Tokyo Olympics: Seeds of India’s success in hockey sown at 2016 Junior World Cup in Lucknow


India’s historic bronze medal win in men’s hockey at the Tokyo Olympics on Thursday seems to have been the result of hard work and planning by many, including former India coach Harendra Singh, whose “junoon” (obsession) guided India to win their maiden Junior Men’s World Cup in Lucknow in 2016.

A member of the silver-medal winning Indian team at the 1990 Beijing Asian Games, Harendra, who is now teaching the finer points of the game to the United States team, made a major contribution in building this “new and energetic side”. Eight members of the current squad, including captain Manpreet Singh, were part of the gold-medal winning side in 2016. They were coached by Harendra then.

“Many don’t understand my madness and obsession for the game as even in my dreams I care for hockey, but it makes no difference to me. I know that such passion is required to build the future of Indian hockey,”he had said soon after India’s thrilling 2-1 win against Belgium in the Junior World Cup final.

Harendra’s comment is still relevant now that India have ended their 41-year-old medal drought at the Olympics. The passion for a podium finish was at its highest among the Indian side though Harendra was removed in 2019 following a disappointing 2018 season.

Harendra was given charge of the senior side after India’s medal-less showing at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in 2018, but was unable to change the team’s fortunes. India were also below-par in the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia, settling for a bronze after going into the tournament as the defending champions. They ended the year with a quarterfinal loss in the World Cup in Bhubaneswar.

“…what a incredible journey of these players A big big salute to boys in blue!” one of his tweets on Thursday read.

In fact, Singh broke down after watching the historic win and didn’t hide his emotions. “I am so excited that from 10 scorers for India, nine are from the 2016 core group. What more as a coach can I ask for?” Besides Manpreet, players like Harmanpreet Singh, Varun Kumar, Nilakanta Sharma, Sumit, Gurjant Singh, Mandeep Singh and Simranjeet Singh were part of the 2016 World-Cup winning junior squad.

He also said India’s investment in junior programmes paid rich dividends. “I salute (chief coach) Graham Reid. I always said invest in youngsters and you will get the medal and he invested in youngsters and today we are on the podium.”

Terming the bronze medal win as one of the best moments in Indian hockey, he said the feat will inspire the new generation to pick up hockey sticks.

“The journey has just started. It is just an appetizer, the main course is yet to come. It’s just the beginning, many more to come. We need to be patient, give time to players and coaches. It’s a process and needs time to produce results,” he said.

Hockey India’s high performance and development committee chairman RP Singh too praised contributions by everyone, including the present and former coaches of both the junior and senior sides, for the team’s bronze-medal win at the Tokyo Olympics.

“Be it administrators, selectors, coaches, technical officials and many others, everyone is responsible for India’s success at the Games, and I believe that real process for the better development of Indian hockey was re-started when Hockey India came into existence in 2009,” said RP Singh.


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