He was always the Wall of Indian hockey and he lived up to his reputation at the Tokyo Olympics. Parattu Raveendran Sreejesh (33), the goalkeeper of the Indian hockey team that won the bronze medal at the Games, tells SportsAdda what Olympic success means. Excerpts…
Congratulations. It’s almost three weeks since that bronze. Can you take us through the last minutes of the match?
PR Sreejesh: We knew we were leading and if we got through this, we would win the medal for the country. But during those moments, you don’t think about the medal. Instead, you have to think about the game and what should be done. We wanted to score more goals and we tried to exert pressure on our opponents. The thought about the result never crossed our minds until the game was over. I was more worried about the defence and communication with my team-mates. While a spectator may see it differently, we don’t have the time to think about predictions and expectations because we are too busy trying to play the game.
That penalty corner with seven seconds left… you blocked the shot. How do you recall that moment?
PR Sreejesh: You won’t believe but during that penalty corner, I didn’t have anything in mind. But looking back at it now, I’m bombarded with negative thoughts more than ever. I’m more under pressure now than I was during the match. I thought about what would have happened if I had conceded. Is this the save of the millennium?
Big question: How did you manage to climb that goalpost after the win?
PR Sreejesh: It’s actually very simple to climb. It may seem difficult to climb with the paddings, but the goalkeeping equipment is my second skin and climbing the goalpost isn’t difficult at all. I climbed from the side where there’s a small board to the crossbar and just jumped over to sit. It may sound complicated, but it is very easy.
This is Indian hockey's first Olympic medal in 41 years. Can you share how big the medal is?
PR Sreejesh: People only know the history of hockey in India and the eight gold medals, and it ends there. Other than the Olympics, they don’t follow other tournaments such as the World Cup, Commonwealth Games, Champions Trophy, and Asian Games. They are only concerned with the Olympic medal but now that we have an Olympic bronze to show and inspire the millions of boys and girls who want to pursue hockey as a career. This will give people a realistic idea of the present and also help them continue the dream of playing hockey for the country at the international level. This medal is just the beginning of the resurrection of hockey in India.
How has life been since the medal?
PR Sreejesh: Life has gone from zero to a hundred since the win. We have become the centre of attention, and everyone wants to meet, take pictures, and talk to us. They want to see our medals, come on shows, get felicitations, so this is unfamiliar territory for me.
Viren Rasquinha was saying in the studio that at one stage you wanted to retire. Is it true?
PR Sreejesh: Yes. Such thoughts arise subconsciously in the mind when you have not achieved anything for a long time. You feel like your career isn’t going anywhere and whether it is worth it or not. And it is during those times where you need the right people to give the right advice and tell you things in a positive way. When it happened to me in 2018, I had people who helped me to think positively, remain optimistic, and stay and train with the current team.
What do you think about the Odisha government’s contribution to hockey in India?
PR Sreejesh: It all began when we didn’t qualify for the Beijing Olympics in 2008. We came under a lot of attention and heat. That’s when we realized that a change was necessary, and we got our first international coach José Brasa, who taught us about the European style of hockey and for the first six to seven months we were only taught the basics and fundamentals like how to hold the stick, how to pass the ball. Thereafter, new coaches were brought in, and they have contributed many things to this point. So, the Odisha Government and Mr Naveen Patnaik stepping into Indian hockey when it was at its lowest point were heroic and today, Odisha is the hub of hockey. They have recently made more than 40 Astro turfs and are also planning to host a lot of international matches in the state where people and kids will come and see the matches which will make the sport popular again. So, Odisha is the saviour of Indian hockey.
Who else do you give credit to for this success?
PR Sreejesh: Hockey is a collective game. You need collective players to play the game, collective coaches to train the players, an association like Hockey India which coordinates everything and a sponsor like Odisha which supports the financial and mental health of the team, and a central government that supports the hockey family. So, I cannot give the credit to one person as it was a collective effort that got us this medal.
Where does Indian hockey go from here?
PR Sreejesh: This is a wake-up call. You can’t expect things to change drastically but it has resulted in positive energy. So, going into the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games next year, the team will be confident knowing that they have won a bronze at the Olympics, compete at a high level, and have overcome the toughest times of their lives. So, the only way is to go forward and look up. The world knows that India is the third-best team leaving them two more positions to conquer. The next goal is to change the colour of the medal.
Author: Sandilya Garimella
Featured photo : Hockey India