Manpreet Singh couldn’t stop smiling while reflecting how much life has changed for him since that historic August morning, when he led the Indian hockey team to its first Olympic medal in 41 years.
He now has a school named after him in his hometown Mithapur. He is the recipient of the country’s highest sporting honour, the Khel Ratna. Last month, his wife gave birth to their daughter. “It’s tough to express in words how much everything has changed,” Manpreet says.
Not just for him.
His teammate, drag-flicker Harmanpreet Singh got married weeks after returning from Tokyo, where he’d scored a goal in India’s dramatic win over Germany in the bronze-medal match. Manpreet teased his deputy for being holed up at a university campus in Bhubaneswar for the national camp, days after getting hitched.
The smiles, the laughter and the banter captured the mood of the team that is still basking in the afterglow of Olympic success. Even as they continue to enjoy the honeymoon period, the rebuilding phase for the Paris Olympics cycle has begun.
It will reflect on Tuesday when India play their first match since the Games. They will take the field against South Korea in Dhaka in their opening match of the Asian Champions Trophy, which got delayed by several months due to the pandemic. The team will wear a vastly different look compared to the one that won the medal in Tokyo four months ago.
Almost half of the players from the squad – including inspirational goalkeeper PR Sreejesh – which finished on the podium in Tokyo, have been rested as head coach Graham Reid looks to rebuild the side, as well as add to its depth, ahead of a busy 2022, the 2023 World Cup and, ultimately, the Paris Olympics.
Reid, who has scarcely had any break since the Olympics, had said while reporting his choices that the players were picked with a plan to construct a ‘profound and solid crew’. “While choosing this group, we currently should have our eyes on what’s to come. It takes a profound and solid crew to fabricate supported achievement so players must be given freedoms to perform,” he said.
The sharp decrease in mainland hockey, which has harmonized with India’s consistent development, implies the Asian Champions Trophy is an optimal stage for Reid to analyze.
The competition, where India are the co-victors of the past version with Pakistan later the last was cleaned out, doesn’t hold any 10,000 foot view importance – the Asian Games gold medallists get an Olympic billet, the Asia Cup champs meet all requirements for the World Cup however the Asian Champions Trophy offers no such setting.
The opposition got weakened significantly more later Malaysia, a group that continually fights at a surprisingly high level and has been a consistent aggravation for India, pulled out because of Covid-related worries. Pakistan, whom India play on the December 17, left for Dhaka without their two goalkeepers later they were denied visas. Siegfried Aikman, Pakistan’s new mentor, should manage with the lesser group goalkeepers who previously had Bangladesh visas.
Aikman’s previous group, Asian Games gold medallists Japan, will expect to expand on the energy they’ve acquired as a result of the Olympics while South Korea, India’s first rivals, are not any more a power they used to be.
In an abbreviated Olympic cycle, this gives Reid adequate room to test players to set up the group first for the Asian Games, where India can seal the Olympic birth, and afterward center around the World Cup at home followed by the Paris Games.