PR Sreejesh: The Silent Hero Behind India’s Olympic Bronze

PR Sreejesh
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When India clinched the bronze medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, it marked the end of a 41-year wait for an Olympic hockey medal. The entire team and fans erupted in celebration after a thrilling 5-4 victory against Germany. Amidst the jubilation, PR Sreejesh, the Indian goalkeeper, was seen perched atop the goal post, quietly soaking in the moment.

PR Sreejesh, who played a pivotal role by stopping a crucial penalty corner from Germany, later shared his thoughts in an exclusive interview with India Today. Reflecting on his spontaneous celebration, he said, “That moment wasn’t pre-planned. It was just a spontaneous reaction. When I sat there, I had been playing hockey for 21 years. I started in 2000. So those 21 years of my life just flashed right before me.”

Reflecting on a Long Journey

As he reminisced about his journey, Sreejesh recalled the sacrifices and challenges he faced throughout his career. From the language barriers and homesickness during his first camp to being dropped from the team and battling injuries, his 21-year career has been marked by perseverance and dedication. “I thought about my sacrifices. How I reached my first camp. I didn’t know the language, the food wasn’t great, and staying away from home. Then I got into the team, my performances weren’t great, I got left out of the team. Then I had injuries. So I saw that 21 years of my life while sitting on top of that goal post,” he shared.

No Plans for Retirement

As India announced their squad for the upcoming Paris Olympics, speculation arose about whether this would be Sreejesh’s final appearance. However, the 36-year-old goalkeeper from Kerala dismissed any notions of retirement. He emphasized his focus on performing well at the Olympics rather than contemplating retirement. “Definitely, I won’t be retiring. When I have come to this age, I don’t think there is a need for people to discuss if I would retire today or tomorrow. For me, it’s about enjoying the next tournament,” PR Sreejesh asserted.

He further added, “And goalkeepers are like fine wine. So, as time passes, the strength also increases. So being 36 or 37 isn’t a concern for a goalkeeper.”

Preparing for Paris

PR Sreejesh, a keen student of the sport, likened the team’s preparation for the Olympics to a student revising for board exams. “Our current training is like a revision before the Olympics, just like a final revision before a board exam. We are identifying our strong areas and polishing them while giving extra attention to our weak areas,” he explained.

India finds itself in a challenging group that includes Belgium, Australia, Argentina, New Zealand, and Ireland. Sreejesh analyzed the strengths of both Belgium and Australia, expressing confidence in India’s ability to beat them. “Australia is a team that puts their opposition under pressure, and make them commit mistakes and then score goals. So if we stick to our basics, and stay with our plan, we can match up with them and beat them,” he said.

A Future in Coaching

Sreejesh’s deep understanding of the game and his role as an on-field strategist has sparked questions about his future in coaching. He confirmed his interest, describing himself as a “coach on the ground.” “Yes, coaching is my passion. Being a goalkeeper, I am the coach on the ground. I communicate with my defense and organize them. Then I talk to the midfielders, the forwards and I correct them. So I may have watched more matches on the ground than the coaches from the sidelines,” he stated.

Looking Ahead

As India prepares to kick off its Olympic campaign on July 27 against New Zealand, Sreejesh remains focused on the present. When asked about any planned celebrations if India wins another medal, he simply said, “Not at the moment. For me now, let’s reach there first and then if something comes to my mind, I will celebrate it in that fashion.”

The Wall of Indian Hockey will once again be guarding the goal, ready to create more memorable moments for his team and country.

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