rani Rampal , captain of the team.

The team’s captain, Rani Rampal may be “calm” and composed right now, but is aiming for only gold! Her schedule is packed, and target set, as she trains relentlessly. Sharing her diet during the day, Rampal says, “I begin my day with a cup of green tea followed by a healthy breakfast. It includes lots of fruits, eggs and a protein shake. Then we’ve our lunch around 12.30-1pm; but I’ve completely cut down on rice and roti after my Covid-19 recovery. So, I mostly eat lean meats like chicken and have some dal and curds followed by fruits. I have black coffee or chai before going for training in the afternoon, and also have some dry fruits along with it. Dinner is usually by 1900hrs, and is again lean meat, veggies and some curd,” she says.

Her exercise regimen is laden with gym sessions and hockey practice. “We usually have two sessions a day comprising gym and hockey. For the past few weeks we have been beginning a bit late. Usually in Bengaluru it goes up to about 29-30 degrees by afternoon so our hockey sessions are planned around that time. In Tokyo, the weather will be hot and humid, so it’s good to make our bodies get used to that weather,” informs Rampal about the rigorous schedule, and necessity to focus on recovery. “I wake up feeling positive, and the first thing I do after I wake up is pray. It’s not that I ask God for anything but doing this just calms my mind... As elite players, we have to pay a lot of attention to our recovery. So in a day, we spend about an hour or so in the pool.”

Being mentally strong is an extremely crucial aspect of the training, and Rampal can’t agree more. “We do mindfulness sessions with our analytical coach Janneke Schopman. This generally involves some breathing exercises and visualisation of match scenarios. We also do yoga and it really helps us stay calm,” says the captain, adding, “A lot of us love online shopping!”

Inputs by Naina Arora

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