After coming out successful in his first assignment as coach of the Indian women's hockey team, M.K. Kaushik has set his eyes on the next target -- winning a berth in the Athens Olympics.
Kaushik, a former captain of the men's hockey team, admitted that despite the success in Russia, where India emerged winners in a three-nation tournament earlier this month, the Olympic qualifiers in March next year would be a "very big" challenge.
"It will be a testing time for all of us in New Zealand in March since there will be several teams who will be making a frantic bid to book their place in the Olympics.
"If we manage to get through, I will consider it an achievement for the women's hockey team," Kaushik said in the Capital where members of both the senior and junior teams are attending a training camp for different tournaments.
While the seniors are fine-tuning their skills for the 52nd National meet scheduled to be held in Lucknow from August 20 to 30, the junior players will be flying to Japan to participate in a six-nation tournament to be played from August 26 to 30.
Kaushik, who was appointed chief coach just over a month ago, said India will have to play really well to have any chances of qualifying for the Olympics.
"We are expecting a tough fight from Korea and Japan, who are the two best hockey-playing countries in Asia. Besides if Russia and Ukraine manage to come to the qualifiers they can pose a few problems for us. There are also several European countries," he said.
India, who stunned all by winning the Commonwealth gold medal last year beating several formidable opponents, have since then been struggling to find their feet at the international level.
They lost all their matches to finish at the bottom of the table at the four-nation competition in the Asian Games, which was won by powerhouses China.
Before the Olympic qualifiers, India will have only the Afro-Asian Games later this year where the preparation of the team can be assessed.
"The Afro-Asian Games is also quite important from the point of view that the players' weaknesses and strengths can be assessed. We can judge how much we have progressed and how much we are prepared for the qualifiers," he said.
Kaushik said the Senior Nationals in Lucknow will also give him an opportunity to judge the players' potential.
"Now it is too early to say which player can serve the country for a long period since I have taken charge just a month ago. But the Nationals will be quite helpful in knowing the players well," he said.
The chief coach said during the Russia meet and the ongoing camp he was able to detect certain shortcomings in the team.
"I am putting stress on improving the physical fitness of the players. In international matches you need to be fit and athletic, but that is not the case with some of our players."