Veteran India goalkeeper PR Sreejesh wants to participate in the Paris Olympics but said on Saturday a lot will depend on his fitness and performance for the 2014 Games.
The 33-year-old from Kerala was recently awarded the best goalkeeper in the men’s category at the FIH Annual Awards for his performance in India’s historic bronze medal winning achievement at the Tokyo Olympics.
Asked if he will play in the Paris Olympics, Sreejesh said: “No athlete will say no to Olympics, we are greedy people. The motivation will always be to work hard and give the best.
“I have had a career spanning 21 years. So I always want to play another match, another Olympics so that unless my team members throw me out, I will definitely be in the team,” he quipped.
During the India Today Conclave, he said, “But nothing is certain in the life of a sportsperson. Injuries can happen, performance can drop, others can do better than me.”
Sreejesh’s former teammates Rupinder Pal Singh, Birender Lakra and SV Sunil had recently retired after a successful Olympic campaign to pave the way for the youth.
When India captain Manpreet Singh was asked the same question, the captain said: “He is going to Paris on our behalf. Sreejesh is the best goalkeeper, so we would like him to be on goal. We have faith in him but rest depends on his fitness and other things.”
Sreejesh, who has shown the ability to get better with time, has no doubt that both men’s and women’s teams will reach the podium in the 2024 Games, but says the road ahead will be tough.
“The inspiration will always be there to change the color of the medal in Paris. But the road is not easy. We won a medal 41 years ago and after that Indians sent us to the Olympics with a lot of expectations.
“Now that we’ve proven that we can win, the expectations will be high when we go to Paris. But it won’t be easy, it doesn’t happen overnight.
“The women’s team was unlucky to miss this time but of course I am confident that both teams will finish on the podium in Paris.”
Sreejesh made a surprising save in the last few seconds of the bronze medal match against Germany in Tokyo.
Recalling those six seconds, he said: “When we got that PC, our reaction was like what now, there was a chance it might slip but there wasn’t much time to think. We had to defend. I Looking at the opposition, he was planning his defensive structure.
“As a goalkeeper I had my own things to focus on and that’s all I thought I’d been playing for so many years, so I just had to save it.”
While the men’s team won a medal, their women’s counterparts narrowly missed out on a credible fourth-place finish after losing 3–4 to defending champions Great Britain in the bronze play-off.
Indian women’s team captain Rani said that the disappointing campaign at the 2016 Rio Games was the turning point for the team.
“For us, 2016 was the first Olympics, we didn’t win a match and I think it was a turning point for us because we learned how to handle the pressure in such a big event and it was a different Olympics because we won the first three matches. Were lost but still had self-confidence,” she said.
“We lost Holland and Germany but we played good hockey and that gave us the belief that we can beat other teams and that belief took us against Australia.”
Goalkeeper Savita Punia also expressed her views.
“We had qualified in the 2016 Olympics after 36 years but there was no performance. I was not happy with my performance so in the next 4-5 years we wanted to do something.
“NS England The match we did not play well and because of that match we did well in the next game. Our coach was so upset that he didn’t have lunch with us.
“So Ireland’s match was more important than the quarter-finals, which was a pressure match. We knew Australia were a good team, they were highly ranked, so there was pressure at that time.
“We were also convinced because we lost a close match against Australia in the 2018 Commonwealth Games, so we just wanted to do better, there was no alternative.”