Few Indian hockey fans will forget the image of Savita Punia breaking down after their loss to Great Britain in the Tokyo Olympics. The Indian women’s hockey team, playing their first medal match at the Olympics, went down to Great Britain 3-4 in the bronze medal-playoff match. It was an emotional moment for the players and the country.
Savita Punia was excellent in the goal mouth, dishing out gravity-defying saves with excellent reflexes. The Indian women’s hockey team goalkeeper thwarted many attempts on goal. Her brilliance was suitably awarded when she won the FIH Award for Best Goalkeeper.
Putting the Tokyo Olympics near miss behind them, the Indian women’s hockey team is now focussed on winning a gold medal in the Asian Games. It is scheduled to be held next year. A gold medal in the continental event will give India a direct qualification to the 2024 Paris Olympics.
In a virtual interaction organized by Hockey India, Savita Punia said a gold medal at the Asian Games will help avenge the pain of Tokyo. She said:
"The whole world supported us after our fourth-place finish at the Olympics but when you get so close to a medal and come back empty handed, it is a kind of pain which only athletes can understand. We want to go tournament wise. Our main focus is on the Asia Cup, which is a World Cup qualifier and then there will be the World Cup and then it will be the Asian Games."
The last time the Indian women's hockey team won a gold medal at the Asian Games was in the 1982 edition. In the last edition, held in 2018, the Indian hockey team won a silver medal. Savita Punia said the Indian team will be looking to better that performance.
"Coming fourth in the Olympics took a lot of effort but just like we missed the bronze at Olympics, we had missed the gold in last Asian Games, so we need to put extra effort. We know how we struggled to qualify for the Olympics after missing the gold, so it will be the biggest tournament for us next year. We will need to win a gold at the Asian Games, nothing else will do. We will have to take responsibility individually to work on ourselves and start now."
Not taking any tournament for granted, says Savita Punia
Savita Punia opined that since the Indian team cannot be overconfident at the Asian Games. She added:
"Sometimes some players might feel that since we reached fourth in Olympics, we will do well in the Asian Games but we know we have always had close matches against Asian teams like China, Korea, Japan. So, our mindset should be that the Asian Games will have to be the best tournament for us so that preparation for the Olympics can be easier, so that the pressure of qualifying ends and we can qualify and focus on Olympics."
Savita Punia said the long Olympic preparation and a good quadrennial Games have changed a lot of things in the team. Savita Punia explained:
"We learned a lot during the Olympic preparation and we have become more responsible now, it will help us. Now there is not one person in a leadership role, it is about making everyone educated to be leaders. We have worked a lot on fitness, mindset and self-confidence in the last 3-4 years and it made a difference and it showed in the Olympics, now we go with a different mindset for all our training."