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Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Olympic medallists hark back to hockey academy days

Rupinder Pal Singh, member of the Tokyo Olympics bronze medal winning Indian hockey team, along with teammate Gurjant Singh got the cash award of Rs 5 lakh each from Haryana Governor Bandaru Dattatreya at a function organised by Hockey Chandigarh here on Saturday morning.

Written by Nitin Sharma | Chandigarh |
Updated: August 22, 2021 2:39:26 am
Haryana Governor Bandaru Dattatreya and Punjab Sports Minister Rana Gurmit Singh Sodhi with Indian hockey players at felicitation ceremony in Chandigarh. (Express Photo)

As 30-year-old defender Rupinder Pal Singh, member of the Tokyo Olympics bronze medal winning Indian hockey team, along with teammate Gurjant Singh got the cash award of Rs 5 lakh each from Haryana Governor Bandaru Dattatreya at a function organised by Hockey Chandigarh here on Saturday morning, the two former Sector 42 Chandigarh Hockey Academy shared a laugh. The duo, who trained at the academy, were also joined by Monika Malik, Sharmila Devi and Reena Khokhar, members of the Tokyo Olympics fourth-placed Indian women’s hockey team. Rupinder was remembering late coach Jasbir Singh Bajwa, one of the coaches at the Sector 42 Academy, who had coached the first batch of trainees, including Rupinder, starting 2002.

“This is the first time that we have been honoured since I made my debut for the senior Indian hockey team. It feels special to get the honour from Hockey Chandigarh. I started my hockey career at Chandigarh Hockey Academy and at that time, getting selected was a big thing for me. I remember once I got a warning for not improving but thanks to the hard work of coaches Jasbir Singh Bajwa and O P Ahlawat that we have reached the day of winning an Olympic medal. We miss Bajwa sir and wish that he was around to see the Olympic medal. He would have been the happiest man on the earth. Ahlawat sir too wished me and was glad to see the medal,” Rupinder said.

A young Rupinder had joined the academy in 2002 from Faridkot, Punjab, in 2002 and the next six years would see Rupinder helping Chandigarh and later Punjab win titles at the national level before he made his junior and senior India debut. The lanky six feet and four inches tall defender has so far played in more than 225 matches for India and scored four goals in India’s campaign at Tokyo, including one goal during India’s 5-4 win over Germany in the bronze-medal match. “The bronze medal is not only for us but for the whole country. We wish it will inspire more youngsters to dream a career in hockey and we will be glad to see that happen. Staying at the academy also made us disciplined and that’s what I will advise the youngsters. We also hope that Punjab and Chandigarh will make efforts to host international tournaments, which will attract more talent,” Rupinder said.

Like Rupinder, 26-year-old Gurjant Singh also joined the academy in 2005 and came to Chandigarh from his village of Khaliara near Amritsar. Singh, who has played in more than 55 matches for India, played a vital role in India’s campaign at Tokyo Olympics scoring three goals, including one goal in India’s 3-1 quarter-final win over Great Britain. “When I joined the academy in 2005, training under coaches like Bajwa sir made us master the basics of hockey. Later when Rupinder paji played for junior and senior Indian hockey teams, it motivated us a lot. To win an Olympic medal and to be in same Indian hockey team as Rupinder paji is special for me,” Gurjant said.

Mid-fielder Monika Malik, 27, whose father Takdeer Singh Malik is an ASI with Chandigarh Police, had joined the Chandigarh Girls Hockey Academy in Sector 18 in 2007. The mid-fielder has so far played in more than 160 matches for India. Malik, who hails from Gamri village near Sonepat, too remembered her days at the academy. “We were lucky to train under coach Rajinder Singh Senior sir and he made sure that we worked on basics a lot. Along with Manjeet Kaur, Rajinder sir would always tell us to imbibe the team spirit. The way the Indian women hockey team has received applause after finishing fourth in Tokyo Olympics is special for each of us,” Malik said.

Sharmila Devi, 19, who hails from Kaimri village near Hisar, had joined the academy in 2012. The youngster, whose father Suresh Kumar is a farmer, made her debut for Indian junior team in 2018. She has played in more than 17 matches for India so far. “While Hisar did not have a residential academy, I gave trials in Chandigarh and coach Rajinder Singh Senior sir worked a lot on each trainee’s game. Sometimes, I would miss home but this fourth-place finish is a reward for all those hard times and we are eager to achieve more,” Sharmila said.

‘There should be a structure and policy regarding support to players’

While Indian men’s hockey team players Rupinder Pal Singh and Gurjant Singh apart from Indian women’s hockey players Monika Malik and Sharmila Devi’s careers were initially given shape at the Sector 42 Hockey Academy and Sector 18 Girls Hockey Academy, the six years spent at the academies would mean that the players’s life was only focused on training and studies. The former hockey trainees remember their time spent at the academies fondly but believe that the UT sports department can do more to support the trainees once they graduate from the academies.

“For six years, the hockey academy was our home and the teammates and coaches were our family. They supported us and we still share a strong bond. But once we left the academy, I remember we were on our own and also took the class 12th exam staying in Chandigarh on our own expenditure. At that time, we did not play for India and players at that time need more support so that they can achieve more. There should be a structure and policy to support to players, once they pass from the academy,” Rupinder said.

Like Rupinder, Gurjant Singh too had to stay for one year alone in Chandigarh to complete high school and believes that supporting the trainees once they graduate from the academy will help the whole batch. “A lot of my teammates from the batch at the academy left hockey as they did not get support after graduating from the academy,” Gurjant said.

Indian women’s hockey team mid-fielder Monika Malik too said, “Players should be supported till university level. Not everyone gets to play for state or India, but with support, trainees can make a career in coaching.”

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