Facing ‘difficulty together’ during COVID times prepared us for Olympics: Harmanpreet

India’s ace defender and drag-flicker Harmanpreet Singh has said that “facing that period of difficulty together” when the team was confined to the Sports Authority of India (SAI) centre in Bengaluru for months steeled its resolve to do well at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

Harmanpreet, who has been a central figure in the resurgence of the Indian men’s hockey team in recent years, added that even while trailing Germany 1-3 in the bronze-medal match at the Olympics, the “collective mindset” was to go all out and win it for the country.

Harmanpreet’s performances in Tokyo saw the 26-year-old earn the title of FIH Men’s Player of the Year 2021. Speaking about the long-awaited Olympic bronze, which India won after more than four decades, Harmanpreet said, “Our team spent a lot of time together in lockdown last year before the Olympics. It was a difficult situation because we were not able to visit home in the initial months of lockdown, but facing that period of difficulty together prepared us for the challenges of the Olympics last year.

“Even after trailing 3-1 against a team like Germany in the bronze-medal match, it was our collective mindset in difficult situations which got us over the line eventually.”

Harmanpreet has steadily grown in stature in the team’s ranks since making his national team debut in 2015. Speaking about his role as vice-captain of the team, he said, “I really enjoy this additional responsibility. It has never felt like an added pressure because everyone in the team is able to communicate openly with each other. Of course, (captain) Manpreet (Singh) and other senior players like Sree bhai (goalkeeper PR Sreejesh) also take responsibility to guide the team in training and match situations, so it is a collective effort on the part of the whole team to grow together.”

Another aspect of the game that Harmanpreet has mastered is his goal scoring from penalty corners. One of the most feared drag-flickers in the world, the Punjab defender said his grounding at the Surjit Hockey Academy in Jalandhar had made him a feared drag-flicker.

“I was training in Ludhiana at the time when my coaches identified me as a potential drag-flicker, but it was in the Surjit Hockey Academy in Jalandhar that I received proper training for the first time ever in taking penalty corners. I used to spend a lot of time individually before and after team practice hours to improve my drag flicks, and also had the right kind of guidance from senior players in the academy.

“Then after I came into the national team, I saw players like Sardar Singh and Rupinder Pal Singh work on their game. Learning from them helped me improve my skills even further,” Harmanpreet added.


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