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Chennai Diary (2/21/2001)
It was a visual treat at the break of day. With the orange sky as a sceinic backdrop the Bihar bunch at the camp running in rhythmic unision was a sight to behold. The perfect strides and the sychronised body movements resembled a pack of deer in full motion.

It was like any other day for the campers at the Mayor Radhakrishnan Stadium in Egmore. The 36 campers preparing for the Asian Hockey Federation U-18 girls championship in Hong Kong were undergoing fitness training under the watchful eyes of chief coach Mr Satinderpal Singh Walia, who preferred to run along with his wards, his colleague Mr N S Saini in tow. The under-16 girls who are preparing for the sub-junior championship which India is scheduled to host early next year are also in the camp.

They were divided into groups of eight and the diagonal path across the 100-yard astro turf was used by the coach as a `straight' for the stride reps.

For any team in the country worth its salt, a representation from the tribal pockets of Orissa and Bihar is a must. And the girls camp here is no exception. In all, there are 13 girls from Bihar and 10 from Orissa.

Though the campers consist of the cream of talent picked up after the Junior Nationals and Sub-Junior Nationals, it is the Bihar bunch that impressed with their physical fitness and obedience. They take heavy load without any complaints and never miss a practice session. And with a no-nonsense coach like Mr SS Walia in charge the training regimen was tough and tiring.

The tribal girls run in unision and the graceful movements resemble a gymnastic routine. When the group is running one can see all the eight up in the air making pleasing patterns and all the legs landing in perfect synch. Such was the discipline. All the girls come from the sports hostel at Ranchi. The credit should go to their coach Mr N S Saini, who incidentally was the assistant here to Mr Walia.

They don't even have a turf at Ranchi and most of the girls had their continuous session for about a month on the artificial surface for the first time at the first camp in Delhi. The Madras camp is the second in preparation for the inaugural AHF Cup and the Test series against Malaysia. Some other stars in the camp are Surinder Kaur of Haryana and Mamta Kharb of Mumbai, both of whom have represented the country at the senior level but are still below 18 years and eligible for the AHF tourney.

The girls begin the day at 5 in the morning and do physical conditioning till 8. After a quick breakfast, coach Walia and Saini prefer to take special sessions for different groups like forwards, defenders and goalkeepers. The second session lasts from 9 to 11. The evening practice commences at 3 pm and continues till 5.30 and a half hour stretching completes the day. After supper at 7.30, its lights off at 9.30 p.m. Since rest is a very important item in Walia schedule, he's very strict about it. ``Unless they rest for at least seven hours, they cannot take the load in the morning,'' he averrs.

Apart from the fitness and skill sessions, the girls played practice matches twice a week, with junior boys teams and the Tamil Nadu junior girls team, and have gone out for sand running on the beach on a couple of occasions. As a relaxation for muscles, a swimming session was also incorporated in the schedule and the girls enjoyed it. Besides, video and theory classes for rules were held.

After the Junior Nationals at Chennai, a few people will be added to the final camp at Bangalore provided there are really `good girls'.

The camp was coordinated by Mrs Renuka Lakshmi, joint secretary of IWHF and secretary of the TNSWHA. Mr Stephen David, stadium officer, was instrumental in taking care of all the needs of the wards. The coach was very happy that the ground was made available to him whenever he wanted. And with the players accommodation provided in the stadium itself, he was able to concentrate completely on hockey.

Chennai, July 25: "Any mail from OBO," asks a baby-faced sub-junior player with cat-like eyes. Her trainer nods in appreciation handing over a few print-outs. Obo is a world famous brand which manufactures goalkeeping equipment and the tall-and-sturdy goalkeeper is a Tamil Nadu under-16 girl training at the sub-junior India camp. For Inger Mona, an Anglo-Indian by birth, courage is not lacking. It runs in her blood. Hailing from a lower-middle class family from Kancheepuram district, she makes up for lack of strength with loads of enthusiasm. She keeps up-to-date with latest methods of training and scientific knowledge through the net. Obo which provides goalkeeping notes from experts and top custodians around the world delivers notes into her inbox every now and then. And the net-savvy teenager never misses an opportunity to browse through hockey sites of different countries.

Inger Mona, a student of St Patrick's Higher Secondary School in Adayar, in the outskirts of Chennai

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