The 30-year-old goalkeeper has been the mainstay of Indian defence for quite some time now.

The Indian women’s hockey team goalkeeper Savita Punia has admitted that they were less experienced during the 2016 Rio Olympics, but things are different this time around as they are preparing for the Tokyo Games which have been postponed to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Savita Punia reflected on her team’s journey and said that all players have gained valuable experience from the Rio Olympics which will help them in the upcoming Olympic Games.

She recalled, “The Olympic Games will always be the pinnacle tournament for any sportsperson. All of us dream of not just participating in the competition, but also of winning a medal for our country. It was fantastic to take part in the Rio Olympics in 2016. We had qualified for the big competition after 36 years and we were very excited to be in the midst of the best athletes from around the world.”

“The feeling was unparalleled when we were soaking in the entire environment in Rio. The buzz of the fans, spreading colour around the different sporting venues lifts and motivates all sportspeople instantly. We started decently at Rio but didn’t manage to get over the group stage. I feel our team was raw at that time and we made a few mistakes. Now, we have a much stronger side and the experience at the Olympic Games will certainly hold us in good stead for the next one in Tokyo.”

The Indian women’s hockey team has never been able to win a medal at the Olympics. They came close in 1980 at the Moscow Olympics but failed to capture the medal as they finished on the fourth position. Savita Punia feels that all the players have changed immensely in the last few years which was evident during their qualification campaign for the Tokyo Olympics.

She remarked, “We have certainly changed the way we operate on and off the field since the 2016 Olympics. We have recorded great victories in the last four years which includes Asia Cup 2017 and FIH Women’s Series Finals Hiroshima 2019.”

“It was absolutely amazing to book a berth at the Tokyo Olympics through the FIH Olympic Qualifiers 2019 in front of our home crowd. We desperately needed one goal in the second leg match against USA and Rani stepped up for us once again in the last quarter of the match. We never stopped believing in ourselves and that was the key aspect in our game on that day.”

Savita Punia feels that they have a good chance to create history at the Tokyo Games. “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. 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 for India at the Olympics next year,” she concluded.