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New Delhi [India], July 9 (ANI): As the Indian athletes carry out their high-octane practice sessions for the upcoming Tokyo Games, it's time for the hockey fans to relive the memories from the triumphant Olympic campaigns in the past.
In the ninth article of Hockey India's Flashback Series, former Indian goalkeeper AB Subbaiah recalled his experiences from the 1992 Barcelona and 1996 Atlanta Olympics to stress that the Olympics remain the gold standard in competitive hockey.
"No other tournament can be compared with the Olympics. The Olympics are the benchmark in the competitive hockey circle. Every team adopts a four-year cycle to their preparation because of the Olympics," said Subbaiah.
"This is why so many veterans retire after the Olympics, and new players are given a chance to prove themselves. You train for four years to compete at this stage. The top teams always have some new tricks up their sleeve which they don't reveal in any tournaments or test games before the Olympics," he added.
Subbaiah looked back at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics as a missed opportunity for India to attain further success on the biggest stage, as Team India went into that Olympic campaign in blistering form.
"Our team had prepared really well before the 1992 Olympics. I remember that we won 13 out of 15 matches in the lead-up to the competition, but we had played our full-strength team in those matches," recalled Subbaiah.
"As a result, we lacked a surprise element in the Olympics and our opponents became familiar with our game plan. We lost some crucial league games early on, which made it difficult for us to get through to the semi-finals," he added.
Subbaiah had a long and storied career for the national team, racking up over 100 appearances in the span of a decade between 1988 and 1998.
He was a two-time silver medallist in the Asian Games, before eventually claiming a coveted Asian Games Gold medal in 1998. However, looking back on his playing career, Subbaiah ranks one particular match above any other achievement as his fondest memory.
"In early 1995, we played against Pakistan in the Final of the SAF Games in Chennai. Pakistan had just recently been crowned the World Champions just a few months ago at the time, and they were undoubtedly the favourites against us before the match.
"We won the final 5-2, and the fans treated us like absolute heroes. They followed us all the way back to our hotel to celebrate. That was the day I realised what it means to everyone when India wins against Pakistan," he said.
Sharing his insights on the current Indian team which is set to compete at the Tokyo Olympics, Subbaiah said, "I like the shift in the mentality of the current team. Nowadays, the Indian team has the habit of scoring in the dying minutes of the game whereas earlier they used to concede goals in the final period.
"The team has an experienced defence line. Sreejesh has been consistent for many years, Harmanpreet looks confident in his drag flicks. The midfield looks solid and energetic, led ably by Manpreet, and the forward line is extremely opportunistic and sharp. If the team can emulate their performances from the last two years and play to their potential in the Olympics then I am sure that they can win a medal this time around.
"The people of India are looking forward to a good performance from our athletes in Tokyo. I hope that both -- the men's and women's hockey team can lead the way for the rest of the contingent," Subbaiah signed off. (ANI)