Jul 4, 2021

Indian Hockey at Olympics: Three most heartbreaking moments of this century

Indian men hockey team boasts a great Olympics record with eight gold, one silver and two bronze
Dhanraj Pillay cried after Poland game
in Sydney Olympics

medals since 1928 with the team winning six straight gold medals since 1928. However, post 1968 Olympics, the team went on a decline and leaving apart 1980 Games where the team won gold, the India’s performance in the Olympics has been ordinary. From a bronze in 1972, the team dropped to seventh place in 1976 Montreal Olympics and since 1984, the team has not qualified for the semi-finals. 

With the change in century, Indian hockey fans hoped that the team’s fortune too would change, and Indian hockey team would return to the top and reclaim their former glory. Yet, the fortune did not change, and Indian team has continued to struggle in the Olympics.  

Now that Indian hockey team is about to begin their Tokyo Olympics journey, let us look at three most heartbreaking moments for Indian hockey team since 2000s. 

Last place finish in London 2012 

Indian team had a brilliant qualification tournament for London Olympics with likes of Sandeep Singh and Shivendra Singh scoring loads of goals in the tournament. With such a great qualification campaign, the fans were excited to watch Indian team come out all guns blazing in the tournament. The players too were upbeat. The team members that spoke to media promised medals. Michael Nobbs, the then coach of India had told fans, that Indian team would be playing great 70 mins of hockey but stopped short of saying that India will win medals. Sadly, that was not the case. 

The team lost all their games and finished in the last position. Devoid of any strategy, the team scored just 6 goals in the entire tournament and there was lot of talk about infighting among the players with coach losing the dressing room. While fans were not expecting a medal for the team, they were also not ready for such poor performances on the field. 

The last place finish had ripple effects on the team. Many senior players were axed and not selected for any future tournaments again. Coach too did not last long and was soon fired. Roelant Oltmans was brought in as a High-Performance Director of the team and Hockey India came up with an unofficial policy of not selecting players over the age of thirty. A tournament that was going to be return of Indian team ended with a dud and sadden many Indian hockey fans. 

Read More from Give Me Hockey: Indian men's team guide for Tokyo Olympics

Missing Olympics Qualification in 2008 

A lot of excitement for Indian team’s return in 2012 London Olympics had arisen due to missed qualification in 2008. After regularly being part of Olympics for eighty years, India missed the Olympics qualification for Beijing 2008 Olympics after losing to Great Britain in the finals of the qualification tournament. 

Right from the start, India was not prepared for the tournament. While the team did not plan for any practice matches and spent time in training, the coaches too were not keen on finding more about the opposition. The team selection for the qualification too was poor. Top scorer of 2008 edition of Premier Hockey League, Sandeep Singh was not selected for the tournament. Nor was Arjun Halappa, who was PHL’s player of the tournament. Star strikers, Gagan Ajit Singh and Deepak Thakur were also not part of the team that played in the qualification tournament. Ric Charlesworth, who was named as Technical Director of Indian Hockey Federation was waiting for his ticket but as per then reports coach Carvalho did not want him helping the team. 

The repercussion of this was huge. Hockey fans were out on the streets demanding action against Indian Hockey Federation. The coach Joaquim Carvalho resigned and after a sting operation by a leading news channel, IHF too was dissolved. An ad-hoc committee led by former players and IOA was incorporated to oversee the game. Missing qualification for 2008 Olympics is a dark chapter in the history of Indian hockey and truly a moment that broke our hearts. 

Read more from Give Me Hockey: Play Indian hockey @ Olympics quiz

The Polish misery at Sydney Games 

For any Indian hockey fan who got hooked to the games in 1990s would never forget India vs Poland match in 2000 Sydney Olympics. Placed in easy group, India had Australia, South Korea, Argentina, Poland, and Spain and needed a second-place finish to qualify for the semi-finals. 

India started well in the tournament, beating Argentina in the opening game, and playing a 2-2 draw against Australia. In the last game of the group stage, India, who were in the third place in group standings, needed to beat Poland in order to advance to the semi-finals. However, the fate had something else in store for the Indian team. India who was leading the game 1-0 with a goal from Dilip Tirkey in 53rd minute of the play were just two minutes away from the win when the tragedy struck. Tomasz Cichy scored the goal that sent Indian fans to meltdown and broke the dream of millions of fans. The team too was in shock. 

After the game ended, players and the coach were desolate. While Indian striker Dhanraj Pillay went to his and cried, goalkeeper Jude Menezes still remembers the sound of ball hitting the board. Indian hockey fans grieved that day after losing the game and even today the game continues to hurt us. 

Do you think of any other Olympics moment that broke your heart? Let us know in the comments section below.

(With inputs from this Indian Express article on how players behaved after Poland draw)

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