A triumphant Indian men's hockey team captain Manpreet Singh on Tuesday said Prime Minister Narendra Modi's pep talk after its semifinal loss against Belgium worked wonders and instilled a positive energy to the players, which eventually translated into a podium finish after 41 years in the Olympics.
Just after losing 2-5 to world champions and eventual Olympic gold medallist Belgium, Modi called Manpreet and chief coach Graham Reid and consoled them while also motivating the entire team for the job ahead.
And Manpreet said those words of encouragement did wonders.
"When we lost the semifinal we all were very disappointed, then coach came and said PM wants to talk to you guys and when he spoke, he said 'all of you played well and don't be disappointed, just focus on your game and the next match and the entire country is proud of you all'.
"It gave us a positive energy and then we had a players' meeting. We said we have got one more chance and if we return empty handed we will have that regret all our life," Manpreet told reporters in an open media session after returning from Tokyo.
"We said to ourselves that we have 60 minutes in our hands and if we give our best in these 60 minutes we can return home with smiles on our faces."
The Indian men's hockey team scripted history in the just-concluded Tokyo Games by winning a medal, a bronze, after a hiatus of 41 years.
India's last of the eight Olympic gold medals came way back in 1980 Moscow Games.
"The feeling has been great. It was my third Olympics and this time as captain. My first Olympics in 2012 was a disaster because we didn't win any match. But then we improved and won medals in Asian Games and
Commonwealth Games. In 2016, we played well but couldn't clear quarterfinals," Manpreet said.
The skipper said the COVID-19 pandemic has been a blessing in disguise for the Indian hockey teams as they spent the entire lockdown together at the national camp at the SAI centre in Bengaluru, which according to him helped in creating a strong bonding among the players.
"This time the mindset was different because we did a lot of hardwork. The time we spend together in Bengaluru, spend the entire quarantine period inside the campus, we were away from everybody. So going into the Olympics our thought was that we sacrificed a lot and we definitely can win a medal if we give our best," he said.
"It was a young team this time and so the mindset was pretty strong. As seniors, we shared our experiences with the young players. Our mindset was that we should not underestimate any team because it is Olympics and all the teams look to give their best in that platform.
"We gave our best in every match and we progressed match by match which produced a good result for us."
Manpreet said during their time in quarantine in Bengaluru, all the players read a lot about past hockey Olympians of the country and their journey, which acted as a motivation for them.
"The pandemic was a curse for all but in hindsight, it was good for us because during lockdown, we read about all the Olympians of the country and their journey, how they prepared themselves, what problems they faced. This helped in creating a strong bonding within the group.
"We were little disappointed when the Olympics got postponed but then we thought of utilising this postponement to our advantage, how we can improve ourselves more."
Manpreet said the bronze medal was much-needed for a nation like India which has a rich history of hockey.
"It is a big thing for hockey because after 41 years we won a medal. The last medal came before I was born and this medal will work as a big motivation for the future generation," he said.
Asked what was going through the minds of the players after the 1-7 drubbing against Australia in their second pool match, Manpreet said: "When we lost 1-7, everyone said in the dressing room that 1-7 was a big margin. But when we analysed the data we learnt that we also played well in that match.
"I just told everyone that we should have the confidence that we can beat any team and we did that in the past. Everyone said that we made a lot of sacrifices and we should not let go the chance from our hands," he said.