Men in Blue brace for Rio Olympics hockey challenge amidst fun and laughter
Just over a week to go for the greatest show on Earth to set sail, the men’s Indian hockey team are currently in the Spanish capital of Madrid to play its final practice match ahead of the Rio Olympics 2016.
The last twelve months have been as hectic for the Men in Blue as historic in terms of their stature in international hockey. With the exit of former coach Paul Van Ass, there was an air of uncertainty regarding which direction the team was headed when another Dutchman, Roelant Oltmans, took over the vacated role. As things unfolded, matters didn’t just improve – they took giant strides towards the unbridled supremacy that has eluded the nation for decades now.
In the two latest FIH tournaments, the Indian team broke their disastrous run of not winning a single medal for three decades with back-to-back podium finishes. A bronze at the Hockey World League finals and a hard-fought silver at the 2016 Champions Trophy later, they are now placed 5th in the world rankings, which also happens to be their best ever.
Therefore, it was fairly understandable when the players received a heroes’ sendoff at the Bengaluru airport on Sunday, when they departed for Madrid from where they’ll travel straight to the Olympic venue of Rio. With a billion hopes riding on their shoulders, the same team that finished a paltry last at the previous edition of the Games in London is now roaring towards a possible reclamation of their yesteryears’ throne.
It’s difficult to not get overwhelmed by the enormity of the challenge in hand. But from the looks of it, the Olympic-bound members are well-equipped to handle the situation. Ace defender Rupinder Pal Singh has also pointed out how the team has gained the invaluable experience of winning medals at the big stage, which will benefit their cause in the coming days.
With the captaincy just handed over to him from midfielder Sardara Singh, star keeper P R Sreejesh is a figure of composure at the moment. He was the man in charge when India clinched their maiden Champions Trophy silver in London last month. At Rio, he will have a group of captains in senior teammates like Raghunath, Manpreet, Sunil and Sardara to share his responsibility and lead India to their highest achievable outcome.
It is safe to say that there’s an air of positivity about the members of the Indian hockey team, gearing up for the Rio event. Having sweated it out for ten days at the gruelling national camp in Bangalore, the stars of Indian hockey were seen having a gala time on-board the team bus after arriving in Madrid. Wonderful scenes, these: