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Rani Rampal: A girl from humble background on whom India's women's hockey hopes rest in Rio Olympics
Rani Rampal has today become one of the biggest names in women's hockey. In fact, India's hopes rest on her shoulders in Rio Olympics as she is the key player around whom the women's hockey team plays.

Quick learner, highly talented and a legend in the making are some of the phrases that are generally associated with Rani Rampal. Last time, Indian women's hockey team had participated in the Moscow Olympics in 1980. But, history it seems is about to be made after a long wait of 36-years. The Indian women's hockey team qualified for the Rio Olympics last year and is now all set to represent the country at the Games.

It seems destiny has chosen the strong shoulders of Rani Rampal, who always keeps smiling even in adversity for this herculean task. She now has her work cut out as the entire country is looking towards her to win an Olympics medal in women's hockey at Rio.

In her international career of almost 6-years, Rani has faced a lot of pressure and been in tense situations. Last year, she had to take a sudden death penalty shoot out in the Hockey World League Semi-Final against Italy. Cool as a cucumber, Rani went past the Italian goalkeeper taking home the advantage with just microseconds left in the game.

In 2010, Rani, at age 15, became the youngest player ever to represent a country at the hockey world cup. She played at the World Cup in Rosario, Argentina and ended up as the top scorer for India with seven goals. She scored a goal each in five of the six matches she played, including two goals against Australia. Three years later at the junior world cup, Rani scored 3 goals against England at Monchengladbach, Germany to make India win the first-ever bronze medal at the event.

The only daughter of a cart-puller in Shahbad, Haryana, life was never easy for Rani. She had to grab every small opportunity that came her way to rise in life. Fortunately for Rani, despite coming from a state infamous for discouraging girls from participating in sports, her father encouraged her to pursue the sport she loved most.

Coming from a humble background, lack of funds was always going to be a hindrance in her becoming a hockey player. Still not even in her teens, Rani enrolled into the Shahbad Academy, run by Dronacharya awardee Baldev Singh.

Rani, who will turn 21 in December says, "Sir (Baldev) gave me everything. I came from a poor family; we could not afford shoes, stick or any equipment. He gave me everything and I was keen to make a name and play for India."

In 2009, Rani played the Champions League in Kazan. She was the top-scorer and was also awarded the Young Player of the Tournament. That very year in November, she was part of the team that won silver at the Asia Cup. In 2010, she participated in both the Asian and Commonwealth Games.

On the academic front, she has had to miss her graduation exams. She says with a smile, "I just did not get time to even sit for the exams, so forget about preparing and I have taken a long time for my BA."

Despite her success, life has not changed much for Rani. Her father still pulls a cart for a living. Rani managed to get a job in the Railways like most other Indian players from less patronized sports of the country, but the renumeration is just Rs 12,000 (even less than what a pair of sports shoes costs). Currently, Hockey India meets most of her expenses and a sports foundation also chips in with Rs 4,000 a month.

This, according to me is the prime most reason our country fails to bring back Olympic medals. In spite of producing players like Rani Rampal, we somewhere miss the plot. India started participating in the Olympics in 1900 and in the last 115 years, we a nation of over a billion people have managed to bring back only 26 medals, including 8 gold. In London Olympics of 2012, we finished without a single gold medal, while South Korea, a country with a population of just over 50 million ended up winning 13 gold medals. So, maybe it's time to think and act, before it's too late!

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