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Paris 2024: The time is ripe for India to rewrite hockey history

A determined men's hockey team is leaving no stone unturned in its quest to climb the podium yet again.

Paris 2024: The time is ripe for India to rewrite hockey history

PR Sreejesh, the veteran custodian, is all set to have another crack at an Olympic medal at Paris 2024. (File photo: PTI)


Rahul Kargal

Updated: 7 May 2024 3:00 PM GMT

Bengaluru: Just as visitors make their way into the prestigious Sports Authority of India (SAI) at Bengaluru and go around a bend, they’re greeted by a steep ascent. And as the auto-rickshaw - this correspondent boarded - laboured its way uphill, a group of young men dashed past in a flash.

Sprinters showing off, one could think at first sight.

But with a closer look at their sweat-soaked shirts, a different story unfolded.

These were no sprinters. Instead, they were the Paris-bound members of the Indian men's hockey team.

A new wave of expectations

When the hockey bronze medal was won at the Tokyo 2020 Summer Games, it put an end to an Olympic medal drought that had lasted 28 years. And in doing so, the men had reignited a dream that appeared long lost.

If that result was a shot in the arm for the sport, victories at the 2022 Asian Games and 2023 Asian Champions Trophy meant that hockey had once again captured the imagination of the nation. And this was evident when thousands made their way to Bhubaneswar and Rourkela to witness the 2023 FIH Hockey Men’s World Cup.

Now though, with expectations at an all-time high, the men have their task cut out for Paris 2024.

“We’re in a good place,” said Craig Fulton, the coach of the men’s hockey team, speaking to The Bridge.

The South African, keeping a close eye on the squad in Bengaluru, said the recent tour of Australia held positives despite a string of losses.

“The Australia tour was good to sharpen our game ahead of the Olympics. Competition, building depth, and improving our own game were the three positives to come from the tour,” said the 49-year-old.

There’s no denying that the squad is experienced.

Several in the camp at Bengaluru played at the Tokyo Summer Olympics, and even at Rio. And those experiences are bound to come in handy on the road to Paris 2024.

“There’s depth in the squad, having played the Olympics before. We need experience and youth, and that balance helps,” added Fulton.

On the experience front, there’s one player that immediately springs to mind.

The talismanic custodian

When India edged past Germany to clinch the bronze medal at Tokyo, images of a jubilant PR Sreejesh celebrating atop the goalpost went viral.

In his 18th season for India and with over 300 internationals under his belt, the talismanic goalkeeper is displaying no signs of fatigue. One look at the man and you can spot his inherent desire to win.

“The medal at Tokyo gives me motivation. Everyone is now expecting a better medal and it gives me immense responsibility on my shoulders,” said the 35-year-old.

It is a responsibility that Sreejesh doesn’t take lightly while being fully aware of the rich tradition of hockey in the country.

“The legendary players (of the past) created a path for us. I’m proud of our history and now we’re replicating the history for the present generation,” he added.

It is a sentiment shared by defender Jarmanpreet Singh as well.

‘A feeling of pride’

Having been a member of the Indian senior national squad since 2018, Singh takes pride in wearing the Indian jersey and has his eyes set on Paris 2024.

“We need to change the medal color,” said the defender. “We’re working hard, we’re focused and we’ve our plans.”

Singh is earnest and sincere in his reflection on the efforts being put in by the team.

It is noon and with the unforgiving Bengaluru summer sun beating down, the defender’s sweat-soaked shirt is hard to miss and is a reflection of the hard yards being put.

Strength and conditioning are an important part of the regime in this preparatory camp ahead of the Olympics. But well before the team heads to Paris 2024, the squad will put its skills to the test at the FIH Pro-League in Europe, followed by test matches in the Netherlands.

For now, though, the team is staying in the present.

With a combination of work ethic and a healthy environment fostered by Craig Fulton, players like Jarmanpreet Singh and PR Sreejesh are keeping things simple - taking everyday pride in playing for the country and enjoying playing hockey.

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