Smith: We are on track
Johannesburg - South African men's hockey captain Austin Smith believes the national team are on track to perform at the London Olympics, thanks to a rigorous, 14-day strength and conditioning camp in Bloemfontein.
"The training camp in Bloemfontein has gone exceptionally well. I couldn't be any more pleased with the work that the guys have put in," Smith said on Wednesday at the announcement of South Africa's Olympic team to take part at the global showpiece in August.
"The training program has worked out really well and the guys are pretty shattered but it has gone really well."
The camp - which ends on Friday - is run by conditioning expert and head of the Sports Science Centre at the University of the Free State (UFS), Dr Derick Coetzee, most famous for his work with Jake White's 2007 Rugby World Cup winning Springbok squad.
Smith said the camp was exactly what the team needed ahead of a tough road during the Olympics, with Coetzee pushing the team physically in preparation for the event.
"We've got two days left to go and I know our trainer [Derrick Coetzee] said we've got a special session on Friday," Smith said.
Meanwhile, defender Rhett Halkett said he too was feeling the effects of the demanding camp in the Free State, but believed that the preparation was vital to compete in their Olympic pool.
"It has been by far the toughest Olympic preparation that I've heard of. I've heard from some of the guys that have been before and it has been intense," Halkett said.
"Guys are putting in yards that they didn't even know they had in them and we are pushing beyond our physical capabilities. That's what is required playing against the best in the world."
SA go into the tournament as the lowest ranked team, with world number one-ranked Australia, Great Britain, Spain, Pakistan and Argentina also in pool A.
Smith said the team were determined to perform well at the Games and wanted to push for a medal as SA had not enjoyed many successes at big events such as the Olympics.
"We have never achieved anything higher than tenth at an Olympic event or at a World Cup but for me, that is the past, and this team is better prepared. We are performing better," he said.
"With the teams we have in our pool, we have beaten in recent years so I think this is our best opportunity to really achieve something significant at an Olympic games.
"Certainly, this team isn't aiming for anything less than a semi-final and a gold [medal] if that's possible."
Halkett echoed his skipper's sentiments, adding that the team had showed their fighting spirit and determination to perform on the global stage.
"This group [of players] is beyond special and that's the exciting part for us to finally get the opportunity to show our worth," Halkett said.
"We obviously have our own personal goals that we are keeping close to our chests but we are backing ourselves to the top, that is why we go.
"We are not there just to participate, we are there to compete and to hopefully bring back something special for this nation and to leave a legacy for South African hockey."