With no major triumph to show in the last 32 years, erstwhile hockey powerhouse India badly needs a medal in the London Olympics to revive the national sport's interest in the cricket-crazy nation, feels veteran mid-fielder Ignace Tirkey.
"Our last major medal came way back in 1980 Olympics in Moscow where we won our last of the eight gold medals. Since then we have not won any major title. So it is a huge gap," London Olympics-bound Ignace said.
"It is high time for Indian hockey to return among medal winners in the Olympics. A medal (in London) will help in reviving the interest for the game in the country where cricket has now become a religion," he insisted.
Asked about the significance of the London Games, the 31-year-old tribal player from Orissa's Sundergarh belt said, "We should not go to the Olympics just to make up the numbers."
Ignace, the second player in the London-bound Indian hockey team besides Sandeep Singh to have played in an Olympics before, is also fully aware that it is probably his last chance to become an Olympic medal winner.
"I consider myself fortunate to be representing the country in two Olympics, but at the end of the day what matters is a medal. It is better to play in one Olympics and win a medal rather that playing in two or three without any result," said the seasoned midfielder, who has 246 international caps to his credit.
Ignace and Sandeep were the only two players in the Indian hockey team to have represented India in its last Olympics appearance in the 2004 Athens Games.
India failed to qualify for 2008 Beijing Games, the first time the country failed to make the Olympic cut.
"It is a thing of the past now," Ignace said when asked about the disappointment.
Ignace was full of praise for chief coach Michael Nobbs of Australia under whose guidance India made the London cut.
"Michael has totally transformed the side. He has brought back our original attacking style of hockey. He maintains a very low profile and treats all the players equally," he said.
"Our fitness has increased by leaps and bounds under Michael and (exercise physiologist) David John."
In preparation for the Olympics, the Indian team is presently in Spain after concluding their tour of France. The Indians will play a few Test matches and a three-nation invitational tournament before heading to London on July 19.
India have been placed in a tough group in the London Olympics alongside 2008 Bejing Games champions Germany and former winners the Netherlands, South Korea, Belgium and New Zealand.
"We have to be fully prepared for the Olympics. There won't be any easy game. In modern hockey no team is weak. In today's hockey the gap between all the teams is very small," Ignace said.
Photograph: Laxmi Negi/Rediff.com