BHUBANESWAR: Defender Birendra Lakra, who played a starring role in India's bronze medal triumph at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, announced his international retirement on Thursday. Lakra's decision to quit the game came hours after his teammate and drag-flicker Rupinder Pal Singh announced to retire from the game.
"There is no doubt that hockey is my first love. Earlier, I had a plan to announce my retirement after sustaining an injury in 2016, but Hockey India officials and my teammates helped me to overcome the situation and continue to serve the game", said Lakra.
Lakra, who hails from Odisha and had played 201 matches for the country, was the joint vice-captain of the team in Tokyo. "My dream come true when I bagged the Olympic medal. Now, it's time for me to make way for the youngsters. It's a coincidence that we (Rupinder and me) announced retirement on the same day. If I will get an opportunity to serve players from my state, I will always be there for them ", added Lakra.
A product of SAIL Hockey Academy, Rourkela, Lakra has represented India at the 2009 Youth Olympic Festival held in Sydney, the 2009 Junior World Cup, the 2010 SAAF Games in Dhaka and the 2011 Champions Challenge tournament in South Africa. Having progressed through the ranks of the junior team set-up, Lakra made his debut for the senior national team in the 2010 South Asian Games and has been part of India's various memorable moments such as the 2014 Asian Games glory, bronze medal feat in the World League Final in 2015 in Raipur, silver medal-winning campaign at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and FIH Men’s Series Finals Bhubaneswar Odisha 2019 triumph.
In his long-serving career, the two-time Olympian has featured in almost all the major tournaments, including the FIH Men's Hockey World Cup in 2014 and 2018 respectively. However, he missed out on the Rio Olympics 2016 due to a knee injury and made a strong comeback to the Indian set-up by playing a pivotal role in the team's gold medal-winning feat at the 2016 Asian Champions Trophy.
Congratulating Birendra Lakra for his contribution to Indian hockey, Gyanendro Ningombam, Hockey India president said, “Birendra has for many years been an integral part of Indian Team’s defence and he has given fans across the globe some very memorable performances. Hockey India wishes him the very best in his future endeavours."