Hockey: How Gurjit Kaur became India's penalty corner expert

Gurjit Kaur scored four of India's five goals in the knockout phase of the Tokyo Olympics. Hockey India

India were missing the drag-flick expertise of Gurjit Kaur in the league stages of the Tokyo Olympics. She had a few attempts but failed, and had also failed to convert a penalty corner (PC) against Germany in India's second match at these Games.

As soon as the knockouts began, though, Gurjit's skills with short corners came to the fore. She scored four of India's five goals in the knockout phase, and led India's charge against Australia, Argentina and Great Britain, three of the best teams in the world. Two of those goals came in Friday's bronze medal match, which India lost 4-3 to Great Britain to miss out on a first Olympic medal in women's hockey.

Gurjit's drag-flicking expertise didn't happen overnight, though. The instincts and skills she had were honed by coach Sjoerd Marijne and a spell with drag-flick specialist coach Toon Siepman in 2017.

"She has a really good drag flick but when I first came to India I saw it hadn't been trained well," Marijne told ESPN last year. "She did it herself, and this guy (Siepman) is the best in the world - all the great drag flickers in the world - Maartje Paumen from the Netherlands, Pakistan's Sohail Abbas, he trained them all. A lot of things she did were really good, so we didn't have to change a lot of things. But I know if a specialist is watching it, he can make small changes."

"Toon gave us practice and I learnt a lot," Gurjit said. "Small points, step, position of the head, and the foot position, and how to hit using the breathe-in-breathe-out technique."

It actually was a good thing, Marijne said, that she hadn't had much coaching. "If she had many many trainings by different drag-flick coaches, it would be difficult to change much, but now we could change things."

The solution, it seemed, lay with the stick she used. "Nowadays with the sticks, you have some sticks that are specially for drag flickers, and I saw her dragging with a normal stick," Marijne said.

"Sjoerd sir asked me to try a stick, an Adidas stick, and I found that the stick had a lot more power in it, and my shots were coming off well," Gurjit said. "So I bought it and played the senior Asia Cup with it. It was lucky for me, the stick and the scores were also good."

"That stick is with me... I have a contract with Flash and I told them that I find this stick works for me personally, and can you please make a stick like this for me. They made one, so I'm practicing with that stick at the moment and use it. In fact, I practice with both sticks."

Marijne broke down the mechanics of the PC. "You can compare it with the spear (javelin) - it's the same movement, more or less, and going one metre further can take you one year, because every skill is important. The way you run to the ball, the way you pick the ball up -- if you divide the whole movement into small pieces, every piece is very difficult to train and to improve.

"And then you have the injection, which is not always the same, the trapping you have to avoid first... And the other thing is the mental pressure - how do you deal with that scenario. We have one PC, you have to score... that is the other thing you have to train on."