The 44-year-old is confident of the Indian team’s chances at the Olympics.

With the Indian women’s hockey team making rapid strides at the world level with significant performances in major tournaments over the past three to four years, former India goalkeeper Helen Mary believes the Rani-led team is poised to create history in Tokyo.

“The way they played in Argentina recently, even though they couldn’t register a win against the World No. 2 squad, the style they played and the confidence they showed while playing against the home team on their home ground, was something I have never seen in them before,” expressed Helen Mary, the former India goalkeeper during a conversation with Hockey Te Charcha, a podcast series launched by Hockey India in the lead up to the Olympic Games. 

Helen Mary, who had closely worked with the Indian women’s team ahead of the Rio Olympics as their goalkeeping coach said the Rani-led squad should just focus on fine-tuning their game and continue to remain confident in the weeks leading up to the Games in July. 

She remarked, “The way they played in Argentina and Germany recently, I feel they are 90 per cent ready, some fine-tuning of their game in the upcoming weeks and I surely believe they can create history in Tokyo. The tri-colours will fly high in Tokyo.”

“I have seen them working really hard over these years and even when they are on a break, I have seen them constantly working on their fitness. They are extremely focused, and they are doing so well in the lead-up. My only advice to them is to be safe because you are so close to achieving your dream.” 

The former goalkeeper made her international debut in 1992 when she was picked to play against Germany. In her career spanning over a decade, she contributed to the team’s success at several top international tournaments including the historic Gold medal in 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, Gold in 2004 Asia Cup, Silver at 1998 Asian Games and a Gold at the 2003 Afro-Asian Games among several other feats. 

Drawing comparison to the support system they had during their hay days to the current Indian set-up, Helen Mary said, “There is a stark difference in how the teams train today and how we trained. The approach they have now is very scientific and it’s great that the team has a big support staff who look into every small detail right from fitness, diet, recovery to workload every week. Everything is planned in advance and each player’s progress is mapped on a day-to-day basis. I sometimes regret that we didn’t have this kind of systematic approach when we played.” 

She also got candid about her own journey in hockey and the role legendary player and national coach MK Kaushik played in grooming some of the top players in the country. The former player fondly recalled, “He was our godfather. He was responsible for moulding our careers.”

“He showed us the right path in hockey. When we used to step foot on the hockey pitch, we used to feel so proud that Kaushik sir was there watching us and in his eyes, we could never fail.” 

Speaking about his traits as a coach and what it was like to work under a disciplinarian, she said, “He was a true taskmaster. We were so disciplined because he was that strict and I would say it was this discipline that he had inculcated in us that made us a successful team. It is extremely sad that he left us so soon, his contribution to Indian hockey is immense and we will always remember him fondly.” 

MK Kaushik lost his battle to covid-19 on 8 May 2021 at the age of 66, leaving the hockey fraternity in deep shock and grief.

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