New Delhi: He has encountered both success and failure from close quarters in a career spanning 14 years. However, national team goalkeeper PR Sreejesh believes a ‘much-improved’ India has the potential to break its Olympics medal jinx. The 2020 Games, postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic will take place in Tokyo next year.
The Indian men’s hockey team have a rich Olympic history, winning an unprecedented eight gold besides a silver and two bronze medals. However, the last time they won a medal (gold in fact) was in 1980 at the Moscow Games.
However, Sreejesh feels that Indian hockey has progressed by leaps and bounds in recent times.
“I feel like there is not much of a difference now between India and other teams. We have shown that in our FIH Pro League matches earlier this year. We can beat anyone, and not just beat, but also dominate them with our style of play,” Sreejesh said.
“With one year left for our preparations, I think it (Tokyo Olympics) is going to be the biggest tournament for me as well. Something tells me that it is going to be a huge year for Indian hockey. We can really bring that elusive Olympic medal back to India. Only we have to perform to our potential in Tokyo next year,” Sreejesh was quoted as saying in a Hockey India (HI) release.
The 32-year-old experienced goalkeeper has represented India in two Olympics (2012 and 2016). He is now standing at the twilight of his career. By his own admission, he has high ‘aspirations’ from the postponed Tokyo Games.
“The Tokyo Olympics is really something that I look forward to with huge aspirations. We have managed to bring in so many improvements across various aspects of our game. Our fitness is now better than most teams in the world,” the former captain said.
“I think we have really improved on our technical side of things with a good structure. We have brought more flair and dynamism to our attack. I see so many younger players also coming in and performing extraordinarily against the top teams. It is something you would rarely see before,” added Sreejesh.
Sreejesh, captained India at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Like any other athlete he too dreamt of becoming an Olympic medallist when he started out.
“I also had a very specific dream throughout my career. It has been to win an Olympic medal for my country. The first time I stepped out as an Olympian in 2012 at London, it was an experience I can never forget,” he said.
“The whole excitement around the team, and in the Olympic village is something you don’t experience. No, not even during a World Cup you don’t get such a feeling. I was 24 at that time, and we were in a very tough pool. Eventual gold medallist Germany and silver medallist The Netherlands, were in our pool,” he said.
“I remember throughout the pool stages, we ended up conceding first against the Netherlands, Germany, and South Korea. However, we were also able to equalise shortly in those matches. We had a good team, but I think we struggled to finish off those matches and it cost us. That tournament was a chance for me to learn so much,” pointed out Sreejesh.
Sreejesh said the 2012 London Games was a nightmare for Indian hockey. They finished last in the 12-team competition.
“So when we were returning back home as the last placed-team, it really bothered me. I decided that I’ll do everything to help my team get better in all departments. The aim was to improve so that we could be a medal-contender for Rio Olympics in 2016,” he said.
Sreejesh also said that India had high hopes of a podium finish in 2016. However a bad outing in the quarterfinals against Belgium dashed their hopes.