Olympic champions are not created overnight and Indian women hockey team has taken long strides in that direction by following a well-defined process, skipper Rani Rampal assured on Thursday and avowed that her balanced side is good enough to challenge the best during the Tokyo Games.
The Indian women team competed at the 2016 Olympics after a gap of 36 years but was eliminated at the Group Stage itself with four losses and a draw against Japan.
Rani said they are a much better bunch now.
"No team becomes Olympic champions overnight. They definitely started from somewhere. We, also, are part of the process. Coaching and the staff are working well for this mission," Rani said during a virtual news conference.
"Earlier people felt that we were no match to the European teams. If you see our team over the period of last four-five years, fitness-wise we are no less than any other team."
Placed in a tough Pool A, the Indian team will begin its Olympic campaign against world's top side the Netherlands on July 24 before taking on Germany (ranked 3rd), Great Britain (5th) and Ireland (9th), who are all ranked higher than the 10th placed India.
South Africa, at number 16, is the only lower-ranked side than India.
"Everyone is really excited. We have worked towards this for years. We have a nice blend of youth and experience and every player has some quality. Our coaches have kept some good choices in the team. We have got a balanced side in all three departments."
The Indian captain said it was not easy to prepare the team physically and mentally when the Games were delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
During this year, the skipper herself had contracted the infection along with her six teammates and two support staff members.
"It's not easy for an athlete to push yourself physically and mentally in this extra one year. It was a big mental challenge in COVID times.
"You normally get upset mentally but the coach helped us a lot in dealing with any problem 24x7, at personal or physical level. The coach has worked a lot to live the present moment. It has helped the team a lot," she said.
Rani will lead a 16-member side that has eight members from the Rio squad.
"We are very excited to go to our second successive Olympic games and we are confident of doing well."
"It will be a different Olympics. It won't be normal. But we can't help much about it, we have to follow the protocols. We will have more individual responsibility to keep ourselves safe because if I stay safe, my team members will also be safe."
India's vice-captain and custodian Savita said their last Olympic experience would come in handy.
"Of course we were happy last time to have qualified after 36 years but we lacked experience at that level. We were thinking a lot about the rankings.
"We still have respect for the opponent team's rankings but we are aware of our strengths, we will go match by match and give our best every time. We don't want to give any excuses for the Olympics. We are ready for everything."
The Indian eves had two much-needed exposure trips to Argentina and Germany earlier this year.
While they remained winless in Argentina with three draws and four losses, they lost all their matches in Germany.
"Whenever we play a higher-ranked nation, it boosts our confidence. Even last year we played against England, we learnt a lot from those experiences and would like to take it forward," Savita said.
The other vice-captain Deep Grace Ekka said she doesn't want to recall her Rio Olympics experience.
"I don't want to remember it. I've a lot of hopes this time, we are working very hard in the camp and seniors are motivating a lot," she said.