Will the men’s hockey team qualify for the London Olympics or miss out for the second successive time, after being regulars for over eight decades? That’s the question on the mind of Indian hockey aficionados.
The answer would be out on or before February 26, 2012 — the day the final of the first Olympic qualifying tournament will be played in New Delhi.
Missing the second successive Olympic Games, after Beijing in 2008, would be a catastrophe that would push Indian hockey back by many years.In a tailspin
India, eight-time gold medallists, have been in a tailspin since 1980, when they claimed their last gold at the Moscow Olympics. Since the triumph, India have failed to even make it to the semifinals, and touched a nadir when they failed to qualify in 2008.
Chief national coach, Michael Nobbs, is aware of the arduous task and gives India only a 50 per cent chance of qualifying for London.
“It is going to be tough considering that the other top-10 hockey-playing nations have spent a lot of money preparing for five-six years. We hope to do our best. It is a bumpy road at the moment. You may have ups and downs in the next few months,” he said.
Nobbs and the selectors have identified a core group of 48 players from which they will identify the best 18 for the qualifiers, testing and exposing them to international competition.
The six-month schedule includes lengthy camps followed by competition as per a twin-peak strategy — hitting top form for the Champions Trophy at home in December and then for the Qualifiers in Feb 2012.
“The Qualifiers are the main target but we would also like to do well in the Champions Trophy (Dec 3-11) as it is being held at home. We will have a brief rest and then a final camp leading to the Qualifiers,” said S Grewal, director, coaching, Hockey India.
He said they were also trying to put in place a training and fitness regimen that would be followed by the junior and developmental squads too so that players from those teams could step into the senior team.
Need for bigger pool
“We need to have a bigger pool. From the core group of 48, we will pick 20-odd for the main squad and keep the remaining players in camps, testing and blooding some of them to work out a strong outfit,” he said.
The first phase involved building the fitness of the players. The team’s fitness expert —exercise physiologist David John, has chalked out a programme which aims at not only improving the players’ fitness but also preventing injuries.
“The players lack strength and there are errors in their running, positioning and footwork which cause injuries easily. We are working on their weak points through routines that would prevent injuries,” said John.