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Dhanraj Pillay

It's now or never for me

August 14, 2004

It's good to be back. It has been a while, hasn't it? Before I start my column, allow me to express my sincere gratitude to all and everyone who had played any part whatsoever in getting me back into the team. I thank all of you. Without your support and prayers, Dhanraj Pillay would not have had the opportunity to play his fourth and final Olympics.

The atmosphere here in Athens is beyond description. The minute I stepped into the Games Village I could feel the adrenaline flowing. It is an overwhelming experience. Everyone here is a champion in his or her own right and you also get to meet the real stars in real life, including our own heroes from back home. It also brings back memories of my previous three Olympics and the feeling of wanting that medal, whatever colour it may be.

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I have always been emotionally charged up when I play for my country and this Olympics will not be any different. After all, this will be my last Olympics and I cannot tell you how much it will mean to me if I can go back to the motherland a victor. Personally, I promise to give my best.

Coming back to the Games Village, we checked into our rooms on August 9. After a short rest, we immediately got down to the business of some jogging and stretching to get rid of the lethargy and keep our muscles in tune. The next day we headed for the stadium for some field training and to get familiar with the training venue and also the bounce on the turf. All the boys looked eager and although we could not play on the main turf, the body language of the boys was positive. I could see they were already imagining that they were playing their first game. The boys looked dead serious with their shots at goal and dribbling skills.

It would not be fair if I do not place on record here the usefulness of the US stint. I am sure that the boys will agree with me when I say that all of us enjoyed it tremendously. The stint was handled professionally by experienced people. The training methods were highly motivating. If we are better prepared today, I can safely say that it is due to this foundation training in Arizona. I only wish we received similar opportunities much earlier in our playing career. In any case, it is never too late for the younger generation and I would certainly recommend this type of stint very strongly to the Indian Hockey Federation.

I also challenge the press reports, which questioned the usefulness of the stint after the team's not-too-encouraging showings in Holland. I just do not know why people failed to understand that in the US we were only doing mental, endurance and physical strengthening and hardly trained hockey.

Our next stint in Germany also proved very fruitful. We trained and ironed out various weaknesses like penalty-corner conversions/variations and defending as well. We also worked on various set pieces on our attacking and defending strategy. We also played a number of friendly games.

Well, for now, all the boys are in high spirit. We got rather charged up after we attended the flag raising ceremony at the Games Village and watched the tricolour being hoisted. We cannot wait to get going and to take on Holland in the first game. This is the time we are all waiting for. God willing, our months of hardship will bear some fruit.

The Olympics are a different ball game altogether. Every team that has qualified is fully prepared and no team can be written off. We should give every team the respect they deserve. The strategy for every game should be different as it would be chalked out after taking into consideration the strengths and weaknesses of not only the opponents, but also ourselves.

We know that the whole country is waiting for the hockey team to re-create its old magic. All I want to say is, with all the public's blessings and good wishes of all our mothers, rest assured that your sons will rise to the occasion and bring back lost glory. It is now or never, especially for me!

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