India’s star hockey forward Vandana Katariya’s journey from Haridwar to the Olympics

Indian hockey team forward Vandana Katariya talks to HerStory about her journey so far, her Arjuna Award nomination, the upcoming Olympics, and more.

India’s star forward Vandana Katariya rose to prominence in 2013 with her stellar performance in the Women’s Hockey Junior World Cup. She was India’s top scorer in the tournament with her five goals playing a huge role in helping India win bronze.


Vandana grew up in Haridwar with three sisters and four brothers. Her father was a sports enthusiast and wanted her to excel in sports. At a young age, she began playing at the Roshnabad stadium in Haridwar but due to lack of facilities she shifted to the Government Sports Hostel in Lucknow in 2006. 


Vandana Katariya in action for India

Incidentally, she also made her junior national team debut in the same year. In 2007, she was called up for her first senior national camp, and four years later, made her debut for the national team.


In her 13-year-long career, the 28-year-old forward has played over 240 matches and added 64 goals to her international tally. She was recently nominated by Hockey India for the prestigious Arjuna Award along with teammate Monika.


Reminiscing about her journey, Vandana says, “It was tough when I first started to play hockey. My family wasn’t very well-off so it was a bit difficult for them to provide me with facilities. However, they always put my interests in front of their own.”


Growing up, Vandana’s dream was to play at the highest level and she has now fulfilled her dream of playing in the Olympics. She is now focussed on her next goal - winning an Olympic medal. 


In a conversation with HerStory, Vandana talks about her journey, the Arjuna Award nomination, preparing for the upcoming Olympics, and more. 


HerStory (HS): How do you feel about you being nominated for the Arjuna Award?

Vandana Katariya (VK): It is a huge honour to be nominated for the Arjuna Award. I have been able to perform consistently only because of my teammates, who have always been there through my ups and downs. We try to help each other as much as we can, and ensure that all players grow and evolve. The fact that Rani Rampal has been nominated for the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award and Monika for the Arjuna Award shows that the team is moving in the right direction.


HS: What kind of challenges did you face to follow your passion for sport?

VK: Since there were no facilities in Haridwar, my family, apart from my father, was opposed to me playing hockey at one point. But once I moved to the hostel in Lucknow and started getting called for state and national camps, my entire family supported me. It was a challenge to take up sports in Haridwar because girls were discouraged to play sports in our neighbourhood. I am glad I believed in my abilities and got into the Indian team against all odds.


HS: How did you deal with the naysayers?

VK: Yes, it was difficult to deal with a situation where people in the neighbourhood discouraged girls to take up sports, but I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to play hockey, and I was ready to work very hard to achieve success. I think the only way to deal with such situations is to keep believing in your talent and move forward no matter what comes your way.


HS: Playing in big events like the Asian Games and Olympics, how do you prepare yourself, especially mentally? How do you deal with the pressure?

VK: Whenever we step on the field, we have to face pressure. Yes, the Asian Games and Olympics bring in a different kind of pressure, since they are among the biggest tournaments in the world. However, as a team, we just try to focus on the process and we know that if we execute our plans properly then we will achieve the right results. So, I think preparation is the key for any sportsperson. If a player prepares well during practice, then she will definitely play well during matches. 

HS: What do you love about hockey the most?

VK: I love scoring goals and putting the team in front of any match we play. Playing for the country is a huge honour, and I am fortunate to be living my dream. I have been lucky to form friendships during my journey. I have been very lucky to have great teammates, who always support me. Hockey has given me the best life I could ever ask for.

HS: Are there any memorable moments or experiences in hockey that inspire you to keep playing?

VK: Defeating Japan in the final of the FIH Women's Series Finals Hiroshima 2019 will always be special for me. Since we lost to them in the Asian Games Final in 2018, it was great to defeat them in 2019. The way we defeated the USA at the FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifiers was incredible as well. I can never forget the way our home crowd supported us during those matches. We play for such moments and it inspires us to play even better in the future.

HS: What was your feeling after the Indian team qualified for the Olympics in 2020? 

VK: It was quite tough to digest the news after I missed a few chances in the Asian Games Final against Japan in 2018. We should have won the gold and qualified for the Tokyo Olympics directly. I had sleepless nights because of the chances I missed, but our senior players Rani Rampal and Savita Punia told me that this happens in sport and it wasn't my fault entirely as everything depends on how the entire team is playing. However, it was great to qualify for the Olympics after defeating USA at the FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifiers.

Clinching a berth at the Olympics in front of the home crowd was magical.

HS: What did you think when the Olympics 2020 was postponed? How do you think the Indian team will do at the 2021 Olympics? 

VK: I think we can certainly use the extra year to our advantage. We will have more time to prepare and build on the excellent results we produced in 2019. It's all about peaking at the right time and we will prepare accordingly. Our team is balanced, and I am confident that we will be able to do well in the Olympics next year. Once our international schedule is confirmed, then we can start preparing for the Olympics in full flow.

Edited by Rekha Balakrishnan


Updates from around the world