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Next stop down under; Destination summit at Paris

Gearing up for the final push for Paris Olympics 2024, the Indian hockey team has a packed schedule, which includes a 5-match series with Australia. Balancing fitness and avoiding injuries are more important than ever

Next stop down under; Destination summit at Paris

 Harmanpreet Singh

CHENNAI: Stories that you grow up listening to invariably hold a special place in your life. Such is the case for the current Indian hockey team, whose players would have grown up hearing the tales of how Arjuna Awardee Vasudevan Baskaran led the Indian team to defeat Spain 4-3 and bag its record eighth gold. That victory three decades ago remains India’s last gold at the Olympic Games. Fast forward to the present, Harmanpreet Singh captained the Indian team to victory at the Gongshu Canal Sports Park in Hangzhou in the 2023 Asian Games, securing India its fourth Asian Games gold medal after a nine-year drought. As the sporting event that brought glory to the country much before cricket, hockey has long had a special place in the hearts of people here.

The Paris 2024 Olympics presents the perfect opportunity for the current national team to reignite the passion for the sport in the minds of the masses. This significance is not lost on the current Indian team, led by Harmanpreet Singh and coach Craig Fulton, is currently in a national camp in Bhubaneshwar, preparing for a five-match series against Australia, the final leg of the FIH Pro League, and the ultimate stage: the Olympics 2024.

“Our preparations for the upcoming months are progressing well. We are focusing heavily on fitness and conditioning, as well as analysing and refining our technical and tactical aspects of play,” said Harmanpreet Singh in an interview with DT Next from the camp in Bhubaneshwar.

Following the series in Australia next month, the FIH Pro League’s final leg commences on May 22 and concludes on July 5, just two weeks before the Paris Olympics. With such a packed schedule and India vying for the top prize, avoiding injuries is of paramount importance. “This is the first time I’ve been asked this question,” chuckled Harmanpreet.

“We’re trying to practically check every box, including injury prevention. We would need to exercise caution and play in a way that minimises injury. We have eight games in the FIH Pro League, but injuries only occur when a person does not take proper care of himself. Having said that, overloading can occasionally occur, so we work with our physiotherapists and trainers and adjust as necessary,” he added.

Coach Fulton had previously announced that the entire 27-member squad would travel to Australia on April 1 to provide opportunities for youngsters aiming to make the cut for the Paris games. Ultimately, only 16 players will be selected for the Olympic squad.

“This tour will be really helpful; the entire group is traveling, and almost every player will be getting a chance.” Australia is also pitted with India in Pool B of the Olympic draw alongside Argentina, Belgium, Ireland, and New Zealand. “It’d be a good experience overall, given that they are also in the same group as us. We’ll be focusing more on our team and trying to execute what we’ve been working on during training,” he added.

By winning the Tokyo Olympics bronze medal, India ended a 41-year wait for an Olympic hockey medal, making them one of the favorites for gold in Paris, with millions of supporters rallying behind them. “Winning gold in Paris is paramount. With our recent success at the Asian Games, expectations are high. We are dedicated to taking it one match at a time, but we believe we can return home with a medal,” said Harmanpreet. “It won’t be easy, time is short, but we’ll give our best to make history once again.”

Jayantho Sengupta
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