The athletes in Kerala are awarded 60 marks if they make the state team in any sport. So he picked up the stick sport not for the love of it but for the greed of some free marks.
But as fate would have it, the affable Sreejesh grew into one of India’s finest hockey goalkeepers.
He wanted to be a shot putter but that did not happen. Even then hockey was not his choice. He tried his hands at becoming spiker too but that also did not materialise.
Direct ticket to Paris Olympics is one of the best feelings: PR Sreejesh
“In childhood I tried every sport. I started my career in athletics, shot put to be precise. But when I went to sports hostel I got to learn that I have flat foot and coaches told me people with flat foot can’t excel in athletics ,” Sreejesh said during a visit to PTI headquarters along with Hockey India president Dilip Tirkey and skipper Harmanpreet Singh.
Flat-foot is a common condition in which the arches on the inside of the feet flatten when pressure is put on them. When a person with flatfeet stand up, the feet point outward, and the soles of the feet fall and touch the floor.
It happens because the tissues holding the joints in the foot together (called tendons) are loose. The tissues tighten and form an arch as children grow older.
“Then I opted for volleyball because parents told me if you play volleyball you will get job. I also tried my hands in basketball. There is a system in Kerala, if you play for Kerala state team you get 60 marks in 10th and 12th.
“So I thought which is the easiest sport where you can make the state team. Hockey was not that popular in Kerala. The competition is less, you just have to be in top 18 to make the state team and I chose to be a hockey player.”
Further, he chose to be a goalkeeper, so that he does not have to run around like the forwards or defenders. He was happy doing a lap of the ground and then just blocking the shots under the bar.
“I was chubby kid and opted for goalkeeping because you don’t have to run and bend your back with the stick like other hockey players,” he said.
“In never had any expectation, I never thought I will go that far in hockey. In Kerala there is not that craze about hockey but now it is changing and to bring that change you need something to show. I grew up litening that PT Usha (also from Kerala) missed an Olympic medal by a whisker but now I have medal to show.”
Sreejesh has been’s India’s first choice goalkeeper for the last 17 years and has mentored the next generation of keepers, including Krishan Bahadur Pathak and Suraj Karkera.
“Goalkeeping is all about experience, how to handle pressure. Until and unless you are on the field under the post you don’t realise the pressure. My job is simple, just to make the young goalkeepers understand the basics, how to handle pressure.
“Besides, Krishan we also have Suraj, Pawan, they are really good. The more the competition, the better it is,” he said.
The yellow metal at Hangzhou is Sreejesh’s second Asian Games gold and the lanky custodian said their target was pretty clear before departing for the Chinese city.
“In tournaments like Asian Games, first you have pressure of qualifying for knockout rounds and then immediately there is pressure of semifinals and final. In Asian Games there are back-to-back matches, so there is added pressure.
“In 2008 we couldn’t qualify, in 2012 we had a disappointing campaign, so we had one thing in mind before going to Hangzhou — win the gold and earn a direct ticket for Paris Olympics. We didn’t want to go through the pressure and rigours of qualifier,” he said.
“The gold medal in Asian Games is the easiest way to qualify for Olympics. the pressure is off now, now we can prepare our best in the next eight months.”