SANDEEP SINGH, 26
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.”