Savita Punia ready to script hockey history at Olympics

The veteran goalkeeper feels the women’s hockey team has matured and gathered enough experience since the Rio Olympics to challenge for a medal at Tokyo.

By Rahul Venkat

A safe pair of hands and a pillar between the posts, Indian hockey women’s team vice-captain Savita Punia is confident that India will be among the medal contenders at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.

The Haryana native was upbeat about Indian women’s hockey team’s chances. According to the fixtures released on Friday, Indian women open against The Netherlands on July 24, 2021.

“I think we have a great chance to make history at the Tokyo Olympics. We have a good mix of experience and youngsters in our side and all our bases are covered,” Savita Punia said.

“We have competed against top teams in the recent past and we have a strong belief in our abilities. If we play to our potential, we will surely win a medal at the Olympics next year.”

Savita Punia feels the women's hockey team is capable of winning a medal at Tokyo

The goalkeeper, who is among skipper Rani Rampal’s 'brains trust', was part of the Indian team that played at the Rio 2016 Olympics.

The Indian girls had made it to the Summer Games in Rio after a long gap. They had last played at the Moscow 1980 Olympics. India started well in Rio bouncing back from a two-goal deficit to finish on even terms with Japan.

However, the Indian hockey women’s team then fell to Great Britain, Australia, USA and Argentina to finish bottom of the group and Savita Punia admitted to being overwhelmed by the occasion.

“It was absolutely heartbreaking for us to be knocked out in the group stage. I feel our team was raw at that time and we made a few mistakes,” felt the 30-year-old Savita Punia.

“Now, we have a much stronger side and I am sure we will be able to put the nightmare in Rio behind us. We have certainly changed the way we operate on and off the field since then.

“The experience at the Rio Olympic Games will certainly hold us in good stead for the next one in Tokyo.”

In Tokyo, Indian women are in a tough group alongside the Dutch, Belgium, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland and South Africa.

Coach Sjoerd Marijne had earlier stated that the aim was to reach the quarter-finals and from thereon, it would be anybody’s game in the knockouts.