DREAMS GET BIGGER.
IF YOU are at the Delhi Lawn Tennis Association complex or shopping at a nearby market, you may come across a giggly bunch which can easily pass off as girls next door. However, chances are it could be the gaggle of hockey players who made history by becoming the first Indian women's team to qualify for the Olympics. On the surface, they may appear to be ordinary girls with dreams in their eyes. But delve deeper and you will find a resolute bunch, coming from diverse backgrounds, weathering the hard days with determination in its quest to bring laurels for India. Their dedication is unmatched but what separates them from the past teams is their unity -- they are like one big family, relishing each other's successes and staying together in bad times. Qualifying for the Rio Olympics was a common goal they nursed and achieved. It does not stop there, though. They have now set their eyes on a higher target -- an Olympic medal. While it may appear far-fetched, considering their World No. 13 rank, these girls don't get awed. On Friday, when the news of their qualification for the Olympics was relayed to them, they celebrated by putting in more hours at the gym. "The dreams of a player never end. This one (of Olympic qualification) is fulfilled. Now we hope to come back with a medal from the Olympics,"says Poonam Rani. The team is putting up at the residential facility of the Delhi Lawn Tennis Association. A rigorous schedule that begins at 6.30am and winds up at 9pm is feeding their dream. In fact, they are willing to squeeze in more hours for training! "It is a big moment for us. By being the first Indian women's team to qualify for the Olympics, we have achieved something special. It has never happened before. Slowly people are coming to know of it, there is more media following and it makes us feel good,"says captain Ritu Rani. It all started when the women's team narrowly missed a London Olympic berth, losing to South Africa in the qualifying event at home. Ritu remembers that moment. "I was part of the team which played Olympic qualification in 2008 also. But in 2012, we were very close to qualifying and it was really disappointing to lose at home. The men's team qualified. We told ourselves that we can't wait for another four years and Rio would be the target,"she says. The team has improved since. Under Aussie Neil Hawgood, they won bronze at the Asian Games, beating a higher-ranked team in Japan. But Hawgood's tenure ended late last year. They were without a coach before Mathias Ahrens took over in May. "The change of coach was a small problem. We have adjusted quickly. With time the understanding will only get better,"says goalkeeper Savita. "We have been together for a long time and know each other well on and off the field. If something good happens to someone, we take a treat from her and if someone is in need of any help, we come forward to do the needful. There is no groupism, maybe because we are girls and understand each other better,"she says. In 2009 when a player from a humble background was in need of money, the entire team contributed. All of them may not come from financially sound families but they have always enjoyed unflinching support. Ask Sushila Chanu or Poonam Rani. "My father is a driver and mother a housewife but they have always encouraged me to play. They never said you are a girl and should focus on other things,"says Sushila. Adds Poonam: "My father is a farmer but he provided me with whatever he could. He always supported me. I want to dedicate this achievement to my father.
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