Harmanpreet Singh ready to help India onto Olympic podium
Defender Harmanpreet Singh is one of the key assets of the India national hockey squad as they begin the countdown to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
But just how did Harmanpreet get hooked on the sport?
Born on January 6, 1996 in the outskirts of Amritsar, Punjab, farmer's son Harmanpreet was enamoured by the big wheels of the farm tractor. Seeing his enthusiasm, his father permitted him to drive the vehicle.
It was this endeavour, where Harmanpreet would frequently beat up his shoulders and arms wrestling with the tractor's unwieldy stick shift, that the stalwart hockey player credits as having imbued in him the ability to carry out his potent drag-flicks.
Steered by the hands of fate
An interest in hockey that he cultivated since childhood led Harmanpreet to join the Surjit Hockey Academy in Jalandhar at the age of 15 with the hopes of becoming a forward.
However, during his debut at the 2014 Sultan Johor Cup in Malaysia, his skill as a defender shone brighter instead. The then 18-year-old Harmanpreet sent in an incredible nine goals during the match, and all of them from penalty corners. He would change the path of his low and powerful shots at the last second to keep the goalkeeper flummoxed.
Harmanpreet enjoyed further success in Malaysia the following year, clinching the gold medal at the 2015 Men's Hockey Junior Asia Cup by being the top scorer of the competition with 14 goals.
Olympic foray and a bunch of other firsts
2016 was a year that saw Harmanpreet begin a streak that has, till date, seen him score 56 goals in 101 appearances, and consequently, win plenty across the board.
First, there was a bronze medal at the 2016 Men's Hockey Champions Trophy in London, where he was also named the Young Player of the Tournament.
After that, it was on to Rio for the 2016 Summer Olympics, where Harmanpreet became one of the youngest hockey players to represent India, before capping off the year with a gold medal in the 2016 Men's Hockey Junior World Cup held in Lucknow and bronze in the 2016–17 Men's FIH Hockey World League season.
2017 saw Harmanpreet maintain his sharp form, emerging as the top scorer, with seven goals, in the tenth edition of the Men's Hockey Asia Cup after India defeated Malaysia 2-1 in the final to win their third title.
In 2018, at the final running of the Men's Hockey Champions Trophy before it got replaced by the Hockey Pro League the following year, Harmanpreet Singh and the India team had to settle for silver after they narrowly lost out to Australia on penalties.
Heading into the Tokyo Olympics 2020, the 23-year-old is shaping up well for the challenge that lies ahead of him in the New Year. While the year gone by saw the ace drag-flicker take his game a notch higher and test the best in the business, he will know that the road ahead is set to be more daunting if he has to fulfill the dream to handing India another Olympic medal in a discipline that they once dominated.
The Indian team will be next seen in action on January 18-19, when India take on the Netherlands in their opening FIH Pro League tie in Bhubaneshwar.