India defeated Germany at the Oi Hockey Stadium to annex one of its sweetest victories in its sporting history. After a wait of 41 years Graham Reid and his boys showed a great yearning to achieve the feat of securing an Olympic medal and fought back from two goals behind to first restore parity at 3-3 and then scored another brace before winning 5-4. The whole nation had dreamt and dreamt of this moment for more than four decades, and when it is finally realised not only the people of the country but those in other hockey loving nations will have felt proud for India. Baring the thrashing it received at the hands of Australia, the Indian players displayed outstanding skills and characters throughout the tournament. Eventual champion Belgium turned out be India’s nemesis again in Tokyo too, after ending her run at Rio Olympics in the quarter finals, handing out a semi-final defeat, but there were little to distinguish between both teams in the match and if the rub of the green was on India’s side on that day anything could have happened. Coach Reid captured the spirit in the Indian camp nowadays recalling how he had a chat with his team before the match began about not losing the hope for a comeback at any stage of a match. These crop of players have the belief that they are world beaters and are able to find another level, a next level when things go bad. As we look back over the performance of the Indian men’s hockey team since the Rio Olympics where it finished in the eighth position, it can be safely declared that we have reclaimed our deserved place in the hockey world and justified our position as the third ranked hockey team (behind Australia and Belgium). However, it will not be wrong to state that in order to reach the present level of strength there was a significant price paid. Since the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, the team has received Rs 50 crores as part of Annual Calendar for Training and Competition funding. On top of this, the team received Rs 16.80 lakhs under the Target Olympic Podium Scheme from the Sports Authority of India, making the government contribution in the preparation for the last five years to Rs 50.20 crore. In the end it turned out to be a fruitful investment having churned out a bronze in the Olympics already and more medals and coveted tournaments sure to be collected in the kitty in the immediate future.
On another realm, the state got one more reason to revel with 26-year-old midfielder of the Indian men hockey team Sh Nilakanta Sharma adding another medal for the state. Nilakanta, Mirabai Chanu and Lovlina Borgohain made it three athletes from the north east region to climb the victory podium and we are very proud of them. Not surprisingly, there were frantic celebrations at Kontha Ahallup, the native village of Nilakanta, after the historic win, as friends and families ( and perhaps even his few foes if he has any) came out into the streets to celebrate the win. His home fans have assured that the dancing and celebration will continue till their favourite son returns home. It is obvious that Nilakanta’s feat will rejuvenate the zeal for the game of hockey in the tiny north-eastern which incidentally has produced dozens of world class hockey players including P Nilakomol, Ksh Thoiba, Tiken and surprisingly the current president of the officiating body of the sports in the country Hockey India Gyanendra Ningombam. We are very happy that the chief minister N Biren has given assurance to Nilakanta during an impromptu conversation following the win that a suitable job will be provided to him, besides the Rs 75 lakh bounty that he will be receiving on account of winning an Olympic bronze medal. Biren reportedly asked the hockey player who is serving as a senior ticket collector in Indian Railways about his expectation from the state government and latter sought a job related to sports to which the chief minister obliged. Notably, the state had appointed silver medal winning weightlifter Mirabai Chanu to the post of DSP (sports) in the state police department. Mirabai was also working as a ticket collector for the railways and chief minister Biren assured Nilakanta that, like her, his ticket collection days are over.
Our next focus will be on the bronze medal match of women hockey of the Olympics between India and Great Britain where our own state girl P Sushila will be starring. Another metal to the collection will make an unforgettable climax to the Olympics for the state.