The 25-year-old spoke exclusively to Khel Now about the Tokyo Olympics and his plans for the future.
From winning the Junior World Cup in 2016 to scripting history at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, India’s ace drag-flicker Harmanpreet Singh has come a long way. The recently concluded Olympic Games were also a memorable tournament for the defender as he was the highest goal scorer for India.
Harmanpreet Singh was in tremendous form during the entirety of the tournament. He scored a total of six goals in eight matches, all of which came from penalty corners. The Indian defender was also the joint third-highest goal scorer of the tournament.
The Indian hockey team often relies on Harmanpreet to score goals during pressure situations through his world-class drag-flicking skills. It’s a tough job but he has proved himself worthy of it. He scored goals on many crunch situations during the Tokyo Olympics to end a 41-year long drought with a historic bronze medal.
“I wouldn’t say that I feel pressure during penalty corner situations. I already have the experience of playing several matches for the national team. This has enabled me to handle pressure mentally. When I get an opportunity, I try to stay calm and score the way that I had thought before the match,” Harmanpreet Singh began.
Preparation for Tokyo Olympics
The preparation for the Tokyo Olympics was not easy for the Indian team by any means. All the players had to live at the SAI centre in Bengaluru for almost a year due to the COVID-19. However, it also created a unique bond between the players, which ultimately reaped rewards in Tokyo.
Harmanpreet Singh remarked, “It was a very important thing. We spent a lot of time together as a team in Bengaluru. We sacrificed a lot and didn’t go back home. Quarantine was such that it would suddenly stop our activity as we were not allowed to practice during such a scenario. We utilized the time that we were able to spend together properly. We worked on several things and it was helpful in the end.”
“My personal goal was to make use of every opportunity and give my best in every match. I did a lot of hard work on the field as a defender and a drag-flicker. Whenever I get an opportunity for a drag-flick, I need to try and score a goal.”
Setbacks in Tokyo Olympics
The Indian team started off their Tokyo Olympics campaign on a good note with a 3-2 win against New Zealand. A heavy 1-7 thumping against Australia in the next match had the fans on the edge of their seats as the horrors of the previous Olympic Games resurfaced in front of their eyes. However, the Indian defender revealed that the mood in the team was not as tense as it appeared from outside.
“The atmosphere in the dressing room was pretty normal. We weren’t able to play our usual game in that match. The finishing was also not happening on that given day. The simple things we do weren’t coming off,” he recalled.
“After the match, we had a conversation and decided not to think about the match. The focus was on our next match. The belief in the team was that if we play our usual game in the following matches, then we would definitely win,” he added.
India faced a similar situation after a heart-wrenching defeat against Belgium in the semi-finals of the tournament. The players again quickly shifted their focus to the next match.
“It was a very close match. Coming so close and losing in the semi-final gives the feeling that we could have done better. But, I think everyone gave their best in that match,” Harmanpreet Singh opined.
“Every player had the mentality that we still have one more chance to win a bronze medal. If we keep dwelling on the previous match, then even this may go out of our hands. So, it’s better if we focus on the match against Germany and give our best out there.”
Improvement under Graham Reid
Indian hockey has grown by leaps and bounds under chief coach Graham Reid. The Australian took over the role in April 2019. All the players have improved their game in the last two years.
“Graham Reid treats the players very well. We have individual meetings and he says everything openly face-to-face, regarding what you’re good at and what you can improve on. I think that is a very important thing if the coach is straightforward and speaks in a friendly manner to you. This is what takes the players forward,” he remarked.
Reid has also worked a lot on India’s problem of conceding goals in the last few minutes of the matches. The defender stated, “In training, all the talk was about how to defend when we do not have the ball. It was about how to manage a game if we are a player down because of a card or issues like that. We practised a lot in Bengaluru and I think that ultimately paid off.”
Importance of the Bronze medal
Harmanpreet Singh understands the importance of the bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics. He believes that the Indian team needs to carry the good momentum forward and aspire to be the best in the world.
“I think the bronze medal was necessary for Indian hockey. Due to this medal, many people have known and are asking about us. I think those who didn’t know about hockey, even they watched our matches. This is a good thing that there will be more interest in hockey among the masses,” Singh reiterated.
“There is more responsibility on the team now. Expectations from us have increased. So, our focus will be to maintain our fitness whenever the camp starts again and practice properly. This will help us to perform better in the upcoming tournaments,” Harmanpreet signed off.