The 34-year-old also revealed that he regrets not being able to win an Olympic medal.
Former India captain Sardar Singh holds a prominent status in the Indian hockey folklore. In his 12-year-long career, he garnered plenty of plaudits for his world class displays and has a number of accolades to show for his efforts.
Just a couple of years after his senior debut in 2006, Sardar Singh made history when he became the youngest player to lead the Indian team at the 2008 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup. He has had some memorable moments in the Indian jersey, including guiding the national team to a Gold medal at the 2014 Asian Games by defeating arch-rivals Pakistan in the final.
Recalling that unforgettable victory, Sardar Singh remarked, “Looking back at my career that spanned over a decade, there have been some very memorable matches. Leading the Indian Team to the 2014 Asian Games Gold, the first in 16 years, will always be on top of that list not just because it was historic and beating Pakistan in a Final is always an icing on the cake, this win set off a new beginning for the Indian Men’s Hockey Team. In 2014, we were on the cusp of greater things to come and there was no looking back.”
“My journey in hockey has been rather satisfying because I was part of that era which saw a resurgence. We came a long way from finishing last at the London Olympics in 2012 to being ranked No.6 in the World when I hung up my boots in 2018. Now, the current team is poised at No.4 in the World Rankings, which should definitely bring a lot of confidence to this team in the lead up to their Tokyo Olympic campaign,” he added.
Recognizing his sporting achievements with the Indian hockey side, he was even honoured with the Padma Shri award in 2015, which is the fourth highest civilian award in the country. He has also picked up medals at the Commonwealth games, Asia Cup, and the Asian Champions trophy, among his exploits in several other tournaments.
However, the elusive Olympic medal has always evaded his grasp and remains a regret for the legendary hockey player to this day.
“Having played 314 International Matches, I will always regret not being able to add an Olympic Medal on the wall back home. But watching this team grow from strength to strength in the past year and the way they played the FIH Hockey Pro League earlier this year, I have great hope that they can bag that elusive Olympic Medal. They definitely have a realistic chance in Tokyo,” he revealed.
The current Indian side possesses a number of talented young faces that must be itching to make their mark at the highest level. Sardar Singh feels that the decision to give these youngsters some crucial exposure in the Pro League was a great call and will prove to be beneficial ahead of the Olympics in 2021.
“The next one year will be extremely critical for this team. They have the time to build on the new talent that is available. Some of the youngsters like Rajkumar, Dilpreet, Vivek Sagar, Gursahib have shown great promise and trying them in big-match scenarios like the Pro League was a good decision by Chief Coach Graham Reid,” he opined.
Furthermore, Sardar Singh believes that the enforced break due to the pandemic will give the side time to work on areas that demand attention before adding that the finishing of the team has shown much-needed improvement in the last couple of years.
“With the Olympics being postponed, we have the time to work on our short-comings. Converting chances continues to be one of the grey areas but I feel we have been finishing much better than we were two or three years ago. Good matches in the Pro League next year against Argentina, Great Britain, Germany, Spain and New Zealand should set the ball rolling for us and this will definitely be a good litmus test before the Olympic campaign begins.”
The lockdown has proven to be challenging for athletes as their regular standard training regime has been disrupted and in turn they had to search for alternate methods to maintain their fitness during this period. Moreover, the postponement of the Olympics must have been particularly demoralizing considering the vigorous efforts put in preparing duly for the quadrennial event.
Keeping all those difficulties in mind, Sardar Singh has urged all his compatriots to not take their eye off the goal and advised them to stay motivated by reminding themselves of the ultimate target of representing your nation on the global stage.
“For now, I understand these are trying times for all sportspersons in India with the Covid-19 pandemic posing several challenges to the Olympic preparations but my advice to the Indian Hockey Core Probables, Men and Women, is to remain focused on their goal. Playing the Olympic Games for India should be the single most motivating factor for each and every athlete and they must channel their efforts to be the best they can be ahead of the Tokyo Olympic Games.”