As she landed at the New Delhi International Airport on a red-eye, early-morning flight on Tuesday, Rani Rampal might have been bleary-eyed but had a smile on her face as she anticipated her day ahead. Having spent the past few months preparing for and then competing and winning the FIH Series Finals in Hiroshima, she was now looking forward to returning home to Shahbad, Haryana.
After spending so much time away from your family, you want to spend some time at home,she says. I’m really looking forward to eating my mother’s rajma-chawal.
But Rampal, the captain of the Indian women’s hockey team, knows just to leave it at a taste. Rice is forbidden as part of her prescribed diet. Wayne Lombard has made us reduce the amount of rice and carbohydrates in our diet. We might have grown up eating it but this isn’t a sacrifice. Not if we want to go to the Olympics.
The Olympics remain the ultimate goal for each of the members of the victorious side that has just returned to India. The victory in Hiroshima, as coach Sjoerd Marijne told them, was just a pit stop on the way.
He had explained the matter to them once the team returned to their hotel after beating hosts Japan 3-1 in the final of the competition. The girls had had a great time in the team bus on the way back and I knew they had to enjoy the moment,he says. You can be very happy because you played well but you must realise that you don’t have anything yet.
Marijne is happy for the win but he wants to keep perspective.This was a tournament we played with lower-ranked countries and a number of them were outside the top 20,he says. So you were expected to win it. The two difficult matches we had were against Japan and Chile, who were in the top 16 of the world. We were the highest-ranked team and so we were expected to win it. We had the stress of that expectation but we managed that well.
There were moments of struggle, though. After a relatively easy pool stage, India found their first bit of resistance, conceding an early goal before coming back to beat Chile 4-2. Any nerves were shaken away in the final that India dominated from the start.