Indian women book Rio berth

Team qualifies for Oly after 36 years

Indian women book Rio berth
After 36 long years, Indian women’s hockey team has dug out their space on the world’s biggest sporting stage, having qualified for the 2016 Rio Olympics. The news was conveyed to the bleary eyed young bunch by none other than Hockey India High Performance Director Roelant Oltmans while they were on way to training in the morning and it sparked a wild celebration.

 The team made the cut after England made it to the final of the EuroHockey Championships in London, beating Spain. In the other semifinal, the Netherlands beat Germany. It freed one quota place as both the finalists had already qualified for the Olympics. India, which finished fifth in the women's Hockey World League Semifinals in Antwerp, Belgium last month, secured the spot.

The only time India women featured in Olympics was through invitation in the 1980 Moscow Games, when women’s hockey was introduced in the Games. India had finished fourth then.

 “We got the news when we were on our way for training. We were sleepy but the news simply energised us. This is the biggest achievement for us. It took us 36 years to do so, but it will give hope to the coming generations that nothing is impossible,” captain Ritu Rani told Deccan Herald.

“We now want to give our best, work on our fitness and stamina. We hope we get to play against the European countries more.”

Coach Mathias Ahrens was proud of his wards. “This team has played against the best and proven themselves to qualify for the Olympics. They beat Japan in a do-or-die contest in World League Semifinals to keep themselves in contention. They have great ability. However, more experience of playing under pressure against top teams will help them much more,” he said.

The Indian team has rapidly improved in recent times and won bronze medal at the Incheon Asian Games. “They have some of the best strikers. But what can make a big difference in today’s hockey is ability to convert penalty corners and it is here we are lacking. The team comprises of players of healthy age group, they have many years in front of them. We now need good competition before the Olympics,” he said.

India now join nine other teams, who have qualified for 2016 Rio Games -- Korea as Asian Games champions, Argentina as Pan Am Games champions and Great Britain, China, Germany, Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand and the USA through the Hockey World League Semi-Finals.

“We have been waiting for this for the last 36 years and this achievement is the sweetest and the most memorable among all our previous feats in recent times,” HI President Narinder Batra said in a release.

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