Mark Knowles: 'Indians are getting better faster'

With four Olympics behind him — three medals including a gold — the reigning World Champion, Knowles, accepts the tag sportingly and points to the grey in his beard for proof.

Mark Knowles has been part of four Olympic campaigns including the winning one in 2004.

Mark Knowles has been part of four Olympic campaigns including the winning one in 2004.   -  Special arrangement

At 32, Mark Knowles is a veteran of Australian hockey in every sense. With four Olympics behind him — three medals including a gold — the reigning World Champion, Knowles, accepts the tag sportingly and points to the grey in his beard for proof.

He has moved on from captaining the side to a disappointing sixth place finish at the Olympics — the worst for Australia since a similar result in 1960 – and admits it still hurt but adds that the only way forward was to try and get better. And then he moves to talk about how hockey as a sport and the world in general has changed since he made his international debut a decade back.

Australia's stumbling at the Olympics is one of hockey's big mysteries. It has won just one title so far despite dominating at every other tournament, including the World Cup (3) and the far more competitive Champions Trophy (14). And Knowles, having been part of four of those Olympic campaigns including the winning one in 2004, has his own reasons.

“I think the biggest thing is that the stage changes, the level of what's required physically and mentally at the Olympics is completely different. The pressure of being favourites every time is very hard. Also, we are still semi-professional in Australia. So for three years we have other jobs and play club hockey and then in an Olympic year, it all flips and we go full-time hockey,” he tries to explain.

That shift to training almost six months for Olympics leads to physical and mental fatigue, he admits. “In 2004 there was no HIL and it was very much a working-class era where you wanted to train more. There are more outside influences now. I think a 10-12 week short, sharp, intensive preparation is ideal. I think it's going to be very interesting where hockey moves to be in future given all these different events,” he says.

Australia coach Graham Reid quit after the 2016 Olympics owning responsibility for poor show, something unheard of in Australian sports. But, Knowles is quick to step up and share the blame. “I dislike the fact that coaches have to take failure and lose their jobs for what their players did He didn't miss any of the traps that I did or he didn't miss a tackle. The players in the 2016 campaign have all been looking at ourselves very harsh in the mirror, knowing that we let ourselves down,” he accepts.

And what about the Indians? Knowles is all praise for the HIL that, he believes is the reason for Indians improving so much. “The rest of the world, by all these new competitions, will always get better. What the HIL has done is that while the international players are may be betting better but the Indians are getting better faster and closing the gap lot sooner. And that's why other countries like Australia are looking for new ways to surge ahead, like we used to be. Because if we do not experiement and improve, we know we will be out of the top four nations very soon and for a very long time,” he signs off.

  Dugout videos