The 'Great Wall' of the Indian women's hockey team, Savita Punia came up with a phenomenal performance at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, where India finished a creditable fourth. Fittingly, she was adjudged 'Goalkeeper of the Year' by the International Hockey Federation (FIH). The 31-year-old proved impossible to get past and was one of the keys to India reaching the historic semis.
2022 is going to be a busy year for Savita, who was named captain of the Indian team for the upcoming women's Asia Cup in Muscat. As the Asian Games, Commonwealth Games, and the World Cup are also scheduled for 2022, a potentially career-defining year awaits her. Savita shared her thoughts for the year and career goals in an interview with Manorama.
It is a packed year for the Indian women's hockey team. What are your expectations?
• The Women's Asia Cup 2022 hockey tournament, which is scheduled to begin in Muscat on Friday, is this year's first major tournament for us. Our aim is to win the tournament and qualify for the World Cup in July. India were the champions in the 2017 Asia Cup held in China. That victory heralded a new dawn for women's hockey in India as we went on to perform well at the international arena in the years that followed. We are looking forward to beginning the new season on a high note. It will also be a golden opportunity to book a spot in the 2024 Paris Olympics.
You were in tears after the team's 3-4 loss to Great Britain in the bronze play-off at Tokyo. Have you let go of that disappointment and moved on?
• It was a heartbreaking loss. We were on the verge of creating history by winning the bronze medal. That was why we all felt so lost and broke down. We could put that soul-crushing loss behind us, but we will never forget the lessons we learned from that experience. The only option for me was to rectify mistakes and come back stronger.
The great performance by the women's team in Tokyo has revitalised the sport in the country and inspired many young girls to pursue a career in hockey. Will that create a burden of high expectations?
• We are happy that we could do our bit to popularise the sport in India. Definitely, expectations will be high from us as more people have started to follow the game. I believe it will encourage us to give our best on the field. We will not let our supporters down.
People have been comparing you with the men's hockey team's goalkeeper P. R. Sreejesh. What impact has he made on you as a goalkeeper?
• He is my role model. I have always tried to emulate his positive attitude and offensive instincts. For the past six years, we have been training together at the national camp. His guidance has immensely helped me improve my game.
Do women in Indian sports receive the same treatment as their male counterparts?
• I can't comment on other disciplines, but both national men's and women's hockey teams get equal treatment from the authorities. The Indian Hockey Federation and the Sports Authority of India try their best to provide us with expert training and compete with quality infrastructure. Fair and equal treatment is evident from the fact that both men's and women's teams are using the same training facilities.