Olympic gold is his ultimate dream

V. V. SUBRAHMANYAM

Gagan Ajit Singh scored a peach of a goal in the final. — Pic. VINO JOHN-

GAGAN AJIT SINGH and Pakistan. Well, what a combination it has been and for the good of Indian hockey. The mere sight of the Pakistanis seems to always ignite that extra spark of brilliance in the fleet-footed, centre-forward. For, two matches in a-row in the Afro-Asian Games, this 23-year-old Punjab star demonstrated his growing reputation in the world of hockey. If the two fabulous goals in the inconsequential league match against Pakistan fashioned India's 4-2 win, then the peach of a goal in the final brought them the gold.

"Well, honestly I simply love to score against them. Somehow, the motivation level is always on a different plane at the prospect of playing them," says Gagan Ajit Singh in an exclusive chat with The Sportstar. "It gives greater satisfaction in scoring against Pakistan than against any other team," he remarked. "This gold-medal performance is something which we will really cherish for a long, long time. For it had come on home soil under tremendous pressure," says Gagan Ajit Singh.

This wily centre-forward simply loves to attack at the slightest opportunity presented to him. Inheriting a rich hockey legacy, for his father Ajit Singh and grandfather Harmik Singh were Olympians of repute, Gagan Ajit Singh says his romance with the sport began when he was in the fifth standard. With inspiration coming from such a great sporting family, Gagan made his first impression on the national circuit scoring a record 27 goals in the 1997 junior Nationals for the Air-India Academy. A start which really set the ball rolling for what is fast turning out to be a brilliant career. Having scored 78 goals from 136 internationals, Gagan Ajit recalls his dream goal against Pakistan in the last Amstelveen Champions Trophy when he made a mockery of the defence with an amazing sprint past the crowded defenders to essay that angular reverse hit from an acute angle on the right of `D' as one of his most unforgettable efforts.

Once realising his dream to play for the country and even leading India to triumph in the junior World Cup in 2001, this second year B.A. student is keen to sustain a high level of consistency. "I just hate to see India lose against any team and more so against the Pakistanis. No matter whether I am playing or not," he remarked to a query. What is the secret for the impressive run of Indian team in recent times? "May be because we have been playing together for so many years. In fact Prabhjot, Deepak Thakur, Jugraj Singh (now injured) and myself were from the same Academy and have been together for more than six years. So, the understanding and anticipation are really good. It is essentially team work that ultimately pays," he reasoned out.

For someone who adores Holland's Ten Denoir for his cool temperament and skills, Gagan Ajit Singh is happy that he is living upto the expectations and faith his Indian idol Dhanraj Pillay first showed on him when he made his debut for India in 1998. "Well, the Arjuna Award this year was certainly a landmark in my career. But I cannot treat that as the end of the world. There are many other unfufilled goals as a player," he says. Predictably, this ebullient forward appreciates the role of coach Rajinder Singh. "The biggest advantage for me with him was he was my coach in the Union Academy School (Delhi) too for quite a long time," he pointed out. And also doesn't fail to acknowledge the brilliance of Prabhjot Singh on the left-flank. "He is really quick and has a wonderful sense of placement for his passes. I am lucky that I have such a real good player to support me up front," says Gagan Ajit Singh.

He simply admires soccer great Ronaldo. May be, that is the reason for his lightning runs down the centre and on the right flank. And, looking at the future, Gagan Ajit Singh says it would be too early to talk about Athens Olympics. "First, let us qualify for the Games. We have a real challenge in the qualifying event which has teams like Pakistan, Holland, Spain and Malaysia to name a few," he says. "There is no doubt that winning an Olympic gold is the ultimate dream for me and for the entire team too," he concluded.