Nearly every team that has taken part in the six Olympic Qualification Tournaments is on the Road to London. But not Brazil men’s team in Japan, they are on the Road to Rio.
As the #42 ranked team in the FIH World Ranking, Brazil has no illusions of winning this qualification tournament and making it to London. Instead, the Brazilians are here as a step in a much larger long-term plan that will see them ready to compete at the Olympics when they play host in 2016.
It will be a long four-year road to get the team ready for to be competitive in Rio and to prepare, Brazil is taking many measures to make sure their Olympic dreams come true. The first step in the plan was to hire a High Performance Director. Late last year Bert Bunnik from the Netherlands was named to the key post. His first order of business was to get the Brazilians as much international experience as possible.
“Brazil is a massive country, so there’s a lot of travel involved for us to get any games,” said Bunnik. “I think that was one of the main problems in their development before, there’s just no nearby competition.”
Bunnik worked the phones and ultimately set up a six-week tour prior to this Olympic Qualification Tournament. Much like the Rolling Stones, the Brazilian team has been on tour, seeing the world and living, eating and breathing hockey.
First up on the World Tour was Portugal where the team (average 21.3 years old) stayed for two weeks. While there the team stayed in what can kindly be called a bunker dorm room in the basement of the stadium in Lousada: sufficient to live and train adjacent to the pitch.
“If you want to get to know your fellow teammates, that’s the way to do it,” Bunnik laughs. “It was a great first trip for us to take because it really got the team talking to each other.”
Next up was something even more unique, a trip to Bunnik’s homeland and hockey heartland, Netherlands. While there the team not only trained, but got to see games where hockey is played at an elite level, including the dutch Hoofdklasse and the EHL, European Hockey Leguea.
“That was something great for the guys to see, that guys can make living playing the game and how perfectly the game can be played.” Bunnik says.
While in Holland, the team had another unique living experience. They stayed at a campground where there were five players in each cabin.
“At the start of the week I gave each cabin enough money for the week and told them to go out and plan their meals and food for the week. It was a great experience for them to be responsible for that in a foreign country – it was also fun to see the variety of ideas they came up with.” The second week in Holland they stayed at the National sportscentrum Papendal, ideal for athletes to live only sports, fully focused. Training was performed on the green pitch in Ede and the blue pitch at Upward, Arnhem.
After Holland, it was off to Qatar, where the entire team and staff had their eyes opened by a completely new culture and country.
“That was something even for the coaches and managers to see,” Bunnik says. “You can’t imagine what has been built up in Qatar and what it is like to be in a totally new culture for two weeks. It was a growing experience for us all and something we will never forget.”
And now, it is the last stop on the World Tour: Japan. Of course the previous six weeks were to prepare for what awaits the Brazilian team here Kakamigahara, but the team knows that there is still a big gap to made up between the top teams here and themselves at the bottom of the pack.
“If we could win one game, that would be a huge event for us,” Bunnik said. “But everything we do here is a first for Brazilian hockey – the first game against South Africa, the first official FIH tournament, the first Olympic Qualification event, there’s just some many firsts for Brazilian hockey right now.”
And in four years, it will be Bunnik saying it is their first Olympic Games when Rio 2016 arrives. But until then, it’s a matter of taking things one step at a time.
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