Rani Rampal: Fitness-wise India no less than any European team

Placed in a tough Pool A, the Indian team will begin its Olympic campaign against world's top side the Netherlands on July 24

The Indian women team competed at the 2016 Olympics but was eliminated at the Group Stage itself. Rani said they are a much better bunch now.

Olympic champions are not created overnight and Indian women hockey team has taken long strides in that direction by following a well-defined process, skipper Rani Rampal assured on Thursday and avowed that her balanced side is good enough to challenge the best during the Tokyo Games.

The Indian women team competed at the 2016 Olympics after a gap of 36 years but was eliminated at the Group Stage itself with four losses and a draw against Japan. Rani said they are a much better bunch now.

"No team becomes Olympic champions overnight. They definitely started from somewhere. We, also, are part of the process. Coaching and the staff are working well for this mission," Rani said during a virtual news conference.

"Earlier people felt that we were no match to the European teams. If you see our team over the period of last four-five years, fitness-wise we are no less than any other team."

Placed in a tough Pool A, the Indian team will begin its Olympic campaign against world's top side the Netherlands on July 24 before taking on Germany (ranked 3rd), Great Britain (5th) and Ireland (9th), who are all ranked higher than the 10th placed India. South Africa, at number 16, is the only lower-ranked side than India.

"Everyone is really excited. We have worked towards this for years. We have a nice blend of youth and experience and every player has some quality. Our coaches have kept some good choices in the team. We have got a balanced side in all three departments."

Pandemic phase tough both physically and mentally

The Indian captain said it was not easy to prepare the team physically and mentally when the Games were delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

During this year, the skipper herself had contracted the infection along with her six teammates and two support staff members.

"It's not easy for an athlete to push yourself physically and mentally in this extra one year. It was a big mental challenge in COVID times.

"You normally get upset mentally but the coach helped us a lot in dealing with any problem 24x7, at personal or physical level. The coach has worked a lot to live the present moment. It has helped the team a lot," she said.

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Rani will lead a 16-member side that has eight members from the Rio squad.

"We are very excited to go to our second successive Olympic games and we are confident of doing well."

"It will be a different Olympics. It won't be normal. But we can't help much about it, we have to follow the protocols. We will have more individual responsibility to keep ourselves safe because if I stay safe, my team members will also be safe."

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