“It’s a rebirth, that’s it,” declared India’s ecstatic goalkeeping great P R Sreejesh after emerging as one of the stars of the men’s hockey team’s historic Olympic bronze medal here, confident that the feat will help produce a new generation of capable players.
The team rewrote history as it claimed an Olympic medal after 41 years, defeating a plucky Germany 5-4 to win the bronze in an edge-of-the-seat play-off match.
“It’s been 41 years. In the 1980s we won the last medal and after that, nothing. Today when we won it, this gives a boost and gives energy to the youngsters to pick up hockey, play this game,” the 35-year-old Sreejesh said after the match.
“This is a beautiful game. Now we are giving a reason for them to pick up hockey, play the game.”
Sreejesh climbed up the goal post to celebrate even as his teammates cried and hugged each other in elation.
For the former captain, it was now or never as he wanted to have an Olympic medal after 21 years of hard work in the national jersey.
“I was prepared for everything today because this 60 minutes is like anything. I’m playing hockey for the last 21 years and I just said to myself one thing: ‘Take the experience of 21 years, just play that 60 minutes’.
“Even for the last penalty corner I said the same thing: ‘Sree, you worked hard for the last 21 years and this is what you want to do now, that one save’. I did it, and we are on the podium now.”
Leading 5-4, India conceded a penalty corner six seconds from the final hooter, but Sreejesh and the defence once again came to the side’s rescue.
Sreejesh has had a phenomenal tournament, coming to the team’s rescue every time attacks have been mounted. He is also a part of the leadership group in the team but he said his first duty was to save goals and then guide the younger players.
“When you are stepping on the field as a hockey player you are part of a dream and being a team member you have your responsibilities, you have your duties.
“So being a senior player, being a goalkeeper, being a team member, I think saving the ball is my first main priority. (The) second thing is guiding my players, build up our defence, and moreover motivate my players and I think I am doing justice to my duty.”
He said the feeling is yet to completely sink in and he will probably settle down only after reaching home.
“That’s a great feeling. I think I need to go back to my home to realise what it is actually. Just waiting for that.”
On the video phone call he made after the match, he said, “I just called my dad because he was the reason behind me being here and I just wanted to tell him that I achieved it and this medal goes to my dad.”
Forward Simranjeet Singh, who found the target twice in the bronze-medal match, said he was actually dreaming of scoring the goals when he slept at night on Wednesday.
“It was my dream and it will be an unforgettable experience. When I went to sleep last night, I was dreaming about making these goals and today I was able to fulfil my dreams and this is a very proud moment for us to help India lead in this game.”
On India winning their first medal in hockey since the 1980 Olympics, he said, “We’ve been trying really hard for the last one to two years. We’ve been working extremely hard to get these goals and make it to the podium.
“Today we have made 1.3 billion Indians proud by finishing on the podium. This is a lifetime experience and we will try and continue this on to other tournaments.”