All set for Beijing

The Belgian hockey team, under the able guidance of former Australian midfielder Adam Commens, 33, has matured into a cohesive unit. The victory against Germany in the 2007 European Nations Cup for the third place has rejuvenated the team and has given it the confidence to maintain higher levels of competition.

An eighth place finish is what Belgium is aiming for at the coming Beijing Olympics — it’ll be the nation’s first entry into Olympics since 1976. The coach and the players reckon it’ll be mission accomplished if the team finishes in the top 10.

The 24-member Belgian team, which was in Chennai for the five-Test series against India, was a mixture of young, old and not-so old players. Commens’ aim is to combine the Australian system with European flair. His team, a mixture of players from various fields, ranging from doctors to students to software professionals, has the talent and work ethic to realise its dream. Of the lot, Felix Denayer and Thierry Renaer — both from different generations — provide an interesting mix.

Felix, 17, described by Commens as an “exciting talent”, is one of the many young players who came up through Belgium Hockey Association’s project launched at the grass-root level.

Felix has represented Belgium in quite a few age-group tournaments, but has realised that graduation to the higher level is not as easy. “I know, at this level you have to be much faster and have a good eye contact,” he said. “My ambition is to play in the Olympics.”

For Thierry, 31, who has played in over 300 internationals, Beijing will be his maiden entry into the quadrennial event. A veteran of two World Cups, three European Championships, Thierry decided to concentrate on his career in Infomatics in the beginning of 2006 since he felt he had contributed whatever he could for his country. After initially refusing calls to make a comeback, Thierry finally relented when Belgium qualified for the Olympics by defeating Germany for the third place in the European Championship.

“I trained and competed for 14 years. I thought I have given enough for the team. I wanted to concentrate on my career. That was the time when Commens called me,” he revealed.

The Beijing Games will be a landmark for both the players in different ways.