A gold medal at the 2016 Olympic Games would be the fairy tale ending for many player’s careers but for Argentina’s drag flick superstar Gonzalo Peillat, this is just one more step along an incredible journey that began in 2012, when he was just 20.
Back then, and remember this was only four years ago, Argentina were ranked ninth in the world and finished 10th at the Olympics. Gonzalo was a bright spark in an otherwise poor showing, but those Games proved to be a catalyst for an Argentine reinvention, which came to its conclusion with a gold medal four years later in Rio.
Once the 2012 Olympics were over, Gonzalo returned to duties with the Under-21 side in preparation for the 2013 Hockey Junior World Cup in New Delhi, India. He says: “My memories of the Junior World Cup in India are really good and it was a great experience. The team had started training three years before the tournament and it was seriously intense. We trained four times per week. I wasn’t always able to be at the training because I was training with the senior team for the Olympics 2012.
“Despite that, when I could train with the juniors, it was always a good quality of training. It was divided up by time spent on the hockey field but also running and gym sessions.”
Gonzalo explains that the junior side played a lot of practice games against Los Leones (Argentina senior men) because the only junior competition really available to the team was the Pan American Cup and the Malaysia Cup, an event held four month prior to the Hockey Junior World Cup.
That is one reason he cites for the team’s disappointing 11th place finish in Delhi. He said: “I think we acknowledge that we didn’t have enough test matches or international games in the build-up to the competition, so we were a team without experience in this kind of tournament.”
Gonzalo himself was already an experienced senior player by the time the 2013 Hockey Junior World Cup came around. While his debut for the junior team was the 2012 Pan American Cup in Mexico, he had already represented his country in South Africa in 2011 at the Champions Challenge, where Argentina finished fourth. His first match as a full international was in that event against Japan.
Five years later and he has 120 international caps to his name and was top scorer at both the 2014 Hockey World Cup, where Argentina won bronze, and at the 2016 Olympics. His tally of 11 goals at Rio included a hat-trick in the Semi-Finals and one goal in the final.
Looking back to his debut match, Gonzalo said: “I can remember in my first senior match everything was just too fast. My heart rate probably was 200 and I was super excited. I don’t think it was a surprise but I was so happy to play against players that I had only watched on the TV or via live streaming. It was a dream for me and it took me a couple of games to adapt to the new system, new team, new opponents and faster games.”
For the players lining up for their first match at the Uttar Pradesh Men's Hockey Junior World Cup, Lucknow 2016 Gonzalo has this advice: “You will be feeling extremely proud and excited. Listen to the anthem and take it all in, you have worked incredibly hard to be there and you have sacrificed a lot to become an international hockey player.”
Follow Gonzalo on Twitter: @gpeillat