Tokyo Games delay gives us one more year of experience to win Olympic medal: Namita Toppo
Experienced midfielder Namita Toppo feels the Indian women's hockey team is fortunate to not have any ageing player and "one more year of experience" due to the postponement of Tokyo Games will only help its Olympic preparation.
The Tokyo Games was pushed back by a year due to the fast-spreading COVID-19 pandemic but Namita said it hasn't changed their goal of winning an Olympic medal.
"Our target was always to win an Olympic medal, and even with the postponement, that does not change. It definitely gives us more time to be prepared for next year, and to perform really well," said Namita, who has 165 international caps under her belt.
"I feel our team is also fortunate enough to not have any ageing players, and this group of players has been playing together for a long time, and I believe one more year of experience will only help us in achieving our goal."
One of the most experienced players in team, Namita was sidelined for nearly 10 months after suffering a severe knee injury during the 2018 Asian Games but she says the lengthy injury layoff has actually made her mentally stronger.
"I had injured my meniscus, which basically means I had torn my knee cartilage during the Asian Games. I was really struggling when I was away from the team. It was close to 9-10 months that I was out of the side," Namita said.
The 24-year-old returned to the side in September last year, ahead of the Olympic qualifiers.
"I was really worried at first because I was not sure how long it would take for me to come back, especially with the Olympics only a couple of years away. But when I look back now, I think that lengthy spell on the sidelines made me stronger," said Namita.
The midfielder was full of praise for her teammates and coaches for helping her with the recovery.
"Initially it was really tough because I would have immense pain, and would wake up at night, and start to overthink. I believe my teammates and coaches played a huge role in making sure I was in the right frame of mind," she said.
Aiming to take part in her second Olympic Games, Namita says her journey back to the Indian team has been full of ups and downs.
"At first I didn't realise I would be spending about 9-10 months outside, but our scientific advisor Wayne Lombard told me that the type of meniscal injury I had was accompanied by some early onset degeneration - which made things complicated.
"It increased my recovery period. It was tough because I would keep thinking if I would ever make it back to the squad. But I spoke to my teammates who had spent similar periods on the treatment table, and I would get some sort of strength."
Namita, who hails from Odisha, says returning back to the field was one of the most satisfying days of her life.
"When I was finally fit and had regained my touch and sharpness in the National Camp, and was included in the squad for England Tour, I was really happy because I had set a target for myself and I was able to achieve it.
"I wanted to help my side qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, and playing in the England Tour gave me a chance to prove to Chief coach that I should be in the team for the FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifiers, which were to take place in November 2019.