At 17 years old, Roop Dhillon has already managed to fulfill one of his athletic dreams: being an Olympian.
Dhillon, a student at Sands Secondary, was one of 4,000 athletes who participated in the 2018 Summer Youth Olympic Games, held in Buenos Aires from Oct. 6 to 20. Dhillon and eight other Canadian field hockey players travelled to Argentina to compete in the international event.
“I always had in mind that I wanted to represent Canada on an international stage,” he said.
Dhillon started playing field hockey when he was eight years old thanks to influence from his father, who used to play the sport when he lived in India.
“At first I would just go and have fun, like what most kids do with sports,” he said. “Now that I’m older, my passion for the game has begun to grow.”
During his time in the sport, Dhillon has moved from recreational field hockey to more competitive teams. In 2016, Dhillon was named to Team BC, and played in the national championship in Calgary that year. From there, he joined 86 other players under 18 years old at a training program for Field Hockey Canada.
With that program, Dhillon toured internationally, playing field hockey in a number of tournaments to determine which players would make it onto the national team for the 2018 Youth Olympics.
Dhillon wasn’t chosen for the main roster, instead being selected to the team’s reserve, meaning he would only travel to Buenos Aires if one of the other players was injured.
“I was really heartbroken, you know? I thought I did really well on that tour,” he said.
Dhillon stayed behind as nine players left for Buenos Aires on Oct. 1. But three days later he got a call from one of the coaches saying Ontario player Joshua Kuempel was injured.
“I was like, wow. This is like a plan from God,” he said. “I got the call Oct. 4th, I left on the 5th and it was my birthday.
“This happening, that was the best birthday gift anyone could get.”
Dhillon travelled to the Youth Olympics on his birthday, and two days later played his first game with Team Canada. Normally, Dhillon plays mostly as a mid-fielder, and on a team of 10, plus a goalie. In the Youth Olympics, that wasn’t the case.
The Olympic games see players tackle something called hockey fives — matches played four-on-four, plus a goalie on each side — a style of game Dhillon had never played before travelling to Argentina and taking the field for his first match against Austria.
“It was different,” he said. “I watched a lot of games online trying to learn more about it and see how it is different.
“The first game I thought went pretty well, although I wasn’t used to it. By the second or third match, I got pretty used to it.”
Although Dhillon got the hang of playing fives hockey, it wasn’t enough to propel the Canadian team to victory. Over the course of the Youth Olympics, the Canadians lost five of their six games, ultimately finishing 10th out of 12 teams.
“We put ourselves in a good position to make the quarter finals, and then I don’t know,” Dhillon said. “We just weren’t consistent enough. In the game, we would have some patches that were good, and some patches that were bad. We couldn’t have a strong game all the way through.”
But, Dhillon said, it wasn’t so bad.
“Obviously we were sad about the results,” he said. “But you can never get an experience like that anywhere else.”