From Suraj Karkera to midfielder Sushila Pukhrambam, here’s a look into how players have been coping with this pandemic and what return to playing involves for an athlete.
Goalkeeper Suraj Karkera
During the pandemic Goalkeeper Suraj Karkera had decided to stay back in SAI, Bengaluru as Covid-19 cases were high in Mumbai, where his parents live. During this time in SAI, he spent most days in his room reading books and watching matches from previous years. Unfortunately for Karkera, when his teammates returned to Camp in August after a six-week break, Karkera was admitted in the city hospital due to dengue.
“This year has been an absolute roller coaster ride. I had decided to stay back in SAI because I felt travelling to Mumbai was not safe for me as it had too many cases of Covid-19. But as fate would have it, I got dengue just when we were getting together to restart the camp. It has since been a steady road to recovery and full fitness,” expressed the young goalkeeper who was part of the Indian Team that won Bronze in the 2017 Hockey World League Final and was part of the team that witnessed Asia Cup success in Dhaka in 2017 as well.
Now, Karkera’s primary focus is to make the most of his time with senior stalwarts like PR Sreejesh, SV Sunil, Akashdeep Singh, Manpreet Singh among other players to hone his skills as a goalkeeper.
“I feel fortunate to have been in the National Coaching Camp with stalwart players including someone like Sardar Singh who had so much experience. Now with senior players like Sreejesh, Manpreet, Sunil, Akashdeep etc around, there is a lot that I learn from them. They are constantly guiding me on the field and off it. My focus now is to improve my skill, footwork and timing to be ready for the next assignment and be in the reckoning for team selection,” Karkera said.
Indian Hockey Team Preparation for Tokyo Olympics
Indian men’s hockey team defender Kothajit Singh Khadangbam, who has played over 200 matches for Team India, has said that the national side is shaping up well for the Olympics since resuming sports activities in August 2020. Kothajit also said that the Indian team returned to the pitch at the right time and are moving forward with each sports activities session.
“It’s been great to be back on the pitch. We have seen a lot of improvement over the last two months and we are shaping up well for the Olympics. We have returned to the pitch at the right time and therefore we have enough months to get back to our full form and get even better as a side thereafter. We are really thankful to Hockey India and SAI for putting all the safety measures in place in quick time so that we can focus on the Olympics,”
Sushila Chanu Pukhrambam
Having played more than 180 International Caps for the national team, Sushila Chanu Pukhrambam is one of the most experienced players in the current Indian set-up and believes that sharing her insights with the youngsters is what keeps her going.
The Indian Women’s Hockey Team’s experienced Midfielder Sushila is no stranger to the Olympic Games, having Captained the side that took part at the 2016 Rio Olympics. The 28-year-old has remained a consistent performer with the team and is hopeful that she will have the opportunity to represent the tricolour in Tokyo next year.
“It has been a strange year for everyone. As a player of the national team, I have always been used to a fast-paced environment, where we play match after match, without getting much time to ponder over things. However, now that we’ve had so much time on our hands, I’ve been able to look back on a lot of things, and also prepare for the next phase of my career. We have the opportunity to create history by not just playing in consecutive Olympics for the first time, but also by making it to the podium,” expressed Sushila.
Midfielder Namita Toppo
With over 160 international caps to her name, Indian women’s hockey team midfielder Namita Toppo has no shortage of experience and she wants to ensure that she can always help her team in all situations.
“I have been fortunate enough to have played the game for so long and with some fantastic players. It is a period in the women’s game where we are all very confident, and the self-belief we have is really strong,” said the 25-year-old. “With Hockey India’s continuous support, we had managed to qualify for the Olympics after a gap of 36 years in 2016, and then performed exceptionally well and have made history to qualify for back to back Olympic Games, therefore we want to continue on this path, and my aim will always be to help my team in all situations, whether it is on the field or off it,” she added.
“I believe anything that happens in a team sport, happens because of the unity and the spirit of the team. If I have been recognised for my performances, it is because everyone – starting from the chief coach and the support staff to my teammates, Hockey India and SAI – have given their best in all areas to achieve our objectives,” said the midfielder.