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Friday, September 24, 2021

Tokyo 2020: Gurjit Kaur’s drag flick took root in village, honed by pros

Amritsar player from Miadi Kalan put India ahead in the semis against Argentina at Tokyo, before India's last quarter meltdown saw them lose 2-1.

Written by Nitin Sharma | Chandigarh |
Updated: August 5, 2021 7:12:39 am
Gurjit kept India in contention for almost three quarters of the semifinal against Argentina at the Tokyo Olympics, before India was smothered 2-1 to be relegated to a bronze playoff. (Twitter/HockeyIndia)

Satnam Singh remembers the bus rides coming back home alongside daughter Gurjit, who couldn’t stop talking about something called the ‘drag flick’ from her hockey practice.

“Initially, I would travel with her on buses and would spend the full day outside the school waiting for Gurjit’s training to end before we decided to enroll her into the hostel. On our way back, she would often tell me about drag flicks and I would nod in affirmation even though I did not understand a word,” remembers the father, talking to Indian Express.

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On Wednesday, Gurjit kept India in contention for almost three quarters of the semifinal against Argentina at the Tokyo Olympics, before India was smothered 2-1 to be relegated to a bronze playoff. But Gurjit kept the dream alive with her opening strike. The drag-flick specialist owed her origins to her earliest days playing hockey, growing up in village Miadi Kalan, situated 14 kms away from the India-Pakistan border in Amritsar.

Father Satnam would accompany Gurjit to school in Ajnala on a cycle or in local buses. She would get late sometimes as she would not get a bus to the village on days he was busy. “But she never complained. When I inquired about the sports wing at Kairon, Gurjit knew that it was very far from our village,” he says.

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At the school sports wing, Gurjit would be selected as a drag-flicker by coach Sharanjit Singh and she would also be helped by Indian women’s hockey team players like Yogita Bali, Kirandeep Kaur and Amandeep Kaur apart from getting a chance to interact with drag-flicker Jugraj Singh on the visits to Amritsar for school and college tournaments.

“When she first came to the school wing, we selected her for a defender and the role of a drag-flicker as she had a good physique. While we started with her taking penalty strokes from a distance of 5-7 m, slowly we graduated to the D and she would keenly observe the goal-keepers. With players like Yogita Bali also visiting the school regularly, she would often seek tips and would also watch highlights of Jugraj Singh’s drag-flicks on TV and seeking tips from him whenever we visited Amritsar or Batala for school or other tournaments,” says Sharanjit.

While Gurjit would also get a chance to train under drag-flick coach Toon Siepman, who has worked with the likes of Pakistan’s Sohail Abbas and Netherlands’ Mink van der Weerden, during the India’s tour of 2017, Kaur emerged as the top scorer for India with eight goals in 2017 Asia Cup followed by 11 goals in FIH Series finals in Japan in 2018 apart from a good showing in 2018 Asian Games, where India won silver.

“Spending time under coaches like Harendra Singh and Siepman helped her understand the variations a lot better and getting match exposure abroad too helped her a lot. Her strength has been the upper right and lower right corner with subtle change in wrist position and that’s what she has been doing it at Tokyo apart from some other variations too. Whenever she visits her village, she often discusses and watches other drag-flickers over TV or phone and calls the coaches at any time to ask about her doubts or how can she do it better,” says Sharanjit.

Gurjit grew up wanting to study and aspired for better facilities in her village, and later to gain fame for her border town. She followed sister Pradeep Kaur into hockey.

“Gurjit hamesha sade pind da naam roshan karni chahundi si. (Gurjit wanted to make her village proud of her.) Being a border village, we have to face challenges like electricity cuts, less number of buses stopping at our village, kids going far to study in schools and other challenges. We are lucky that she chose hockey to pursue this dream of hers and with her performances in the Olympics, she has done us all and the whole India proud,” shared Satnam Singh.

With her father being one of three brothers owning 17 acres of farmland jointly, a young Gurjit would often watch her father toil hard at the fields apart from making trips to nearby city of Ajnala and Amritsar to get livestock feed and seeds from the mandi board offices in the city making trips in buses.

With her elder sister Pradeep Kaur too showing an interest in hockey and cousin Mandeep Kaur Chhina being a kabaddi player, who played in the World Cup Kabaddi organised by Punjab government later, Satnam Singh would get Gurjit admitted at the sports wing at the Government Senior Secondary girls School at Kairon, a school situated more than 80 kms away near Patti in Tarn Taran district from their home.

In this Olympics campaign, she has taken the country far from where it was when the Games started.

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