New Delhi: If there's one Olympic medal dear to every Indian, it has to be hockey. Winner of eight gold medals at the Games but medal-less since 1980, the national game carries India's hopes of a medal every time the team participates in the Olympics. And this year is no different.
The talk from a top-six finish is slowly shifting to presence on the podium come August 11. The team's upward graph since Michael Nobbs took over as coach could be one of the reasons. But who better to tell why a medal is not beyond India than the team's star drag-flicker Sandeep Singh.
The Indian team is on an acclimatisation tour of France and Spain, from where they will land directly into London for the Games. And while the team seems to be peaking at the right team, Sandeep tells what makes the team confident of winning a medal in London.
We're just two weeks away from the Olympics. Are you happy with the preparations?
Yes. We are playing regularly since qualifying for the [London] Olympics. We played South Africa before the Olympic qualifiers, then the Olympic test event, Azlan Shah and now this European tour [of France and Spain]. That is sufficient preparation. The European tour will help us acclimatise for London as we are here almost a month in advance.
How's the team coping up with the blue turf?
There is no problem with the blue turf. We are playing on it for three months now, and I and Raghu [VR Raghunath] are doing well [in terms of penalty-corner conversion]. We are ready to play on the blue pitch in London.
Other than you and Ignace Tirkey, no one in the team has ever been at the Olympics. Do you think the youngsters will be able to cope up with the pressure?
The results [since qualifying for the London Olympics] tell we have improved and the youngsters are doing well. You saw Dharamvir scored two goals against South Africa. So the youngsters are good and have it in them to go all the way.
Finally Sandeep, what are India's realistic chances in London - a top-six finish or back at the podium after 32 years?
We hope to finish on the podium. We will take one match at a time and strategise according to the strengths and weaknesses of every team. We have been watching the videos of our opponents at the Olympics. Hopefully, you will see better results this time.