Reactions to India’s men’s hockey bronze

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The Indian men’s hockey team defeated Germany 5-4 to win the bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics on Thursday. The medal is India’s 12th hockey medal overall at the Olympics and the first in 41 years. India won the last of its eight hockey gold medals at the 1980 Moscow Games.

Here’s how various players and coaches reacted to India’s bronze medal, which puts them on top of the all-time hockey Olympic medal winners’ list, breaking a tie with Germany.

PR Sreejesh, goalkeeper, Indian men’s hockey team

“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.

“This is a beautiful game. Now we are giving a reason for them to pick up hockey, play the game.”

On his mindset for the game – “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.”

On his role as a senior member of the team – “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.”

On the winning feeling – “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 his post-match video call – “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.”

Manpreet Singh, captain, Indian men’s hockey team

“I don’t know what to say right now, it was fantastic. The effort, the game, we were 3-1 down. I think we deserve this medal. We have worked so hard, the last 15 months were difficult for us also, we were in Bangalore and some of us got COVID also.

“We would like to dedicate this medal to doctors and frontline health workers who have saved so many lives in India.”

On a tense finish – “It was difficult, they got a penalty corner in the last six seconds. We thought we have got to save it with our lives. It is really hard. I am speechless right now.”

On what the medal means for Indian hockey – “We had a long gap when we didn’t get a medal. Now we will get more confidence, yes we can do it. If we can finish on podium in Olympics, we can finish on podium anywhere. It’s just a start here, it hasn’t finished (with this bronze). It’s a great moment for all hockey fans.”

Rupinder Pal Singh, drag-flicker, Indian men’s hockey team

“People were forgetting hockey in India. They loved hockey, but they stopped hoping that we can win. But we won today. They can expect more from us in the future. Keep believing in us.”

Simranjeet Singh, forward, Indian men’s hockey team

“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.

“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.”

Graham Reid, coach, Indian men’s hockey team

“It is a fantastic feeling. It takes a long time to get where these athletes have gotten and after a lot of sacrifices that the whole group has made.

“…I know that apart from the country, this group has been waiting for a medal for a fairly long time and I know how much hockey means to India and I am privileged to help play a part in that.”

On the team being 3-1 down – “Before the game I asked the guys to make sure they bring the next level if something happens, for example, if you are down, you need to bring the next level of play and they did that very well.”

On the penalty corner conceded in the last seconds – “(It is) never over until it is over. It’s always easy to say you should be doing this or that but there are lots of things that go on. It has been one of the signatures of this team, which we have tried to develop and make sure that we can always come back and I think we did that.”

On PR Sreejesh – “Having someone like Sreejesh in the goal is nice, glad that we didn’t have to go into a shootout. He is a stalwart of Indian hockey. He has done a lot of work in the background to get to where he is.”

Roelant Oltmans, former India coach (2015-2017)

It’s fantastic to see the fighting spirit of the team in the second quarter. You could feel that the spirit of the boys was dead good and that they would bring it home. I’m really proud of what they’ve done and it does feel great to have been a very little part of this journey. During the 2016 Olympics, we were ranked No. 13 in the world but we still made the quarterfinals. So we were getting closer, and the groundwork was being laid for the team to strike at the medal. We lost to Belgium then, who went on to become the silver medallists that year.

Hockey has been on the right track in India for a couple of years now, you can see it in the quality of the boys in the team. It’s important that this isn’t a one-day affair but becomes a structural success, because at the end of the day you want to be Olympic champions and world champions. The whole philosophy of Hockey India should be to make sure we maintain this level and make sure we don’t fall out of the top four.

What’s also been crucial is the Hockey India League’s role in unearthing youngsters and giving them the opportunity to brush shoulders with some top foreign names.

Harendra Singh, former coach, Indian men’s, women’s and junior teams

I always say that we Indians carry hockey in our hearts but as coaches and players we’ve not given the country a reason for that love to come alive and to celebrate the sport in four decades. Today, finally that day has come. It’s not one medal. It’s 16 medals travelling to different parts of the country and that’s where the journey for a new age in Indian hockey starts.

I believe at the 2023 World Cup, India will be standing on the podium, not on the right or left but at the centre. We’ve seen this team play fearless hockey throughout the Olympics. The reason is their fitness. They are not afraid to lose the ball. They know even if they lose the ball, within six seconds they can regain possession.

I carry the scars of the 2004 Olympics (Poland scored an equaliser in the final minute and cost India a spot in the semifinals). The medal was almost within touching distance but (we) lost that chance. We cried a lot that day. My heart was in my mouth when Sreejesh was about to make that dying-seconds save today. He made no mistake and that is the brilliance of the boy.

It’s past midnight here (in California) but my heart is so full of joy and I’m certainly not going to get any sleep tonight.

Michael Nobbs, former India coach (2011-2013)

When Harendra (Singh) and I were working on the Indian Junior World Cup team, ‘I’d told him, ‘This is the team that’s going to win you a medal in 2020’. Under pressure, the kids trapped well, they handled the ball well, and those kids have come through now.

When I was with the side in 2012, it was the time the team was transitioning – to the younger ones and the federation too was changing hands. It was the start of weeding out the older guys and getting rid of some of the cultural problems. It’s been a succession of coaches since and especially the Australian guys have done a pretty good job.

The young boys who make up the team today don’t carry the baggage of the old Indian hockey with them. When they walk onto the field, they expect a win out of themselves. In three years’ time, I guarantee you India will be higher up the medal charts.

Cedric D’Souza, former India coach, (2001-2002)

There’s just one word to describe this: Ecstasy. This medal is incredible, and is a culmination of efforts over the years. For me, it’s just goosebumps and hair standing at ends. The most special part about this team is the belief they have shown, their oneness as a unit. They have the speed upfront, they have a solid defense and the ability to just take on any team in the world, and stand out, has been a revelation.

Huge props to coach Graham Reid. Apart from being a great coach, (he is) a brilliant human being who has brought out this support within the team. You can see the hunger to win on the faces of the boys. In the end, it was our fitness, our pressure on the ball and the ability to score and defend really strong (that stood out).

Sreejesh has been outstanding and the unsung hero for me has been Simranjeet (Singh). Incredible performance from a boy who was not in the 16 to come back and play the way he did. Our first wave of rushers at the penalty, Amit (Rohidas) and Sumit have been brilliant with their lines of running. We are now No. 3 in the world and we should now look to get to No. 1.

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