South Africa men’s hockey team qualified for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 when they won the African continental championships in August 2019, beating Egypt in a thrilling final to take the qualification spot. The team last appeared at the Olympic Games in 2012, where they finished 11th.
Leading the team into action at the African Hockey Road to Tokyo Championship was Tim Drummond, a midfielder with more than 145 international caps to his name. Since making his senior debut in 2012, Drummond has represented South Africa at two World Cups, the 2012 Olympic Games and numerous other high level tournaments. He took over the captain's armband in 2017 at the Hockey World League Semi-Finals, in front of a home crowd in Johannesburg, and has been leading the team ever since.
Aside from their victory at the Road to Tokyo event, South Africa also finished as creditable runners-up to host nation India at the FIH Series Finals in Bhubaneswar.
Looking back over a long career, Drummond says his most memorable hockey moment can be traced right back to 2012 and the Olympic Games in London. "The London Olympics in 2012 was a huge highlight," he says. "Being in an environment for two weeks where all your sporting needs are catered for, from nutrition to recovery facilities to a dentist where I had a root canal fixed."
We caught up with Drummond to find out what he and his team were doing in preparation for their return to the main stage at the delayed Tokyo Olympic Games and discovered that, up until the restrictions imposed as a result of Covid-19, the team had been training hard - something that would be resumed the minute social distancing restrictions were lifted. While Drummond managed to deflect any questions about his own superstitions, we did learn that international pop sensation Mariah Carey would be a pivotal figure for at least one of the squad during their time in Tokyo.
How are preparations going for the Olympic Games in Tokyo next year?
Tim Drummond: We are the most prepared we have been for any major tournament. We played the African Continental Cup (African Hockey Federation Road to Tokyo) last year in August and we have had two really good series against the USA and Germany.
What does it mean to you and your team to be taking part?
Tim Drummond: It means a great deal to go to the Olympics for any athlete but especially for hockey as it is the pinnacle of our sport. It will be a huge privilege for the entire team and an occasion which we are all looking forward to.
What are your thoughts about the teams you will face in your pool?
Tim Drummond: The teams in our pool are obviously very strong. Any team going to the Olympics are going to be of extremely great quality. We are facing teams we have played in the past and we know they all give different challenges. We will definitely try our best to give a maximum performance in each game.
What part of the Olympic experience are you most looking forward to?
Tim Drummond: The part of the Olympics that I am most looking forward to is returning after the Olympics knowing that, as a team, we have given kids and other people in South Africa a lot of hope. We want to inspire people to play the sport and be active in general. That is a big driving force for our squad at the moment. We know we have a positive influence on many people. We also hope, as a squad, that this Olympics will be a turning point for us as a squad.
Looking at where you are now and where you hope to be, what are the main areas that you and your squad will be working on between now and the start of the Games?
Tim Drummond: The main areas we are focusing on are maintaining and growing our conditioning. We are working on our tactical capabilities and also there is a huge emphasis on our team culture at the moment. We know that preparation for every team going to the Olympics has been a huge challenge with the Corona Virus but [once restrictions are lifted] we will be doing our best to be ready for Tokyo.
A fun final question: Are there any crazy team superstitions or pre-match rituals that you can tell us about?
Tim Drummond: We have Nick Spooner who will always phone his girlfriend on the bus on the way to any game and we have Nqobile Ntuli who will only listen to Mariah Carey!