World No. 9 Indian Women’s Hockey Team is currently working hard in training here at the Kalinga Hockey Stadium ahead of their FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifiers Odisha where they face a tough test against World No. 13 USA, and their experienced midfielder Sushila Chanu Pukhrambam believes that the team is determined to put in the hard yards and book their berth in next year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo.
“We know how it felt representing the country at the Olympics when we qualified for it after a 36-year gap last time in Rio. However, when we came back from that outing, there was a unanimous feeling around the group that we need to push ourselves and make sure that we are consistently putting in the performances which will help us in qualifying for the next edition. We have made huge strides from the previous Olympics, and now we are all very determined to secure our place in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics,” said a calm-looking Sushila.
Having missed two major tournaments last year due to a long-term injury, the midfielder returned to the side at the start of this year, but says the journey back to the team has been a tough one. “It was unfortunate that I suffered a long-term injury in 2018, and had to miss major tournaments like the FIH Women’s Hockey World Cup London 2018, the Asian Games 2018 and the AHF Women’s Champions Trophy. It was a very difficult period for me personally as I was low on confidence, and when you are injured, most of the time you are supposed to train alone with your trainer. There were times when I would doubt myself and think about the what-ifs, but the support I received from my family, support staff and my teammates was immense, it helped me in making a comeback,” said Sushila.
The 26-year-old who has 179 International Caps to her credit, has been a regular fixture in the Indian Women’s Hockey team ever since making her debut with the Senior Team in 2009, and was the Captain of the Indian Team at the Rio Olympics. Speaking on the experience of having played at the Olympics, Sushila fondly recalls the moment when she led her team onto the pitch. “I was honored to have been named the Captain of the team in 2016, and it was a surreal experience personally. I had always dreamed about playing for India at the Olympic Games, and when we first stepped onto the field in our first match against Japan, I had goosebumps. I had just recovered from an ACL injury, and to be Captaining the side at the biggest tournament was a proud and emotional moment for me. We have 10 players in this current side who were there in Rio as well, and all of us collectively want to experience that feeling again, and not just that, we want to win a medal for the country this time in Tokyo,” said the Manipur-born midfielder.
Looking forward to the upcoming challenge of playing USA at home, Sushila said their opponents will pose a huge threat but that her team is ready. “We have the best opportunity to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics as we are playing at home against USA. We will have the support of the home crowd, and even though USA are a strong unit, we have full belief in ourselves and in the way we play. We have made huge strides in our game from 2016, and now is the time to show it to the world that the Indian Women’s Hockey team is here to challenge for the top honours, regardless of the opposition we face. That is the kind of confidence that is instilled in the team and we are determined to produce the results in the FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifiers Odisha,” Sushila signed off.