Some 2,300 m away at the Sports Authority of India centre in Bengaluru, the 29-yearold was inconsolable. She could not have been faulted if she had taken a break from Olympic preparation and returned to her family. But she chose not to. It was her way of paying tribute to the man who withstood societal pressure and allowed her to chase her dreams.
In the run-up to the Tokyo Games, she had said, “mujhe desh aur mere papa ke liye kuch karna hai.”
On Saturday at the Oi stadium, Vandana made the country and her late father proud by becoming the first Indian woman hockey player to score a hat-trick at the Olympics.
But more importantly, her goals helped India get past a plucky South Africa 4-3 to keep their quarterfinals hopes intact. A few hours later, Great Britain did India a favour by blanking Ireland 2-0 to help the Rani Rampal-led team enter the quarterfinals.
India finished fourth in Pool A to set up a last-8 clash with Pool B toppers Australia. In the process, the team kept its date with history, entering its maiden quarterfinals in its third appearance at the Olympics. In the previous edition of the Games, India had finished 12th.
India broke into the lead early with Vandana sounding the board in the fourth minute. Moments later, she raised her hand and looked up, as if dedicating the crucial goal to her father.
Seconds before the end of the first quarter, Tarryn Glasby collected a long pass from Taryn Malett to score the equaliser but Vandana deflected home Deep Grace’s shot off a penalty corner to hand the lead back to India in the 17th minute.
The battle for possession, conceding goals and allowing South Africa the upper hand bothered India until Vandana sealed a 49th minute goal to put India ahead again, which they managed to safeguard until the final whistle.
While the last couple of days were full of tension for team nd the coaching staff, Indian women’s chief coach Sjoerd Marijne chose to look at the funny side of things as he tweeted about the uncertainty of knockout games, “The last 48 hours were not good for my heart, but it makes the happiness even bigger. The tournament starts again and all teams are on zero.”