Germany might be the reigning Olympic champions but the team that is ruling the roost at the moment is Australia. Winners of the Champions Trophy in London after a dramatic win – decided on shoot-out – over India, the Kookaburras are the team that the other coaches will be losing sleep over. But four years ago this was not the case. Australia took bronze – a result that sent the men in gold and green back to have a long think about where they were going to next.
Glenn Turner is a veteran of the Australian team with a host of titles and medals, but he almost shudders as he recalls that time. "Yeah, we had to do a lot of long hard looking at ourselves, but it paid off ultimately. Leading up to London we had trained really hard but there was a very different feel to the squad compared to this time around. After London we got a psychologist in and we started to get to know each other a lot better."
He laughs as he says, "not always a good thing, but we know what each other does outside of hockey. That makes us a much tighter-knit group."
The timing of the Champions Trophy was perfect for the Kookaburra's preparations for Rio 2016. Location and travel costs mean they do not get as many chances to play other top-ranked nations as some of their European and Pan American rivals so an event such as the Champions Trophy is an ideal opportunity to play the best teams in the world. Turner says that this has led to an unusual level of tension in the Australian camp.
"For us we are trying to do a few different things. The Champions Trophy is a chance for guys to show what they are capable of. It is a difficult tournament in that respect because a lot of guys are going to be trying to prove their worth and that might make them more tense than usual. Once we get back to Australia, then we will all have a meeting and the guys who are not going to Rio will find out. It's a tough time at the moment and that does make things a bit nervy. When we get back home we will have a meeting and the squad will be announced; there will be some happy boys and some very disappointed boys."
Turner adds that watching how the players cope with the pressure of playing for their places at this event will be a good indicator of how they will handle the pressure of playing at an Olympics. And quite often the selection of a player can come down to single, small but significant, factors. "The guys are all at the top of the game and there are really only tiny things that split apart those who go to Rio and those who don't."
The next few weeks are all about increasing the intensity of the training. Australia has no internationals between now and Rio but Turner says that once the squad is announced then training gets even tougher. "The training matches we have are half the squad versus the other half – that gets really tough and really competitive. Of course you are at risk of injury, and there is a temptation to hold back, but we understand that we have to work hard and take that risk if we are to be successful.
"Up to London 2012, we also trained really hard but there is a different feel to the squad now. After London we got a psychologist in to look at us in more detail. We really looked deep within ourselves and how we react to pressure. There is a lot more focus on what goes on up here [he indicates his head]. It's tough at times, we have a lot of meetings, but it is definitely helping.
"Winning the Champions Trophy has done us a lot of good in terms of confidence levels, and we believe that on our day we can beat anyone. It is just about ensuring we turn up on the day."
See more about the Rio 2016 Olympic Games hereBack