Exclusive: We can compete with any team in Tokyo, says India's Rani Rampal
In today's hockey, rankings don’t matter a lot because the team that convert the chances win matches, says the Indian captain
It was only in the last week of April that India’s Olympic-bound women’s hockey team suffered a demoralising blow when seven players tested positive for Covid-19.
One of them was Rani Rampal, the team captain.
The daughter of a cart-puller, Rani has shown exemplary spirit in life to leap over myriad obstacles.
Rani fought Covid with the same spirit and her positivity eventually trickled into her teammates.
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Here's the official schedule of the Indian Men's and Women's Hockey Team for #Tokyo2020. #HaiTayyar #IndiaKaGame #TokyoOlympics #StrongerTogether #Cheer4India #HockeyInvites #WeAreTeamIndia #Hockey pic.twitter.com/J5qeWFYkKk
Despite the challenges of the 14-day hard quarantine at a time when each training session was important ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, the seven players returned to the training camp in Bangalore ready to go the extra mile.
Now as India prepare for their first game against the three-time Olympic champions Netherlands on July 24, Rani reveals the team’s goal during an exclusive interview with Khaleej Times.
Q. How confident are you ahead of the Olympics? The positive cases were definitely a setback…
Yes, it was a very difficult time when we tested positive. Being an athlete, missing 14 days of training was a big setback. The coaching staff helped us a lot during that time. Now the team and the coaching staff are both very confident. Our coaching team has worked hard to bring our fitness level to peak conditions.
Q. India are in a very difficult group with Netherlands, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland and South Africa. While the first three teams on that list have won Olympic gold medals, this is India’s only third Olympic appearance. Only the top four from each group will qualify for the quarterfinals. What will be your realistic target?
Our main focus is on our own performance. Unlike in the past, now there is a belief in the team that we can compete with any team in the world. The fitness level of our team has improved a lot. We don’t think we are lagging behind any team now in terms of fitness. In the Olympics, no team can take an opponent lightly. So yes, the main aim will be to reach the quarterfinal. From that stage, it’s anyone’s game. In today’s hockey, rankings don’t matter a lot because the team that convert the chances win matches.
Q. The pandemic robbed you of competitive games before Olympics. But you did play a few friendly matches recently against Argentina and Germany…
I think we played matches after one year. We were playing against top teams, Germany (world number four) and Argentina (world number three). The best thing about it was that these matches gave us a chance to know our level. We got to know the areas we needed to work on and we worked on them. So we are very confident now and ready for the Olympics.
Q. You are now one of the best strikers in the world. You were even named the best young player at the 2010 World Cup. But, as a team, what are the areas India need to work on to become as good as Germany, Netherlands, Australia, Argentina and Great Britain?
Lot of things have already changed in women’s hockey in India. I have seen this and experienced this. There are a lot of changes from the time I started playing and now. The facilities were not so good when I started, but it’s much better now. Things are definitely changing, but to compete at the highest level with the top countries in events like Olympics, it will take some time.
Q. How tough has it been to be in a bubble all the time?
Covid has been a big challenge for all of us. I don’t know anyone has seen such a disease that has made the whole world suffer. We saw in the first wave, lot of people lost their jobs, people didn’t have food to eat. For us also, the Olympics were postponed last year, you know, athletes train very hard for four years for an Olympics. It was a challenge to push ourselves with the same intensity and mindset for one more year. So it has been a very challenging period, but we have also learned a lot. To be in the bubble for five months, our movements were restricted and we were separated from our families for such a long time, it was a challenge. It was mentally and emotionally very tough. But it has been a great learning experience for us. I think the pandemic has taught people to be more caring, to help others.
Q. That reminds us that your team won the country’s heart last year during the Covid lockdown when your online fitness challenge raised more than two million Indian rupees to feed more than 1,000 families...
We just tried and see if we can help people. Everybody was at home, so people were under a lot of mental stress. We thought how to keep people active, in a way that can stop people getting negative thoughts. We have seen that many people even committed suicide during that time. So we tried to find a way to help the society. Also, we could relate to the problems many people faced financially during that time because lot of us in the team have come from very modest backgrounds. Lot of us in the team had difficult childhood, you know, we didn’t know where the next meal would come from. So we felt the pain lot of people experienced during that time.
Q. Which athlete has inspired you the most?
Mary Kom. Even after becoming the mother of three children, she still has the same spirit to play for India and win medals. So there are a lot of things about her that inspire me every day. She is a six-time world champion, I don’t think it would have been possible without hard work and determination. She inspires me to work hard every day and do well for my country.
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