Gurjit Kaur doesn’t mind putting in the extra hours, either in training or at the gym. Being a drag-flicker, it comes with the territory.
“I work out in the gym,” Gurjit told the Olympic Channel. “A drag flicker needs power, so I work on that separately in the gym. Apart from that I practice it a lot on the ground, either before the team practice or after it.”
The 25-year-old, who started playing hockey when she was in standard 6 because she was fascinated with the stick work, has worked hard at her game. She is the first Indian woman to specialize in the very niche art of drag-flicks and is integral to India’s plan at the Tokyo Olympics. To put it simply, she will be the woman in charge to help India convert those crucial penalty corners into goals.
Kaur has grown into the role, but there was a time that she struggled with fitness. The defender was one of the players slotted into the ‘red box’, a system devised by the team’s Lead Scientific Advisor Wayne Lombard.
“I came into the Indian senior national camp in 2017,” says Gurjit, who hails from the village of Miadi Kalan in Amritsar district. “I used to be quite heavy. That time, there wasn’t too much knowledge. I had no clue what to eat and what not to eat.”
She had grown up on paranthas, white butter and Indian staples like rice. That was replaced with green tea, vegetables and salads. Being a vegetarian, Gurjit also had to reply more on protein powders for her share of that macro nutrient. There’s no cheating; if she feels like eating anything that’s not on the diet plan the nutritionist has to be consulted.
For two years, she worked hard on getting out of the ‘red box’ and hopes to stay away.
“I feel fit,” said Gurjit, who is now more agile in defence.
“I feel good about what I have achieved. There’s a confidence that no matter how much we are asked to run, we can do it. Also, when you are heavy you are a bit conscious, especially when you are in the company of professional athletes who are at the peak of their fitness. There’s a different energy knowing you can fit in with them.”
For years, the Indian women’s team had lacked the physicality to fit in with the hockey elites of the world. But there has been a massive turnaround since 2016 – when the Indian women played their first Olympics in 36 years. South Africa’s Lombard was brought in, in April 2017, to bring the team up to speed.
“Now everyone understands how important fitness is in hockey,” said Gurjit.
“Everyone looks after themselves. It helps build mental strength also. We don’t think like I can’t run or should give up, you need to find that something extra to keep pushing and complete the drill.
“Everyone feels like having junk food sometimes, but if you want to achieve a goal you have to make those small sacrifices. If we don’t, then the fitness drops, and more than the player it may hurt the team.”
The team has been hard at work since at the SAI (Sports Authority of India) centre in Bangalore since qualifying for the Tokyo Games, making sure they don’t lose the momentum. This is the first time that the Indian women’s hockey team has made the cut for the Olympics two editions in a row.