India Today - - SPORTS -

HOCKEY Shah­bad, Haryana

HIS STORY On Au­gust 22, 2006, San­deep Singh, then aged 20, climbed aboard the Del­hi­bound Kalka Ex­press to join his team­mates and head for the World Cup in Ger­many. Asubin­spec­tor trav­el­ling in the same com­part­ment was car­ry­ing a ser­vice pis­tol which ac­ci­dently went off, in­jur­ing Singh. Af­ter three years of end­less hospi­tal vis­its and in­ten­sive phys­io­ther­apy, Singh made a come­back in the Sul­tan Azlan Shah Cup in 2009 where he scored eight goals, clos­ing the tour­na­ment as its high­est goal get­ter.

VAN­TAGE POINT His close brush with death has made him fear­less. It has drawn him to­wards sui­cide run­ning, a de­fence tech­nique that in­volves run­ning to­wards a ball hurtling to­wards the ath­lete at 140 km/ hr. He’s also cred­ited with a drag- flick­ing at­tack dur­ing penalty cor­ners that is mod­elled on Pak­istan’s cham­pion player So­hail Ab­bas. The team has worked hard. It has been train­ing in a hy­poxic cham­ber set up at its Pune train­ing camp which in­volves breath- ing re­duced oxy­gen for a con­sid­er­able pe­riod of time to help boost en­durance. The play­ers have also been pre­par­ing for the blue- turf at the Olympic Hockey Cen­tre at Strat­ford by prac­tis­ing on syn­thetic pitches.

CHAL­LENGE AHEAD Younger than the much more fan­cied teams of Aus­tralia, Ger­many and Nether­lands, the In­dian team makes up for what it lacks in ex­pe­ri­ence with its youth­ful flair. Singh has been fine- tun­ing his de­fen­sive and play- mak­ing skills.

OLYMPIC RUN- UP The team is in fine form, hav­ing won five of its six matches and scor­ing 16 of the 44 goals scored in all at the 2012 Olympic qualifiers in Lon­don in Fe­bru­ary. The team fol­lowed it up with an im­pres­sive show­ing at the Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia in May. In­dia de­feated Great Bri­tain, ranked No. 4 in the world, 31 to win the bronze medal, Singh con­vert­ing a cru­cial penalty cor­ner in the 52nd minute.

“The urge to don the In­dian uni­form once again gave me the en­ergy to re­cover from a gun­shot wound, and emerge stronger in my game. The new team is work­ing very hard to re­store In­dian hockey’s lost glory.”

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