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Rio 2016: Can the Indian Hockey Team Bring Home a Gold Medal?

With over a billion people’s hopes pinned on them, the team has worked their hard to return to their former glory.

Updated
Sports
3 min read
 India’s Upadhyay Lalit vies for the ball  during the mens Hockey World League semi-finals against Pakistan. (Photo: PTI)

Roelant Oltmans fully understands what a men’s hockey medal would mean to India’s success-starved fans but the Dutch coach will not burden his players with the pressure of bringing one home from the Rio Games.

Once-mighty India are the most decorated nation in the sport’s Olympic history but the South Asians collected the last of their eight gold medals way back at the Moscow Games in 1980. The sport has been in steady decline since that success 36 year ago and its popularity hit a nadir when India failed to qualify for the Beijing Games in 2008.

The team representing a nation of 1.25 billion people did recover to seal at spot at the London Games four years later but finished last among the 12 countries taking part. “We can only learn from past mistakes,” Oltmans, told Reuters in an interview.

Now we are going in a different direction and we are working hard to get the bit of glory back for the country and that’s what I am here for. We are moving in the right direction. I know it’s (expectations) there, I can’t change it. Now we are going in a different direction and we are working hard to get the bit of glory back for the country and that’s what I am here for. We are moving in the right direction.
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Under Oltmans, a relatively inexperienced team finished second behind Australia at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia in April 2016. (Courtesy: <a href="https://twitter.com/OltmansOltmans">Twitter/Roelant Oltmans</a>)
Under Oltmans, a relatively inexperienced team finished second behind Australia at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia in April 2016. (Courtesy: Twitter/Roelant Oltmans)

Oltmans, who became India’s high performance director in 2013, inherited the coach’s job last July following the sacking of compatriot Paul van Ass. Under Oltmans, a relatively inexperienced team finished second behind Australia at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia last month, fuelling renewed hope for a first Olympic medal in more than three decades.

“The only thing I can do is take the pressure off the players and encourage them to show the next level of quality,”he maintains.

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Mental Training

The Indian Team training on  Greenfields field in SAI Centre Bangalore in preparation. (Courtesy: <a href="https://twitter.com/OltmansOltmans">Twitter/RoelantOltmans</a>)
The Indian Team training on Greenfields field in SAI Centre Bangalore in preparation. (Courtesy: Twitter/RoelantOltmans)

With over a billion people’s hopes pinned on them, the players have worked their hearts out for the last couple of years to get back to that level again.

The team has spent six-to-eight hours working on all aspects of the game, including sports psychology, for six days a week at the camp.

We excelled in the last two major tournaments we played – Champions Trophy and the World Hockey League final. In those tournaments we finished in the semi-finals,” he said. “But I am 100 percent sure that we need to play better than we did at those tournaments because our opponents will too, and everyone will be at their top level at the Olympics.

India, in Pool B along with Argentina, Canada, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands in Rio, have often been struck by an inability to stay competitive in the final 15 minutes, something that has been linked to a lack of fitness and stamina.

Oltmans said the team have worked to address that problem. Oltmans said that the team is working towards improving their physical fitness and aim to complete the quarter-finals.

However, the coach is reluctant to make any predictions about how his team will fare.

(This story has been published as part of a special arrangement with IANS)

(The Quint is available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)

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