Savita Punia, the Indian women’s hockey team’s goalkeeper, is a vital cog in the core group. The team's vice-captain produced some stellar performances by thwarting a barrage of attacks on the Indian team in the recently concluded Tokyo Olympics 2021.
Standing like a rock between the goal post and the opposition, Savita Punia won accolades with breath-taking saves and reflexes. Although the Indian women’s hockey team narrowly lost out on a medal, the team’s resilience to bounce back when pushed to a wall won the hearts of many. Punia was at the heart of it all.
Her heroics at the goal post meant Savita Punia’s hard work wouldn’t go noticed. The Indian vice-captain has been nominated for the FIH Women's Goalkeeper of the Year award alongside Argentina's Belen Succi and Great Britain's Maddie Hinch.
The Indian women’s hockey team had a horrid start to the Olympics, losing their first three matches to be down in the dumps. However, wins over Ireland and South Africa helped the team nudge into the quarterfinals where the Indian team got the better of Australia in a spirited performance.
However, losing to Argentina in the semi-finals and subsequently to Great Britain in the bronze medal play-off broke the hearts of fans and the gallant players. Although the medal remained elusive, the Indian women’s hockey team came back enriched with experience.
Savita Punia said the feeling of achieving something big has finally sunk in. The goalkeeper said the journey to get to Tokyo will be cherished for a long time. She added:
"Now that I have finally had some time to reflect on our performance, I do feel we achieved something outstanding, and the best part was the journey to get till here over the past five years. We have endured a lot as a team and as individuals we have faced tremendous odds to reach this level. I think we will always cherish this journey."
Savita Punia said after beating Australia 1-0 in the quarterfinals, the thought of winning a medal seemed very realistic. She added:
"Though we lost very closely to Argentina in the semi-final, we wanted to give everything against Great Britain and we really wanted that medal around our necks and after beating Australia, we really believed this was achievable."
Inconsolable Savita Punia – a sight that every Indian hockey fan will remember
The sight of Savita Punia breaking into inconsolable tears after India’s loss to Great Britain will be remembered by Indian hockey fans. The team’s analytical coach Janneke Schopman tried her best to comfort the goalkeeper but Savita Punia couldn’t be consoled.
From finishing in 12th place five years ago in Rio de Janeiro to being a serious medal contender in Tokyo, the Indian women’s hockey team has come a long way. Savita Punia feels the team is now well poised to breach benchmarks and expectations. Savita Punia explained:
“I feel the expectations will grow. People have seen that we can perform at top tournaments, and I believe we can live up to these expectations. We now have experience and the team is poised to achieve bigger feats. The experience in Rio made us believe in ourselves and we really worked hard to get to this level, now we will work on taking it to the next level.”
Savita Punia all set to take on next challenges
With just three years to go until the 2024 Paris Olympics, Savita Punia said the team's priority will be to regroup, analyze and hit the ground running for the upcoming season. With the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games up next, 2022 is a packed calendar for Indian hockey.
"I actually can't wait to return to camp in SAI, Bengaluru. It has become a place of comfort for us. There have been lot of celebrations following the Olympics and now it's time to get back to reality. Next year is crucial with the Asian Games and our priority will be to win the gold medal so we automatically qualify for the Paris Olympics. We will resume training with that target in mind.”