Best Olympic moments No.45: Indian women's hockey team registers best ever performance in 1980 Moscow Olympics

The Indian women's hockey team registered its best performance in the premier event, in the 1980 Moscow Olympics where they finished fourth.

Indian women, led by Rupa Saina, finished fourth after losing the bronze medal match to Soviet Union. (Image Credit: The Hindu Archives)
By Arnab Mukherji | Jul 17, 2021 | 4 Min Read follow icon Follow Us


The Indian women’s hockey team will be soon seen competing in its second consecutive Olympics in Tokyo. Chief coach Sjoerd Marijne has expressed a desire to see his players adopt a fearless attitude when they take the court. “I want them to play freely. Expect them to give their 100 percent in their matches. I expect them to play fearlessly. If all this happens, results will follow,” he said in an interaction with ETV Bharat.

Marijne further hailed the Indian team as the “dark horse” in Tokyo Olympics, citing their confidence as a major factor.

“Indian team can be the dark horse in Tokyo Olympics”

“Of course this team can be the dark horse in the Olympics. We have all the confidence. We know the rankings, but we don’t feel the rankings. When we play a higher-ranked team, we don’t think of being a lower-ranked team. It’s just because we have the confidence and on that particular day, rankings don’t matter when the match is there,” he said.

“The expectations from this Indian women’s team is very high at the moment. Only two teams are lower ranked. We are also trying to be realistic. Will play match by match. We have confidence in our quality and that’s the most important thing for me,” added the Indian women’s hockey team coach.

While the players will certainly be optimistic and charged up going into the Tokyo Olympics, they will definitely feel even further up to the challenge following a look at the Indian team’s heroics in the 1980 Moscow Olympics. The women’s team missed out on a bronze by fine margins, eventually finishing fourth. This marked their best performance in the history of the Olympics, with the edition marking the first instance of a women’s event being held. It was held over a six-day period beginning on 25 July, and culminating on 31 July 1980. Games were played across two venues in Moscow. The first was the Minor Arena at Dynamo Stadium with the second being Young Pioneers Stadium.

Zimbabwe, Czechoslovakia, Soviet Union, India, Austria and Poland were the six nations that competed after five teams withdrew as part of the US-led boycott in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Those five teams were the Netherlands, West Germany, the United States, New Zealand, and Great Britain.

Brilliant start followed by late slide

The Indian eves squad comprised of quality players like Rupa Saini, Krishna Saini, Swarna Saini and Prema Saini, Lorraine Fernandes and Prem Maya Sonir. There was a sense of confidence in the setup as observed in the opening pool match against Austria where the Indian team pulled off a 2-0 win. Lorraine Fernandes and Rupa Saini were the goal-scorers in a comprehensive win.

This was further followed by the Indian team recording a 4-0 triumph in the second pool match against Poland. Nisha Sharma chipped in with a couple of goals, while Prem Maya Sonir and Rupa Saini scored a goal apiece. With two wins in as many matches, the team seemed set to win a medal.

However, things changed in the next encounter with the Indian team defeated by Czechoslovakia. Ida Hubackova and Alena Kyselicova scored a goal apiece to help the national team record its first triumph in the edition of the Olympics. Prem Maya made it two goals in as many matches, chipping in with a consolation goal which saw the Indian team recording a 2-1 defeat.

Having suffered a loss, the team was slotted against Zimbabwe, who had recorded a 2-0 win against the Soviet Union in their previous encounter. Elizabeth Muriel Chase looked in good touch during the match and the same reflected in the clash against India, with the game ending in a 1-1 draw. Rupa Saini accounted for a goal with the Zimbabwe player scoring a goal as well.

Must-win encounter against the Soviet Union

The draw and the defeat had hurt the Indian team’s chances significantly, with the final encounter against the Soviet Union a make or break. Victory would have resulted in a bronze medal for the winning team, with the national team finishing second best eventually slotted in the fourth position.

Rupa Saini chipped in with her fourth goal of the Moscow Olympics, providing a valuable boost to her teammates. However, the defence simply crumbled under pressure, with Natalia Buzunova scoring a brace followed by Natella Krasnikova recording a goal. The Soviet Union pulled off a 3-1 win against India, winning the bronze with the latter finishing fourth on the back of a hard-fought campaign. Zimbabwe and Czechoslovakia went on to win the gold and silver medal respectively.

While Natella Krasnikova and Patricia McKillop were the leading goalscorers with six goals apiece, Rupa Saini made India proud being the only player to record four goals. Sadly, the Indian women’s hockey team did not make an appearance in the Olympics for the next 36 years, with the 2016 Rio Olympics marking the next appearance.



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