VIJAYAWADA: The pulsating encounter and the 4-3 defeat to Great Britain in Tokyo has not dampened the morale of the Indian women’s hockey team. They have put the play-off behind them, and are now eyeing gold at the Commonwealth Games, Birmingham 2022.
The grit and confidence of the team reflected in Olympian Rajani Etimarpu’s words, as she spoke to TNIE from Yanamulavaripalle, a remote village in Chittoor’s Yerravaripalem mandal. In her more than 10 years career as the national goalkeeper, the 31-year-old has represented the country in 110 international hockey matches. Rajani has plans to set up a hockey academy for girls in Andhra Pradesh.
“My ultimate goal is to set up a hockey academy to train rural girls, who have the potential to represent the country. I have informed it to Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, who assured me of all necessary support,” she said.
Rajani said the Chief Minister has accorded top priority to make Andhra Pradesh a sports hub. “Focus should be on identifying and nurturing sports talent in the rural areas,” Rajani added.
Sharing her Tokyo Olympics experience, she said the team’s performance improved by several notches, and each player was eyeing a podium finish. The team started its campaign with three straight losses in the pool stage, but clawed back, posting three consecutive wins to find a spot in their maiden Olympic semifinals.
The wins on a trot meant much to the team, since Australia, ranked second in the world, had gone down against India in the quarter-final, Rajani said. Recalling the play-off against Great Britain, she said the rivals stormed early in the match at Oi Hockey Stadium, leaving the Indian defence little chance. The Indians, however, recouped and retaliated.
Team underwent rigorous practice sessions during pandemic: Rajani
“We conceded two early goals, but fought back and took a lead of 3-2. Britain hit back, sounding the board two more times, and shattered our hopes of winning Olympic bronze,” Rajani said. The Indians’ gritty performance at Tokyo — which won them over a billion hearts back home — was remarkable.
“We finished last (12th) at Rio (Olympics), 2016. Over the past four years, the Indian women’s team has not only impressed with their performance but also went up in International Hockey Federation ranking,” the goalkeeper said. The Indian side has won several major tournaments.
The team, which finished fourth in Tokyo, is currently ranked world number eight. On her training at the SAI national camp in Bengaluru, Rajani said the team underwent rigorous practice sessions during the pandemic and improved the fitness levels under the strength and conditioning coach, Wayne Lombard.