SINGAPORE – Four years can feel like a lifetime for athletes, but the wait was made even sweeter for the national women’s hockey team on Tuesday (June 14), when they finished third at the 2022 Women’s Asian Games Qualifier in Jakarta to qualify for the quadrennial showpiece for the first time since 1994.
In 2017, they had narrowly missed out on a spot at the 2018 Asian Games after suffering a 4-3 penalty shoot-out loss to Thailand at the Women’s Hockey Asia Cup. Victory would have placed them either fifth or sixth to meet the qualifying criteria set by the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC). They finished eighth eventually.
They finished fifth at the Asian Games qualifiers the next year – the last qualifying spot at the tournament went to fourth-place Kazakhstan on goal difference – but were not selected by the SNOC.
With the majority of that 2017-2018 team competing in Jakarta this week, world No. 33 Singapore finished third out of seven teams to earn a long-awaited spot at the Asian Games in Hangzhou next year, when they will make their first appearance at the event in 28 years.
Hong Kong won the Jakarta competition, while Kazakhstan – who defeated Singapore 2-0 on Tuesday – came in second.
Singapore Hockey Federation (SHF) president Mathavan Devadas lauded the players for their feat, praising their commitment even though the lead-up to the competition had not been easy.
Prior to the Women’s Hockey Asia Cup in January, the team’s last international competition was in 2020 before the pandemic put a stop to overseas tournaments.
On the significance of the team’s qualification, Mathavan said: “For women and girls’ sport especially, I hope this will motivate more young players to play and stay in hockey, to understand that there are achievements that can be made by the national team and there are opportunities for the young players to perform at the highest level in Asia.”
He attributed the team’s success to the camaraderie among them, noting that the majority of the team were part of the squad who had narrowly missed out in 2017-2018.
Defender Gene Leck said: “Having almost qualified made us want it even more. It helped us know that we were that close to it and it’s that much achievable.”
Despite the disappointment of losing to Kazakhstan, Singapore coach David Viner was pleased with how his charges fared in Jakarta. The Australian praised the dependability of the senior players and the performances of the younger ones, many of whom came from the team who won the AirAsia Women’s Junior Asian Hockey Federation Cup in 2019.
He said: “In some ways, we gained in giving them exposure and finding out that they are quality players, who are performing (at the senior level) four years later.
“They’re just hard working, put in the effort and they like playing attacking hockey. They’re just happy to be here.”
Mathavan also felt that bringing in overseas experts to train players from the national team, clubs and schools before the pandemic played a role in the players’ development.
While the team are happy to have earned their ticket to the Asian Games, which were originally slated to take place in September but have been postponed to next year, they know that they will be up against some tough competition.
To help with preparations, the SHF plans to invite countries from the region to compete in a four-nation tournament here at the end of the year.
Captain Ho Puay Ling said: “We’d like to play our best against the Asian teams who are (among the best) in the world. We have teams like Japan, Korea, China – to match them we have to train hard to get the best result we can get.”