New Delhi: India`s exercise physiologist David John is confident of the country`s qualification in this year`s London Olympics and feels the erstwhile champions are a much more "hockey fit" side now than they were six months back.
Soon after taking charge of the team four and a half months back, the first grey area that came to chief coach Michael Nobbs` notice was the players` poor physical fitness.
In order to fix the problem, Nobbs roped in Australian John, who made an instant impact with his structured regime.
"My programme is a lot more hockey specific. The types of running I have introduced are similar to game situations. The defenders run side by side, midfielders up and down and the forwards do slight running," John told reporters after a training session at the Major Dhyan Chand Stadium.
"They (Indian players) weren`t particularly hockey fit when I took over, but they have improved significantly now. They now play much more intense and fast-paced hockey."
The Australian said his training schedules are match specific and are prepared in a way to minimise injury risks.
"We do a lot more stretching and running. So, now the players have very few soft tissue injuries," John said.
"We follow a specific routine ahead of a game. We do weight training and gym sessions in the morning if a game is in the evening because we don`t want the muscles to be rested too much," he elaborated.
"Before every game we do positive visualisation, stretching and activation (spring running)."
He, however, said physical strength is one area which the Indians need to work harder keeping in mind the London Games.
"The physical strength level of our players need to improve. It is much lower than the Australians and Kiwis. But this is something which can`t be corrected in 3 months, it needs at least a year. If we qualify (for the Olympics), we will have few more months to work on our fitness and by the time of Olympics, I feel we will be close to that level."
Diet is key to a player`s fitness and John said he always keeps a strict vigil on what players eat.
"Goalkeepers should always take less carbohydrate. We also give less carbohydrate to other players on match day as it makes them more alert and agile. The players also take coffee two hours before training session," he said.
Senior forward Tushar Khandekar too seemed optimistic about India making it to London but felt going into next month`s qualifiers as hosts, the eight-time champions should guard against complacency.
India, who missed the cut for the 2008 Beijing Games, has been awarded the top seeding in the qualifiers where they will fight it out with Canada, France, Poland, Italy and the United States here from February 18-26.
"The training is going on well and I`m sure we will qualify for Olympics," Khandekar said.
Asked on what basis he is backing India to qualify for the London Games, he said, "My confidence comes from the way we are performing right now and the way we have played in Champions Challenge and in the Asian Champions Trophy. But we can`t take any team lightly. There is no weak or strong team because in modern day hockey all teams are equal."
He said India would look to play attacking hockey in the qualifiers, which has paid dividends in recent tournaments.
"We have worked on our mistakes and I`m confident that we won’t repeat same mistakes again (in the Olympic qualifiers).”
"We are working extensively on short corner conversion. Our focus is also on scoring goals and not conceding too many short corners. Our main aim is to play attacking hockey and we are concentrating on it," Khandekar insisted.
Star defender Sardara Singh agreed with his teammate and said they would take one match at a time in the qualifiers.
"As Tushar said, we can`t take any team lightly," he said.
Meanwhile, the Indian women`s hockey team was held to a 3-3 draw by Azerbaijan in a warm-up match ahead of the four-Test series, starting here on Sunday.
The second warm-up match between the two sides will be played tomorrow.