Indian women's hockey team had its most marvellous run ever at the Olympics in Tokyo Olympics. However, the dream of the first Olympic medal remained unfulfilled as they lost 3-4 to Great Britain in the bronze-medal match.
Nonetheless, it was a highly successful tournament for the Indian women and the Dutch coach, Sjoerd Marijne. The unputdownable attitude throughout the tournament and the spectacular win against three-time Olympic champions Australia in the quarter-final has lavished the team with praises.
Sjoerd Marijne, the coach who has brought about the Indian women's hockey renaissance, took to Twitter and said, "We did not win a medal, but I think we have won something bigger. We have made Indians proud again, and we inspired millions of girls that dreams CAN come true as long as you work hard for it and believe it! Thanks for all the support!"
A Bleak History
Since finishing fourth in the debut Moscow Olympics 1980, the Indian women's team had failed to make a mark at the global stages like the Olympics or FIH World Hockey League. At the Rio Games in 2016, the Indian women's hockey team qualified for the second time in their history and ended their 36-year wait. However, India failed to make it past the group stages.
The Magical Run At The Tokyo Games
At the Tokyo Olympics 2020, India went past the group stages and surprised everyone by beating the gold-medal favourites and three-time Olympic Champion Australia 1-0 to reach the first-ever semi-final. After a valiant fight against the world No. 2 Argentina in the semis, India faced a narrow defeat of 1-2. Finally, the loss against Great Britain ended their dream Olympic run. The team missed the medal by a whisker.
The massive improvement since the Rio Games 2016 wouldn't have happened without Sjoerd Marijne – the chief coach of the Indian women's national hockey team.
Sjoerd Marijne Taking Charge
Appointed in February 2017, Sjoerd Marijne was tasked to build the team up for the Tokyo Olympics 2020. He had a decent start to his coaching career in India. He helped the women's hockey team reach the semi-final of the Hockey World League 2017. However, India could only finish eighth in the semis.
Before settling, Marijne was appointed as the Indian men's senior team coach, replacing Roelant Oltmans, who was sacked by Hockey India. In the first year itself, he helped India win the gold medal at the Asia Cup 2017. However, after a poor performance at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, where the Indian men finished fourth, Marijne returned as the women's team coach.
Back to his primary project of building the women's team for the Tokyo Games, the Dutchman helped the Indian women win the silver medal at the 2018 Women's Asian Champions Trophy and the Asian Games in Jakarta. In 2019, under his stewardship, India beat the USA 6-5 over two legs at FIH Olympics Qualifiers to make it to the Olympics for the third time ever.
Marijne At A Crossroad
The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the preparations for the Tokyo Olympics 2020, which was moved back by a year. Torn between whether to visit his wife and daughters in the Netherlands or to stay back in India, the Dutchman decided to choose the latter, thinking he may not return in time to prepare the women's team for the Olympics.
Although India had a shaky start to their campaign, losing the first three matches, the coach and the players showed their determination and mental strength to reach as far as the semis. While very few people believed in the Indian women's hockey team to go as far as they did, Sjoerd Marijne stood strong and ensured that his girls script history.