Tear-Jerking Olympic Moments: Indian Hockey Team misses out in Sydney 2000

Aniket Kibey
|Published August 09, 2016

Olympics, the mega event which calls out for all the athletes out there in the world makes them write some amazing stories. Some break records like Phelps & Bolt while some suffer heartbreaks. Abhinav Bindra suffered one such heartbreak last night when he missed out on a second Olympic medal by a whisker in the 10m pistol event last night. In this series, we shall look at the Tear-Jerking Olympic Moments, when teams and individuals who gave it their all, but didn’t push themselves over the line to win that glimmering, precious Olympic medal.

 Indian Hockey Team

Indian Hockey Team- Sydney 2000

Hockey has always been the mainstay of the Indian contingent at the Olympic Games. If we look back to the era of 50’s and 60’s, India was the team to beat in Hockey. But, somehow India couldn’t continue its legendary status and after 1980 India hasn’t won any gold medal in Hockey.

That could’ve changed in 2000 in Sydney. Before the Olympics began, India were looking a very strong contenders to be on the podium, if not the gold medal. But, Controversies and Indian Hockey Federation as thickest of friends. After a disappointing finish at 1996 Atlanta games, there was a change at the helm, and Vasudevan Baskaran was given the reign.

Before Sydney 2000, there was so much secrecy regarding the team selection, that only a few could understand what was going on in Federation’s mind. After two round of trails, Skipper and three time Olympian Pargat Singh Powar was not selected and there were a few surprise selections.

India had already won a tournament in Australia just a month before and had defeated Australia as well, who were the best team back then. India had played some amazing hockey throughout the games. Their last match was against Poland, who were already out of the contention of qualifying for the semi-finals. All India needed to do was beat a team which was not playing good, see out the game and reach the semi-finals.

The mood in the Indian camp was of high spirits. Indian coach Vasudevan Baskaran had setup his team to play fast, counter-attacking hockey. Evening prior to the game, he had a normal routine meeting with the team suggesting them to get an early goal in the game. Once they did that, it would be easier for them to play the game at their pace and see out the last hurdle before the big semi-finals. Poland were already out, so Poland would want to frustrate us and try and earn a win. It was important for India to keep calm and stay focused. The coach was quite confident that India would win the match, and so were the players.

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 And the match begins

The evening of the reckoning came. India started strongly. They were constantly attacking the Polish goal and were almost in their opposition’s half for majority of first half. India hit the woodwork thrice and missed a couple of sitters. That upped the desperation to score the goal. Indian goalkeeper Jude Menezes, was having a relaxing day at the office. He didn’t have to face a single attack on his goal. Everything was going as expected, just that elusive goal was not there. First half ends.

Second half begins. India on the attack again. The desperation for the goal and tension it brings with itself starts to rise. Finally a goal, Dilip Tirkey find the back of the net after India won a penalty corner. India was almost there. India went for the killer blow. Dhanraj Pillay started playing up the field in trying to attack more and get the goal. But the goal was not coming. When the stakes are high, nerves play a key part in deciding one’s fate.

1 minute and 46 Seconds

That was all left in the match and for India to qualify for the semi-finals. As India were looking for that one goal to settle the deal, majority of their attackers were in the opposition half. It all changed in a matter of few seconds. Dhanraj Pillay sent a thunderous shot towards the Polish goal. The ball hit the goalkeeper’s pad and the rebound almost traveled 50m towards left. Polish mid-fielder collected it, squared it across the other end of the pitch. The pass should have easily stopped by Indian mid-fielder, but as fate had it, he slipped.

Ball was collected by the Polish player, who from the edge of the circle, sent out a fast strike towards Indian goal, the ball went in. Celebrations on Polish end, disbelief on Indian part. It was over.

Jude Menezes :  The “thud” of the ball hitting the goal-post still echoes in my head to this day. I could see the team from the grill of my helmet, and everyone was on their Knees. All the hard work that had been done, was over in a span of 15 seconds.

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The Whistle Blows

India couldn’t recover from that huge blow. 1 minute is not too much, and Indians took the the goal to their mind. Whistle blew. No one could gather the strength to walk themselves off the ground. All the players were in a state of shock, some were crying, some on their knees, Dhanraj Pillay locked himself in the room and cried for hours. All the coach could have done was to motivate the team, but when you get hit something as disastrous as this, it is not easy. When the team was returning back to the hotel, the fixtures board said India as the semi-finalists. The administration forget to change it after India had scored the goal, when players saw that, it was the final nail in the coffin.

The team was so down on the confidence, that they didn’t turn up for the next match against Great Britain and lost 2-1. So suddenly from a team, who was looking like a strong medal contender, India played a play-off for the 7/8th position. India finished 7th.

Dhanraj Pillay had promised everyone that he won’t return empty handed. And the team went so close to achieving that. Sports is about holding nerve, the ability to keep calm plays a major part, and it is definitely cruel. It can change the destiny in a matter of seconds. The 4 years of hard work all up in the smoke a blink of an eye.

If India had won that match, who knows the future of Hockey might have been different in the country.

Rio 2016, India still possess a good team and the chances of winning a medal can be foreseen, but whether team can hold the nerve and handle the pressure to deliver that final blow needs to be seen.

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