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Tokyo Olympics: Men's hockey players put through the grind at Bengaluru facility

The SAI Bengaluru centre is the second home for both the men and women players of the national teams.

Published: 06th August 2021 11:03 AM  |   Last Updated: 06th August 2021 11:03 AM   |  A+A-

A hockey training session under way at SAI Bengaluru

A hockey training session under way at SAI Bengaluru. (File photo| EPS)

Express News Service

BENGALURU: After an Olympic medal drought of 41 years, the India men's team finally won bronze, defeating Germany 5-4 in a thrilling hockey clash in Tokyo on Thursday. The team's performance can be attributed to the long hours of detailed planning, dedication and rigorous training sessions over the last few years at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) South Centre in Bengaluru.

The SAI Bengaluru centre is the second home for both the men and women players of the national teams.

They spend most of their time on the campus, which helps them form a special bond as well. "Apart from the wonderful weather in Bengaluru, which is a huge boon for the teams, the SAI campus also has brilliant facilities to help players recover from injuries and strenuous tours. The campus also has an exclusive upgraded gym for the hockey teams and a wonderful medical centre to help the players deal with any kind of injury or illness," Hockey India CEO Elena Norman said, explaining why the camps are regularly held here.

When it came to training for the Olympics, the team management left no stone unturned. Besides playing intra-squad practice matches, they also played against local teams, which would field 11 players against seven or eight national players.

All of it would be recorded and the players would be shown the areas of the game which needed improvement. Also, in order to acclimatise with Tokyo's hot weather, the players were made to train and sweat it out in the afternoons. The focus of the teams remained on fitness, which was extremely important as the quadrennial event comprised the best teams of the world.

"There was a lot of focus on fitness - improving endurance and speed among other things. Sometimes, they had to play (train) with extra weights tied at the hip portion  to improve speed along with the strength," said former SAI coach Shankar B Tolamatti.

The rigorus training paid off in Tokyo, where the men’s team fared well against top teams as regards skill, stamina and speed, to finish third in the competition. What makes this feat even more special is how the players stood as a unit during the most difficult phase of COVID-19.

During the nationwide lockdown, the players were confined to their respective hostel rooms for weeks at SAI last year. It proved to be a test of their mental strength as well. To make matters worse, in the months that followed, some players also tested positive for COVID-19.

"If you look at various things, this win means much more. It is not only about the bronze medal. It will motivate youngsters to pick up the sport too. I know that young girls in the country have already been inspired by what the women’s team has done so far. Imagine if they win bronze tomorrow (Friday), that will be historic," said Shankar.

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