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Olympic hockey probables in shipshape

Last updated on: June 23, 2004 01:06 IST

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If the training standards are anything to go by, then Indian Hockey Federation president K P S Gill can set his mind at ease on any issues of the fitness of the Indian team come the Olympics.

Pillay and goalkeeper Devesh Chauhan in training in ArizonaThe 26 probables for the Games have been training at the Athletes' Performance Center in Tempe, Arizona, for the past three weeks with a punishing schedule that seeks to push them into peak performance levels in time for August.

Speaking to rediff.com, Dhanraj Pillay - or DP, as he is being called by the trainers - whose fitness levels had led to his initial omission from the list of probables for the camp, said he is "100 per cent fit".

"I have benefited a lot from the Center because my muscles have developed a lot, especially in the hip region," Pillay said. "I had an injury, I was recovering and then I was called back to the camp and now I am 100 per cent fit for the Olympics."

Trainer Craig Friedman also vouched for Pillay's fitness. "He's done great; he's done everything that everyone else has even though it has been very strenuous, very demanding," Friedman told rediff.com

"The thing about DP is that he's just such a great presence to have, just with his personality and from a teambuilding standpoint he's definitely taken on a leadership role."

In more good news for Indian hockey fans, penalty-corner specialist Jugraj Singh also appears to be well on the road to full recovery. Singh, who had a near-fatal road accident in September 2003, said he hopes to be in the team for the Olympics.

"At this point, I think I am fully fit for the Games," he said.

Besides the regular sessions with the team, Jugraj is also undergoing special workouts and therapy for his elbow and right thigh.

"After the accident, yes, I was afraid that I might not be able to play again but I got so much encouragement from my teammates, my coaches and the federation that I told myself 'They are calling me, I have to go and play'."

Mark Verstegen, founder and president of the Athletes' Performance Center and a former football player himself, also had high praise Jugraj's recovery.

"He has been doing terrific," Verstegen said. "His tissue quality has improved dramatically. If with your eyes closed, you had touched his tissue two weeks ago and now, you couldn't say it was the same person."

Verstegen also informed that Jugraj is looking good on the field.

"I don't know what his peak level used to be, but he's smart, dedicated and improving rapidly. He is doing everything he physically can to reach that goal."

At the Center, the Indian probables have been divided into three groups based on an initial evaluation of their levels and needs. Training begins at eight in the morning and goes on until about late evening, with periods of recovery. The team also gets field practice on astro turf.

"It's not a full size hockey field, but it's the only astro turf available in the entire state of Arizona," said Peggy Iralson, who has been coordinating the team's practise schedule.

In addition, the Center also has a nutritionist, Amanda Carlson, who has drawn up a special dietary plan for the team, with customized supplements for each player.

"Most of them are slightly low in proteins," she said.

Carlson also visited the Delhi Palace restaurant, which provides lunch and dinner for the team and left instructions with them. "We have customized shakes for each player that they have to drink after their workouts."

The team also has sessions with Jim Afremow, a sports psychologist who is helping them get in the right frame of mind for the Olympics. Afremow is consultant to the Arizona State University and will also be working with the Greek softball team for the Athens Olympics.

"I have been very impressed with the team. I think they are physically prepared. They have a good understanding of the sport, and they are getting more mentally prepared so all the pieces are coming together at the right time," Afremow said.

"We are focusing on the positives rather than the negatives, to be inspired by what they can do rather than by others."

Afremow said the team already has a good mental game. "We are just sharpening the knife, so we are not building from scratch."

The team will now travel to Amsterdam for a two-day camp and then go on to play the four-nation Rabobank Trophy tournament there.

A third camp will be held at Dusseldorf in Germany followed by another four-nation tournament. Two more camps have been scheduled, first in Germany and then in Athens right before the Games begin.

As of now, though, the team looks ready to go, with team spirit evidently at a high. The final team, however, will be announced only after the two tournaments.

"We have been watching the boys but we will take a final decision only later," said chief coach Rajinder Singh. "As of now, we are fully focused on Athens."

Tanmaya Kumar Nanda in Tempe, Arizona