At one point during his press conference here on Friday, Roelant Oltmans nearly sprang out of his seat, urging the media to be less “negative” in its line of questioning.
There had been too much talk, he felt, of pressure and pitfalls, and not enough optimism. “We are prepared,” he exclaimed. “We have qualified, we are excited, and we have great players who all can't wait for the Olympics to start. In fact, we are ready to start today; we are ready now.”
At nearly every function it has attended these last few months, the Indian men's hockey team has been told that a medal from Rio is expected. Such hope cannot be easy to bear.
“When this expectation is only on my shoulders, I don't care,” said Oltmans. “I can cope with that pressure. I don't run away from it. The fact that people are talking like that is because we had a good year. We have created our own expectation. But it is my job to make sure all that talk doesn't influence the performance of the players.”
It is possible that Indian hockey teams at the Olympics are weighed down by a need to live up to the nation's glorious past in the sport, but the chief coach would have no truck with such ideas.
“It's history. What can I do with history? Nothing,” he said. “Of course, we know about the fantastic past of the Indian hockey team at the Olympics, but we live now. We don't live in the past or the future. The only thing in our hands is our performance in Rio.”
India will leave for Madrid in the wee hours of Sunday, where it will play a couple of practice games, before heading for Rio a week out from the Olympics. The change in captaincy a month before the Games may have seemed a potentially thorny issue, but it had helped Sardar Singh, Oltmans felt.
“He's more relieved than anyone,” he said. “He's completely focused. In the tests we've done here, he's been better than ever. Hockey-wise, he's improving every day. He's really keen to do well.”
Too much was made of captaincy in Indian sport, the Dutchman added. “In India it’s a bit too much responsibility because of your whole comparison with the cricket captain. In cricket, the captain has a bigger role because he’s making strategy. Sreejesh is a nice man but I decide the strategy, not him. Not even Sardar did before. It's different (in hockey),” he said.
Four years ago, India had left for London without an inkling of what was to come. “Of course that’s in their hearts but it should not be in their minds any more,” Oltmans said. “Maybe up front they set targets which were unrealistic and after two matches, when you know you can’t reach that target any more, it's very difficult. What we learnt from then is setting targets in a different way. We need to be realistic in our approach.”
For a dose of realism, India's players need not look very far from their chief coach.