STORY: The 16 Who Made Indian Women’s Hockey History


From the cradles of sport to the stronghold of Naxal. Some criticized for not doing chores, others shaped by the heat of farms and factories. To be up to a brother who represented the nation, to rejoice in a sister who bought a staff with a daily salary. Play hockey to escape an alcoholic father and defend a father who fought against the norms of society. These are the larger than life stories of the Indian hockey giant slayers:

Rani Rampal (26, striker) Shahbad, Haryana

Rani has played international hockey for almost half of her life, a journey that began when she played with a broken hockey stick while wearing a salwar-kameez. She made her debut at the age of 14. Now 26, Rani is the team’s key player. With her surefire ability to be in the right place at the right time, she has been the savior of India on several occasions. She also helped the team win a Junior World Cup medal, an Asian Cup, and was one of the main reasons India was able to qualify for the back-to-back Olympics for the first time. .

Neha Goyal (24, midfielder) Sonipat, Haryana

For teenage Neha Goyal, hockey was an escape that came with two meals. It took him away from his alcoholic father who mistreated his mother. The first Olympian worked alongside her mother in a cycle factory, earning 5 rupees to repair a wheel spoke. Goyal’s calling card in hockey is his ability to activate his breakneck pace and score goals. She made her national team debut at the age of 18. Since 2018, Goyal has won the silver medal at the Asian Games and received the Midfielder of the Year award from Hockey India.

Nikki Pradhan (27, defender) Hesal, Jharkhand

Hailing from an area known to be a stronghold of Naxal, Pradhan said she was scared when she returned to meet her parents. Riddled with financial problems growing up, her older sister, who also played hockey, had worked as a laborer to buy a hockey stick. Pradhan got her first pair of hockey shoes and a stick when she moved to an academy in Ranchi in 2006. She was in and out of the national structure before finally securing a spot on the team in 2015, just in time for Rio, where she became the first player from her state to compete in the Olympics.

Nisha Warsi (26, midfielder) Sonipat, Haryana

A late bloomer, Warsi only made her international debut two years ago. In part, it was because she had a rather start-stop association with the game. She took up the sport because there was not a lot of equipment needed and was strongly supported by her father who worked as a tailor. . In 2015, however, he suffered a paralyzing attack and his mother had to work in a foam factory to make ends meet. It took Warsi another three years to make her debut in the Indian squad in 2018, and since then she has been a mainstay.

Lalremsiami (21, forward) Kolasib, Mizoram

One of the team’s best forwards, Siami, as her teammates call her, is at the heart of the idea of ​​playing fast hockey. When she was first selected at the age of 16, Siami spoke neither English nor Hindi. She communicated primarily through sign language apart from speaking in monosyllables. She shared a room with her idol Rani Rampal, who led Siami’s initiation into the team. She made history by becoming the first Mizoram player to make it to the Olympics and was the state’s first Olympian in 25 years after Archer C Lalremsanga.

Sushila Chanu (29, midfielder) Imphal, Manipur

One of the team’s most senior players, Sushila has been one of India’s most influential players for the past decade alongside Rani Rampal. The Manipur half-back, who works for the Railways in Mumbai, captained the team at the Rio Olympics, which was the women’s team’s first appearance at the Games since 1980. She is over 150 years old. caps for the national team, played through the Asian Games, Commonwealth Games, and was instrumental in eliminating the Australians in the quarterfinals.

Deep Grace Ekka (27, defender) Lulkidihi, Odisha

Ekka comes from a family of hockey fans; his older brother Dinesh is a former Indian goalkeeper. Following in his footsteps, Ekka also wanted to be a goalkeeper but was pushed into playing as a defender by Dinesh and her uncle (also a goalkeeper). Her fondness for sports and the time she spent practicing her craft prompted other residents of Lulkidihi to criticize her for not doing her “chores”. Her family supported her and she was part of the team that won the Asian Cup in 2017. With over 200 caps, she is now playing her second Olympics.

