Target Tokyo 2020: Team India aim to rewrite 40-year-old history

Indian team defender Kothajit Singh is part of the squad preparing for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Indian team defender Kothajit Singh is part of the squad preparing for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Indian men's hockey team is gunning for a podium finish at next year's Summer Games

The last time an Indian hockey team won an Olympic medal was in the year 1980 at the Moscow Games, where they dominated their way to the gold with a masterful unbeaten run. Over 40 years later, the team from the subcontinent is aiming for a podium finish at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games after four decades of disappointment.

Fighting the Covid battle

The Indian hockey team faced a big challenge when sporting action resumed when several players within the squad including captain Manpreet Singh tested positive, thereby impacting the entire squad.

However, many athletes have viewed Covid-19 and tough times due to the pandemic as an opportunity to change their perspectives about Tokyo 2020. Speaking to Hockey India, Indian defender Kothajit Singh revealed how the team has improved in the past few months.

"It's been great to be back on the pitch. We have seen a lot of improvement over the last two months and we are shaping up well for the Olympics. We have returned to the pitch at the right time and therefore we have enough months to get back to our full form and get even better as a side thereafter,” he said.

Kothajit himself has battled injuries in the past year and returned to the team fold after missing the Olympic qualifiers. The lockdown has given him the opportunity to analyse the game and what gaps can be filled before Tokyo 2020 next year.

"Being out of the side is never easy and therefore I am determined to work as hard as possible to cement my spot in the Indian team. I analysed my game thoroughly during the lockdown and I know the aspects of my game that I need to work on. The next few months are very crucial for all of us and with the Olympics being postponed, we have a great opportunity to strengthen our individual and team game even more," he said.

India played against host nation Japan during a test event at the Oi Hockey Stadium in 2019.
India played against host nation Japan during a test event at the Oi Hockey Stadium in 2019.
Tokyo 2020 / Shugo TAKEMI

Focus on continuing the good form

Prior to sporting competitions, including Tokyo 2020 Olympics, being postponed due to Covid-19, the Indian team was in good form at the FIH Hockey Pro League 2020. In the six games India played, they won four including victories against Netherlands, Belgium, and Australia.

In the lead up to the Games next year, Graham Reid’s side will be hoping to continue the momentum. Midfielder Nilakanta Sharma feels that the side needs a bit of fine tuning to be able to win a medal in Tokyo.

"Playing well against the Netherlands, Belgium and Australia at the FIH Hockey Pro League has certainly given us a lot of confidence in our abilities, however, we have identified a few areas that we need to fine-tune in the upcoming months,” he told Hockey India.

“Sometimes small changes make a big difference to the way a team performs, and we are looking to make those small changes to our game. If we fine-tune our game properly, we will certainly be a much better unit at the Olympics.”

The midfielder also said that while training for Tokyo 2020 will be crucial, the team needs to be careful too.

"This is a tricky period for us. We must be very careful. We shouldn't push too hard and neither should we take it too easy as well,” he said.

The Indian hockey team has an uphill task over the next few months if they're to win a medal at the Olympics. But if they improve upon the form gained at the FIH Hockey Pro League 2020 before the Covid-19 pandemic, they could turn from underdogs to dark horses for the podium.