By: Zafar Iqbal
The Olympic Games in Tokyo is around the corner and there is excitement building up as it draws closer, with the uncertainty dissolving with each passing day. From long before my playing days, the Olympic Games have been a source of inspiration for many people and Tokyo2020 will be special as it has the potential to bring cheer to a world hit by the pandemic.
Each time the Olympic Games is upon us, we have little clips playing in our minds with our favourite memories resurfacing from the deepest recesses. I am not any different to you and have my own set of remembrances from my days and expectations from the present set of Indian athletes across different disciplines.
Since I used to lead my school team, I followed Indian hockey’s fortunes from the early 70s. I used to hear radio commentary from the Munich Olympic Games in 1972 when India won a bronze medal. By 1976, I was more aware and knew that despite the shift to Astro-turf, India went out of semi-final after losing a play-off with Australia via the tiebreaker.
Four years later, I was delighted to be picked to the team that competed in the Moscow Games. And I get goosebumps when I recall the surge of emotions that I felt through the stay in the USSR capital. I was aware that the Olympic Games was the pinnacle of sport, but that did not prepare me for what I experienced there. Suffice to say, it was a whole new universe for me.
India faced some good competition from Spain, host USSR and Poland in hockey. Despite being a largely new-look squad, with only skipper V Baskaran and Bir Bahadur Chhetri having the experience of the Olympics – and of playing on an Astro-turf pitch, we went on to win gold and I still cherish that feeling.
I am reminded of how in our short preparatory camp in Patiala we had trained on a ground that had been shorn of all grass and the surface was arranged in a starkly different fashion. In contrast, it was an utter revelation to see the pitch in Moscow and come to terms with it.
The situation has dynamically changed now with so much Government support for the hockey teams to train and compete internationally. The men’s team inspires hope that it can do well in Tokyo2020. I believe the team has the ability to show that it can be different from some of its predecessors which did well in the run up to the Olympic Games but faltered there.
The men’s team will do well to find consistency and victories that will give it the confidence to do well in the August 1 quarterfinal and get closer to the elusive medal. As for the women’s team, I appreciate how well it has done to qualify and rise in the FIH rankings. It would be wonderful to see it get to the quarterfinals, too.
That would heighten my excitement when tracking the Olympic Games, rekindling memories and adding some wonderful new ones to celebrate.
(Author, part of the 1980 Olympic Games gold medal winning hockey team, is also a former National coach)