India’s men’s hockey team has brought an Olympic medal home for the first time in 41 years.
Today (Aug. 5), India defeated Germany 5-4 to win bronze. This is India’s fourth medal in Tokyo so far.
After a stellar 3-1 win against Great Britain in the quarter-finals on Aug. 1, India sailed into the semi-finals against Belgium with confidence. At half-time during the Aug. 2 match, the two teams were tied 2-2. But the game got away from India in the next 45 minutes with Belgium winning 5-2, costing its chance at winning gold.
Once a nation of hockey legends, India had fallen from grace over the last few decades. But the resilience displayed in Tokyo 2020 has emotions running high. Even with gold out of reach for the men’s team, Indians rallied behind the team as they gunned for bronze.
From 1928 to 1956, India’s men’s field hockey team won six consecutive Olympic gold medals at the game. Pakistan broke the streak in Rome in 1960, relegating India to silver, but it bounced back to come out on top during the 1964 Tokyo Games.
The winning streak in the 40s and 50s led to hockey being touted as the country’s national sport. Only in 2012, when the authorities replied to a 10-year-old girl’s right to information request, was it revealed that India in fact has no national sport.
The glory has since abated. India only won the gold once again, in 1980 in Moscow. Between then and now, it had secured no medals in the sport.
Some blame grass fields being traded for artificial turfs in 1976 for the slump. Others have pinned the poor show on mismanagement and false pride. Not only did the sports authority not lay down enough astroturf for training, but teams also suffered at the hands of internal politics and red tape.
Regardless, India’s hockey teams have put up a tough fight this time around. The women’s team made it to the Olympic semi-finals for the first time ever this year. Argentina beat them 2-1, though, quashing India’s hopes of a medal.
Besides the medals, a bigger win is perhaps India’s renewed hope in the sport.