'Prepared to play eight games': Sjoerd Marijne on India women's team fitness ahead of Tokyo 2020
With the recovery period associated with Covid, how are the Indian players' fitness levels at this point 30 days before Tokyo 2020? "We are good. Last week, we played four-five matches. The results were really good," said coach Sjoerd Marijne
In late March this year, a number of Covid cases broke out at the Indian women's team hockey camp at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) centre in Bengaluru. The team captain Rani Rampal, who will be leading the team at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics starting from next month, was among the players who were tested positive for the virus.
Now, with a month left for the Olympics, the Indian players have recovered and are training hard at the SAI Centre before the multi-sporting event. With India set to face several higher-ranked teams, amid humid conditions in Tokyo, fitness would be a key factor in determining how they fare in the long tournament.
With the recovery period associated with Covid, how are the Indian players' fitness levels at this point 30 days before Tokyo 2020?
"We are good. Last week, we played four-five matches. The results were really good. Of course, we do everything with GPS so Wayne Lombard (Strength and Conditioning Coach) can see exactly where we are," Sjoerd Marijne said in a response to a query posed by Hindustan Times at a virtual press conference on Thursday.
"And if he is happy, then I am also happy. What we are now doing in the last phase is that we wish to create players feel light-footed. So the intensity is really high, but we do not train for very long anymore. Because now we are working towards that last part," he added.
"Of course, we are training to play eight matches and we are prepared to do that. We hope to do that. All our training are above match-intensity. So that means, matches will be easier for them than they did in the training session. So, we are creating that very heavy environment," Marijne further explained.
Marijne further went on to stress that the Indian fans need to accept the realities of the competition that is in front of the women's team in Tokyo and added that the expectations from the team must be based on these realities.
"What I see, what I hear, and what I read around me is that the expectations in India are very high about Indian women's team. If you are realistic, only two teams are lower-ranked than us - Japan and South Africa. I don't know where these expectations are based on. I think probably because we did well in the past, in the last four years," Marijne said.
"But even then, we have to be realistic. We are focusing on reaching the quarterfinals. From there on, anything can happen. It does not mean I don't think we are good enough, but it's just about being realistic, going from match to match. I think it is very important at this point. Also, don't make the expectations higher than the reality is," he added.
With the Covid ruling out the Indian team's overseas tours before the Olympics, there is a concern that the lack of practice matches may pose a big challenge. Marijne spoke on those concerns and admitted that it would be something that may affect the Indian team's performance in Tokyo.
"It's like learning for your exams. I have a daughter learning for exams in the Netherlands. She is doing her homework really well. Her homework can be compared to our preparations," Marijne said.
"We are training, we are doing everything we can. Reading classes, mental sessions, team-building, everything. But one thing my daughter is also doing is doing test exams. That helps her how the questions will be asked. It helps her take that last step forward and build confidence. You can compare these test exams with our practice matches - and we don't have that," Marijne said.
"We learned, we studied, we did everything we can, but with lack of practice matches, we don't have the benchmark. Our only benchmark is from January and February from Argentina and Germany tours. But after those months, we have really worked hard, now we have to see if that was enough for the Olympics. I have a lot of confidence in what we have done, but we have to see because we don't really know.
"A few other countries played European Cup, so every time they had the match under high pressure, the players had to make decisions. Some of these things you cannot train. It is what it is. We are not complaining, we are not struggling with it. We are just controlling what we can, and that is our training sessions and our intensity," Marijne added.
'Every athlete feels the pressure': Rani Rampal
This would be the first time the Indian women's hockey team will be participating in consecutive Olympics. With the Indian team having eight players who were also a part of the team at the Rio Olympics in 2016, there are expectations that India may reach further this time around.
"There is pressure on every athlete before every tournament. Even if a team had won a medal at the Olympics, and they are going to the Olympics, they still feel the pressure. It is like an exam, it does not matter how much you prepare, you always feel a level of anxiety before the exam. An athlete feels the same way," Rani Rampal said when asked about she deals with the pressure of expectations.
"So, it is upon us how we handle this. Feeling pressure is quite normal but we have learnt how to handle this pressure, especially amid the Covid times. It was a challenge to train together. Our analytical coach Janneke Schopman has worked with us on how we control our breathing, how we can stay in the present and keep us calm, which is helping the team a lot," she signed off.