ROURKELA: As India broke its 41-year Olympic medal drought in hockey, Sundargarh district erupted in celebration. Known as the cradle of the game which has produced some of the best players of field hockey, it had two young sons of soil - Amit Rohidas (28) and Birendra Lakra (31) - play their part in the historic bronze.
While Lakra is a seasoned defender and two-time Olympian, it was Amit’s first Olympics and his exceptional talent as the team’s midfielder came in for praise from the best talents in the game. Some hailed Amit as the unsung hero of Indian Hockey.
Over the past three decades, Sundargarh has produced 64 junior and senior hockey players including six male Olympians but only Amit was witness to history being made at Tokyo.
Amit’s village Saunamora in Balishankara block, around 120 km from Rourkela, is no stranger to hockey celebrities. Former Indian skipper Dilip Tirkey belongs to the village where congratulatory messages poured in for Amit’s family even as his neighbourhood erupted in joy with people dancing and distributing sweets. Amit’s elder brother Niranjan, mother Golapi, sister Sushmita, sister-in-law Dushmanti and other family members watched the roller-coaster match on TV and burst into joy once the team sailed past Germany 5-4.
A farmer, Niranjan said Amit called them from the field shortly after the match ended. “We congratulated him and shared his happiness together. We are excited and overwhelmed at the achievement of Amit who brought glory to his village, Odisha and India. Later, during a video-conferencing call, Niranjan and his mother talked to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.
Golapi said, “I am happy for the Indian team for winning an Olympic medal after 41 years and proud of Amit for helping his team make it possible.” Among others Dilip Tirkey’s brother Francis, Saunamora sarpanch and Balishankara BDO visited Amit’s family and congratulated them. Belonging to the scheduled caste community, Amit is the first non-tribal player from the district to make it big.
His journey to Olympics began 17 years back in 2004 when as a financially struggling school boy he was spot selected during a talent hunt following which he was admitted to the Rourkela-based Panposh Sports Hostel (PSH). Amit’s rise in Hockey helped improve his family’s financial condition.
At the PSH, Amit learnt the nuances of the stick game from his first coach Bijay Lakra, whose native house is just 200 metre away from the youngster’s house. Bijay said he felt a sense of personal fulfilment at the performance of Amit in all the Olympic matches.
“Amit was particularly impressive in the medal winning match,” he said and added he stole the thunder and caught the attention of commentators and hockey lovers. Amit with his heroic performance allowed no room to the German opponents in the penalty corner region and acted as his team’s second goalkeeper.
The PSH where Amit honed his skills too erupted in joy at its former inmate’s achievement. With Bijay taking to the drums, the handful of hockey trainees at the hostel danced and celebrated the achievement of their senior. Participating in the celebrations former Olympian and PSH passout, Lazarus Barla said, “Today is a golden day for Indian hockey and from here on, the country looks forward to regain its past glory in the game.”
Lazarus said throughout the Olympic matches Amit played well and the last six seconds of the medal-winning match had increased heartbeats when Germany got a penalty corner to level the 5-4 score. He said five defenders including Amit and the goalkeeper had turned the tide in India’s favour else the match could have gone out of hand.
Coach Kalu Charan Chaudhary, who had trained Amit between 2010 and 2014, said he was filled with pride with his trainee’s achievement. The youngster has got what he deserved, he said adding Odisha government also deserves kudos for sponsoring the hockey team.
At Sundargarh town, members of BJD took out a rally to celebrate the occasion and former Sundargarh MLA Yogesh Singh led a BJD delegation to meet and congratulate Amit’s family. They also celebrated the occasion at Bisra Square in Rourkela.
Birendra’s sister Sunita Lakra and his niece at Rourkela watched the medal winning match on television. Sunita said, Birendra called her over phone and she congratulated him and the team. Birendra’s former coach at the RSP-run SAIL Hockey Academy Raju Saini said Amit and goalkeeper Sreejesh played vital roles in India’s victory, adding Birendra was unlucky to be rested due to a calf muscle injury.