Salima Tête (19, midfielder) Hesal, Jharkhand

Salima Tete’s hockey course started the same way most people in India fall in love with the sport – in a dusty virgin where stones had to be removed and temporary goalposts built. She was born in the fortress of Naxal, which is also a hotbed of hockey. She worked on the family farm, earned money and bought a hockey stick. Prior to the Olympics, she had won 29 caps for the senior national team. She hopes the next two will come with an Olympic medal.

Udita Duhan (23, defender) Hisar, Haryana

She followed in her father’s footsteps by playing handball. Hockey was never the order of the day until his school’s handball coach suddenly stopped coming to practice. On her mother’s advice, she decided to try her hand at hockey and her speed caught everyone’s attention. In 2016, she was named captain of the team that won bronze at the Asian Cup U-18. A year later, she was promoted to the senior squad and has since become a permanent fixture.

Vandana Katariya (26, striker) Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh

To seal a place in the quarterfinals, India had to beat South Africa for a chance. Vandana Katariya stepped up, three times, becoming the only Indian woman to score an Olympic treble. This happened just three months after a personal tragedy. Growing up in Haridwar, locals dissuaded his family from allowing him to play sports instead of focusing on household chores. But her father didn’t want it and fought the pressures of society to let her play. He passed away three months ago and Katariya was unable to attend the funeral. Now she will play in an Olympic semi-final, a victory before a medal.

Navneet Kaur (25, striker) Shahbad, Haryana

She is one of eight players on the team who also competed in the Rio Olympics. Navneet has been one of India’s most consistent strikers and has been part of several groundbreaking performances, starting with the 2013 Junior World Cup bronze medal. The Haryana striker considers Australian great Jamie Dwyer to be her hero and on Monday she put on a dazzling performance to defeat her idol’s national team.

Monika Malik (27, midfielder) Sonipat, Haryana

Her father Takdeer Singh Malik, an ASI in the Chandigarh Police Department, loved wrestling, but Monika claimed he never forced the sport on her once she decided to take the hockey route. Born in a village in the Sonepat district, she began her hockey training at a public school in Chandigarh. ‘Monu’ holds a degree in business administration from Kurukshetra University. On the hockey field, the backbone of the national team won the Asian Cup in 2018, a bronze medal and a silver medal at the Asian Games 2014 and 2018 respectively.

Gurjit Kaur (25, defender) Amritsar, Punjab

The designated drag flicker’s only goal at the Tokyo Olympics so far was the one that won the quarterfinal against Australia. The defender has scored crucial goals throughout her international career, scoring eight in the Asian Cup triumph in 2017 and was the top scorer when India won the 2019 FIH Women’s Series final. ‘Guri’, she didn’t really like sports but tried her hand at the kabaddi circle. She was sent to a hostel, to avoid long journeys to the school located near a hockey field. Watching people play tempted her to join in, and once she did, she never stopped.

Sharmila Devi (19, striker) Hisar, Haryana

The teenager made her international debut in Tokyo in the Olympic test event in 2019. She was also on the scoresheet when India beat the United States 6-5 on aggregate to secure qualification. Self-proclaimed “bad kid”, she started playing the sport after accompanying her grandfather, a former national level player, on a local field. Intrigued by the balls used in hockey, volleyball and football, it took her a long time to choose the sport she wanted to play.

Navjot Kaur (26, midfielder) Kurukshetra, Haryana

She was eight years old when her father, a mechanic who wanted at least one of his children to play sports, insisted she get into hockey. She started training in 2003 while in school in Sanjay Gandhi National Park. A midfielder on paper, it was her scoring ability that led her to make her debut in the senior squad in 2012. Since then, she has won bronze and silver medals at the Asian Games in 2014 and 2018 respectively. She was also part of the squad that qualified for the Rio 2016 Games and the 2018 World Cup quarter-finals.

Savita Punia (31, goalkeeper) Jodhka, Haryana

There was a time when Punia dreaded being the goalkeeper because she had to lug heavy equipment on public transport buses and carry it for a game during the summer heat. She is now the goaltender of choice, the team’s vice-captain and one of the heroines of Monday’s quarterfinal. Punia was encouraged to play hockey by her grandfather, but it wasn’t until her father spent a huge amount of money on new equipment that she began to take the game seriously. She grew in stature as the women’s team began to improve rapidly, winning back-to-back Asian Games medals.


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