The Indian women’s hockey team is taking on Argentina in the semi-finals with an eye to create history in the Tokyo Olympics 2020.
Indians across the globe supporting the all-women blue team are cheering for their hockey players like never before. Captain Rani Rampal-led women’s team has made its first entry to the Olympic semi-finals by defeating three-time champions and world no. 2 Australia in the quarter-finals and is facing Argentina today.
As India basks in the glory of women’s hockey on the global stage, meet the gusty women who are breaking stereotypes and overcoming societal barriers to keep the Tricolour fly high.
Hailing from Shahabad in Haryana, Rani Rampal’s father is a cart-puller and mother a housemaid. Her rise from a humble background to captaining the Indian women’s hockey team continues to be an inspiration for each and every Indian and sports enthusiasts around the world.
She made her debut at the age of 14 and at 15, she became the youngest person in the national team to play the 2010 World Cup.
A recipient of Padma Shri and Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Awards, she was also a part of the Indian team that played at the Rio Olympics in 2016.
Neha Goyal from Sonipat, Haryana started her journey of hockey when she was in Class 5 and visited a hockey academy in Sonipat with a friend in the hope of getting new shoes and clothes for free.
Hockey was then just a source of two meals for her and an escape that kept her away from her alcoholic father who would abuse her mother, a daily wage labourer in a cycle factory.
Neha played her first match in Glasgow during the FIH Champions Challenge and went on to participate in the 2018 World Cup held in London. Goyal has won silver medal at the Asian Games and has been conferred the Hockey India Midfielder of the Year Award in 2018.
25-year-old defender Gurjit Kaur, who created history at the Oi Hockey Stadium by scoring the lone goal in the match against the Hockeyroos of Australia on Monday, was born to a farmer's family in Amritsar's Miadi Kalan village.
Despite hailing from a small hamlet in Amritsar, Gurjit’s parents sent her to a private school some 13 kilometres away in Ajnala and later she was sent to a boarding school in Kairon where she discovered her passion for hockey.
She secured her first job as a junior clerk in Allahabad with the Indian Railways through sports quota, and went on to become a permanent member of the national women’s hockey team in 2017. At the Tokyo Olympics, it was Gurjit’s goal in the 22nd minute that earned the team its historic spot in the semi-finals.
Sushila Chanu Pukhrambam is one of the senior-most players in the team and one of India’s most influential players in the last decade alongside Rani Rampal.
Born to a homemaker and driver in Imphal, Manipur, Sushila discovered her interest for the game when she watched a football match during the 1999 National Games hosted in Manipur with her father.
She works for the Railways in Mumbai and had captained the team at the Rio Olympics. She has over 150 caps for the national team and played the Asian Games, Commonwealth Games, and was instrumental in shutting out the Australians in the quarter-finals.
Hailing from an area known for Naxal stronghold, Nikki is the first woman hockey player from Jharkhand to participate in the Olympic Games, first in Rio 2016 and now in Tokyo.
Daughter of police constable Soma Pradhan and homemaker Jitan Devi, they live in the tribal-dominated Hesal in Jharkhand. Nikki began her training for hockey at Bariatu Girls' Hockey Centre in Ranchi at the age of 12 in 2006.
25-year-old midfielder Nisha, whose father works as a tailor in a retail store in Haryana's Sonipat, is among the eight Olympic debutants in the Rani Rampal-led Indian squad in Tokyo.
Supported by her father, Nisha debuted for the Indian team in 2018. She is among the youngsters making her Olympic debut this year.
21-year-old striker Lalremsiami, fondly known as Siami, is the first female player from Mizoram to make it to the Olympics. She became the first Indian woman to win the FIH Rising Player award in 2019.
Deep Grace Ekka
Ekka comes from a family of hockey enthusiasts in Lulkidihi in Odisha’s Sundargarh district. Her older brother Dinesh is a former Indian goalkeeper. Ekka always wanted to be a goalkeeper, like her brother but was pushed to play as a defender by Dinesh and her uncle, who is also a goalkeeper.
The vice-captain of the Indian women’s hockey team, Ekka became the fastest Indian to reach the 200-cap mark in 2019. In 2019 , she was named Sportswoman of the Year at the Sportstar ACES Awards in Mumbai. The 27-year old is now playing at her second Olympics.
Tete, a midfielder from Naxal stronghold Hesal in Jharkhand state, played hockey at her village maidan. She worked on the family’s farm, earned money and bought a hockey stick for herself.
At 19, Salima Tete became the youngest member of the side. She also led the team to silver at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games. Tete had won 29 caps for the senior national team.
A resident of Hisar, Haryana, Udita followed her father’s footsteps and started her career with handball. It all happened after her handball coach suddenly stopped coming for practice at school.
Later, on her mother’s advice, she decided to try her hand at hockey, and her speed caught everybody’s attention.
In 2016, Duhan was made the captain of the team that won bronze at the U-18 Asian Cup. A year later she was promoted to the senior team and has become a permanent fixture ever since.
Growing up in Roshnabad in Haridwar district of Uttarakhand, Vandana was always discouraged for stepping outside for the game.
She plays as a forward in the Indian national team and rose to prominence in 2013, being India's top goal-scorer in the 2013 Women's Hockey Junior World Cup, where India won a bronze medal. She scored five goals in the tournament, the third by any player.
In April this year, Katariya’s father passed away in Haridwar due to COVID-related complications. However, she made the most difficult decision ever and skipped the funeral of her father to pursue her passion. At this year’s Olympics, she became the only Indian woman to score a hat-trick.
25-year-old forward Navneet Kaur from Haryana's Shahabad, noticeable on the field for her striking white headband, is one of eight players in the team who also competed at the 2016 Olympics.
She has been one of India’s most powerful forwards and a key player of several path-breaking performances, starting with the 2013 Junior World Cup bronze medal.
Monika’s father Takdeer Singh Malik, an ASI with the Chandigarh Police, used to play wrestling, but she decided to take up hockey. Born in a village in Sonepat district, she started her hockey training at a government school in Chandigarh.
She helped the national team win the Asia Cup in 2018. She was part of the team that also won bronze and silver medals at the 2014 and 2018 Asian Games respectively.
Sharmila Devi made her international debut during the Tokyo Olympic Test Event in 2019. She decided to take up the sport after she accompanied her grandfather, a former national level player, to a local ground.
Hailing from Kurukshetra in Haryana, she started training during her days at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park School in 2003. She scored five goals for the team in the 2014 Asian Games.
One of the eight players who was part of the squad representing India at the 2016 Rio Olympics, Navjot has donned more than 100 international caps.
She has won bronze and silver medals at the Asian Games in 2014 and 2018, respectively. She was also in the team that made it to the quarterfinals of the World Cup in 2018.
Apart from Gurjit’s goal, it was goalkeeper Savita Punia’s heroics that helped India beat Australia 1-0 to reach their first-ever Olympics semi-finals.
Hailing from Jodhkan village in Sirsa, Haryana, it was Savita’s grandfather who urged her to pick up the sport. She used to travel 30 km six times every week from her village to Maharaja Agrasain Girls Senior Secondary School in Sirsa to hone her hockey skills.
In 2013, she was part of the team that won bronze at the Asia Cup and went on to win at the 2016 Asian Champions Trophy, 2017 Asia Cup, and clinch silver at 2018 Asian Games.