Revelry In Manipur As Local Boy Nilakanta Helps India Beat Germany

Imphal: It was celebration time in Manipur soon after the men’s hockey team won the bronze medal at the Olympics.

The cause of the festive mood was not only the end of a 41-year medal drought, but also the role Manipur’s Nilakanta Sharma played in helping the Men in Blue come home with the bronze. After weightlifter Mirabai Chanu’s silver, the 26-year-old midfielder is the other Manipuri who has got India’s medals tally up.

Midfielder Shanglakpam Nilakanta Sharma is the third Olympian from the north-east, after Chanu and boxer Lovlina Borgohain, climb the victory podium.

At Nilakanta’s village, Kontha Ahallup, in the Imphal East district, hundreds of men, women and children, joined by members of his family and neighbours, came out on to the streets to celebrate the victory.

Nilakanta’s father, Inaocha Sharma, said his son called him before the match and took his blessings. Besides Nilakanta, Inaocha has another son and a daughter.

“From early days, Nilakanta was keen to play hockey. He was not a good student. That’s why I had told him that if you want to play hockey, do it with all seriousness and devotion,” the proud father recalled.

“After completing his matriculation, Nilakanta went to Bhopal and enrolled for hockey coaching. Thursday’s performance was the biggest feat of his sporting career,” Inaocha Sharma said in a conversation with IANS over the phone.

Nilakanta’s close friend, Rajkumar Nayanjit Singh, who is leading the celebrations beating drums and dancing on the streets, said the festivities would continue till his buddy returned home.

“The state government must do something big to felicitate Nilakanta,” Singh said on the phone. “After being inspired by the performance of Mirabai Chanu and Nilakanta, more young Manipuri boys and girls would participate in various sports. The government must also support promising sportspersons.”

In Thursday’s match, Hardik Singh, who scored a goal in the 27th minute, stole and passed the ball to Nilakanta, who set up Simranjeet Singh, the substitute, with a superb long pass down the centre of the shooting circle.

A wave of excitement has gripped Imphal and other districts and small towns of the north-eastern state. People of all ages saw the match on big screens put up for the purpose.

An official of Manipur Sports and Youth Affairs Department said that Nilakanta had been to create an interest in hockey in a state that loves football.

“He began his international career with the 2014 Sultan of Johor Cup, where the Indian juniors lifted the title after defeating Great Britain. As a member of the Indian team, Nilakanta had played the Junior World Cup (2016) in Lucknow. He was also a part of the senior national team that played against Belgium during India’s European tour,” the official said.

Praising the team, Manipur Chief Minister N. Biren Singh said in a tweet: “Such a resounding victory for India’s men’s hockey team in Tokyo today. Congratulations to our Men in Blue on winning the bronze medal and this historic win will go down in history. The country is really proud of you today.”

Former hockey player and writer Ningombam Bupenda Meitei said: “As a hockey player I feel proud to see our great sons bringing the bronze medal for India … . I congratulate the entire men’s hockey team of India. It is indeed a long wait after 1980’s gold in the Moscow Olympics.”