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India Hockey Captain Harmanpreet Singh Discusses 2024 Paris Olympics Preparation

Tasked with the enormous responsibility of securing an Olympics hockey gold, Harmanpreet Singh discusses preparation

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Four decades have elapsed since the Indian men's hockey team – the most successful in Olympic field hockey history – last won a gold medal at the Olympics. After a drought that lasted four decades, the Indian team stood on the Olympics podium in Tokyo three years ago, be it on the third place.

Now, as the Paris Olympics draw near, skipper Harmanpreet Singh leads a team brimming with confidence and harbouring dreams of transforming their medal colour from the subdued metallic brown to the resplendent hue of radiant yellow. 

In an exclusive conversation with The Quint, Harmanpreet unveils India’s meticulously crafted strategies for the upcoming event.

Here are the excerpts:

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How are the preparations for Paris going? How excited is the team?

We're doing great. Right now, we're getting ready for our Australia tour, and our training is going smoothly. We're super pumped about the matches we'll play there because they're crucial for the Olympics. We're also putting a lot of effort into staying fit.

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What are you expecting from the Olympics? Is the team taking one game at a time, or do you have eyes fixed on the gold medal?

We are taking it one game at a time. Because every team has a different style of play. We are analysing all the teams and will go match by match. Our main focus is devising our plans based on our opponents' style, structure and pattern.

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What do you make of the group? Who might be the toughest opponent to face?

All of them. To be honest, all the teams are strong. In this era, you can't take any team for granted. We have learned this in the past few years. Sometimes teams that you think will be easy to beat turn out to be the strongest. So, we'll study all the teams, but our main focus will be on our own performance. We need to do our job well, whether we have the ball or not, and stick to our game plan.

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How has experience of captaining the team been? Do you take it in your stride or is there any additional pressure that you feel?

I don't ever feel any sort of pressure. Since I have captained the side, I had a tough time in the World Cup, but it wasn't just me – we win and lose as a team. I've had some great moments too, like winning in Chennai and getting gold at the Asian Games. Our Pro League matches have been good too. I've been enjoying myself and doing my duties well as a defender, a team player, and a drag-flicker since day one. I learn something new every day, and the important thing is how I use it in my game – that's what I focus on.

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What are the learnings from the Tokyo Olympics? What are the areas are you specifically focusing going into Paris?

Our main goal is to make every move count when we enter the opponent's circle with the ball. We're also working hard on our defence, especially how well we can tackle one-on-one. These are the key areas we're concentrating on. We are also focusing on boosting our confidence with every game leading up to the Olympics. We're emphasizing team unity and our game plan. We're paying close attention to the Olympics schedule, as we have a lot of matches in a short time. Our practices are planned according to this schedule, and everyone is pushing each other to excel.

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India won the Asian Champions Trophy, then bagged gold at the Asian Games. Do you think these wins have made the players more confident in their abilities?

Winning a tournament definitely boosts the team's confidence, but the Olympics are a whole different thing. It's a different environment, even though we've performed well in past tournaments. In the Pro League, we proved we are ready for any challenge that comes our way, no matter the target or difficulty.

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How important it is to have an experience-rich squad?

We're lucky to have experienced players, with most having played over 50 international matches. This gives us maturity, and we share our experiences with each other. In our meetings, we talk about the pressure of the Olympics and how people expect us to perform well, especially since we did well last time. We pass on these lessons to the younger players. But we also remind everyone that taking too much pressure isn't good for your game. At the end of the day, you just have to play your best.

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India lost against Australia in both their games at the FIH Pro League. Where do you think India are falling short against the Aussies? Do you think your team will be able to overcome the Kookaburras' challenge at the Olympics?

Of course. In the Pro League, we play against each team twice, which is a great learning experience. In our first match against Australia, they were ahead and made a comeback. But in the second game, we changed our strategy. Our defence was strong, and we were more aggressive in attack. Even though it was the same players, we analyzed our first game and improved in the second. Now, we have five more matches against them, which will help us understand their strategies better and improve our game.

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How has working with new coach Craig Fulton been so far?

He has been with the Belgium team before. He is excellent at analyzing opponents. He shares his knowledge with everyone, no matter how small the detail. The team really likes him, and the atmosphere is friendly. He's easy to talk to and approaches players to chat. His structured approach has been really helpful for us. Since he joined, our performance has improved, and we're winning medals. So, things are going really well with him.

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How helpful will the addition of mental conditioning coach Paddy Upton be?

The key is to stay mentally strong and keep calm, especially in tough situations. Since he has joined the team, we have seen many positive changes. He has taught us how to keep our cool under pressure. We have learned a lot from him.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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