Olympic gold medalist Dana Vollmer still vividly remembers how it all began.
The two-time U.S. Olympic women’s swim team member (2004, 2012) and collegiate swimmer of the year her senior season (2009) was swimming in the final competition of her University of California career. Vollmer had already captured the individual 100- and 200-yard freestyle titles at the 2009 NCAA championships and after 20 events, the Golden Bears were clutching a one-point lead.
In India, cricket is the national obsession, but it is actually field hockey that is its official game, with a more deeply embedded history within this patchwork of nations. Field hockey is the country’s most decorated international sport, and the men’s national team is the most accomplished in the Olympic event’s history—winners of 11 medals, including eight gold, dating back to 1928.
As the world’s second-fastest growing economy strives for more influence among the most powerful nations on earth, many of India’s 1.2 billion citizens view field hockey as the country’s best shot at making a statement on sport’s largest international stage—given that cricket is not an Olympic sport. Indian field hockey has fallen off in recent years though because of a lack of success, with the national team hitting rock bottom in 2008 when it failed to qualify for the Olympics for the first time ever. Hockey’s “Black Day,” as it is known, was a near-lethal blow to a sport that has been in free fall since India won its last Olympic medal, a gold, in 1980. Support for hockey has waned ever since.
Along with some fellow Sports Illustrated colleagues (Gabriel Baumgaertner, Erin Weaver and Macklin Woodruff), I put together a handful of short pieces on some future stars in their respective sports, now just high schoolers, but already making big moves.
Specifically, I worked on those of Tucker Beirne, Sarah Hendrickson, Jahlil Okafor and Taylor Townsend.