PR Sreejesh (33) is The World Games Athlete of the Year 2021! What makes the hockey goalkeeper so special that he gathered more than 127,647 votes from his fans? Let’s learn more about PR Sreejesh and what sport of The World Games he would perform in, if not hockey.
How did you start with Hockey, and why did you choose your sport?
I began my hockey journey at the GV Raja Sports Academy in Trivandrum, Kerala. Interestingly, no one supported me when I chose to pursue hockey, because hockey is not as popular in the region I come from. In Kerala (my home state) it's mostly athletics, football and swimming which are popular sports. At first, even I was not sure about hockey and I had tried different sports like volleyball, athletics etc. but I wasn't the best at them. Then my coach suggested I try hockey, because it would be easier for me to make the state team as there would not be too much competition. I was about 12 years old when I started playing hockey and within two years, I got called up for the national camp.
What do you consider your biggest strength in Hockey?
I think my biggest strength now is my maturity. I am calmer on the pitch, and I feel that's my strength. I have really had to work on this aspect, because in my earlier days it would really frustrate me if I conceded a goal, and that would have an effect on my performance in the rest of the match. But over time I have learnt to be calmer, and that maturity comes with time.
How did it feel to win Bronze at the Olympic Games in Tokyo? What was the team’s and your key to success?
It was undoubtedly the best moment of my life. After we won the match, I went back to the pitch, sat by the goal post and recalled all the ups and downs I had been through to achieve this feat. It was a very special moment for all of us. I feel, the team's bonding, the understanding we shared, and how we executed our responsibilities and were willing to chip in if another player made a mistake, I think all these things mattered a lot in our success.
Has your life changed after the Olympic bronze?
Life has not changed in many ways, but the honour and recognition we received from the whole country was something incredible. Everyone recognizing this achievement, giving not just me but my entire family that respect, is amazing. My father is currently in Canada with my elder brother and even there when he introduces himself, he says, I am PR Sreejesh, the Olympic medalist's father. That is the biggest honour for me.
What is your next goal?
Definitely to win a medal in the World Cup which is happening next year in Bhubaneswar, India. It's always been a dream to win a World Cup medal in front of my home crowd. Another goal is to help India win a direct berth to the Paris 2024 Olympics by winning the Asian Games.
What advice would you give to boys and girls dreaming of a career at the top in sport?
Follow your dreams and don't ever give up. Always make your legacy in the sport.
There are plans to include Hockey 5s in the Sports Garden (as a demonstration sport) at The World Games 2022. Have you ever played Hockey 5s?
I have actually never had the opportunity to play Hockey 5's, but I think it's a good format to promote, particularly in those countries where it's hard to invest in a full-size hockey pitch. This format will definitely promote the sport to more countries, and they can become part of the hockey family.
If you could not choose Hockey, which of the sports of The World Games 2022 would you like to try and why?
I think I would try Tug of War. It's a popular sport in Kerala (my home state), and it is traditionally played during our festival Onam.
The World Games is a multi-sport event staged every four years by the International World Games Association, organised with the support of the International Olympic Committee. The 11th edition of The World Games will be held in Birmingham, Alabama, USA, 7-17 July 2022. 3,600 athletes from 34 sports and over 100 countries will take part in The World Games.