Imphal: Every family, every player has a story to tell. Yet for Sanglakpam Nilakanta Sharma, an Olympian who just won a bronze medal in Indian Men’s Hockey team in the Tokyo Olympics 2020, it’s been more a tale of being humiliated, ignored and marginalized. Despite participating and winning nearly a dozen international tournaments and matches, only a few people including his own family and close friends know about his achievements. But his zeal, perseverance, and talent finally led him to the path of success.
There was a time when Nilikanta returning to Manipur after he and his team won gold at the Uttar Pradesh Hockey Junior World Cup in 2016 had to trudge back home from the airport all alone with not a single soul in sight to appreciate and cheer the laurels he brought with him. His name came to be taken only after he was selected at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics Test Event for Hockey (Sr Men) held in Tokyo, Japan from 17 August to 21 August in 2019. Indian Team won the Gold Medal in that event, his mother S Kunjarani told The North East Affairs.
Born to Sanglakpam Inaocha Sharma and Sanglakpam ongbi Kunjarani Devi, at Kontha Ahallup Makha Leikai, Imphal East district, Nilakanta began his schooling at Yumnam Tampha Junior High School, studying from Class I to VII, and then at Heingang High School up to Class X and finished Class XII at the Army School, Leimakhong.
However, his love for the game of Hockey began in the early 2000s when he was only 7/8 years old. For the first time in 2002, he joined the Posterior Hockey Academy Manipur (PHAM) where he trained till 2009 under the guidance of Late Waribam Herojit, Ningthoujam Chandikumar and Kshetrimayum Romesh. Later, he shifted to a Hockey academy managed by Olympian Ashok Dhyanchand in Bhopal where he could access many facilities which were not available in Manipur.
Over time, he was selected for various national camps and began as one of the most successful professional hockey players, not many of his compatriots knew and his progress as a hockey player. He has represented the Indian Men Hockey team in a dozen international tournaments and test matches which include: 4th Nations Invitational Tournament (Men) at Hamilton, New Zealand from 14 January to 28 January 2018. Indian team won a silver medal. Twenty-seventh Sultan of Azlan Shah Cup at Ipoh, Perek, Malaysia from 3 March to 10 March 2028; Hero Asian Champions Trophy 2018 (Men) at Muscat, Oman from 18 October to 28 October 2018. Indian Team won the Gold medal. Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup at Bhubaneswar, India from 28 November to 16 December 2018; 28th Sultan of Azlan Shah Cup at Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia from 23 March to 30 March 2019. Indian team won Silver Medal; Australia Tour (Sr Men) at Perth, Australia from 8 May to 17 May 2019; FIH Men’s Series Finals Bhubaneswar Odisha 2019 at Bhubaneswar, India from 6 June to 15 June 2019. Indian Team won the Gold medal; Tokyo 2020 Olympics Test Event for Hockey (Sr Men) at Tokyo, Japan from 17 August 21 August 2019. Indian team won the Gold Medal; Belgium Tour (Sr Men) at Antwerp, Belgium from 26 September to 3 October 2019; and FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifiers Odisha (Men) at Bhubaneswar, India from 1 November to 2 November 2019 (Winner).
Nilakanta is among the eight Hockey Olympians Manipur has ever produced so far.
Pangambam Nilkamal was the first Manipuri to participate in the Olympics in 1984. He represented India as a goalkeeper of India’s men’s hockey team. Khetrimayum Thoiba, who is known for his stamina and speed on the field, represented India in the Olympics of 1988. Khadangbam Kothajit in 2012 and 2016 and Kangujam Chinglensana in 2016. Thokchom Anuradha also represented India in the 2016 Olympics as a forward player of India’s women’s hockey team. The other two are Pukhrambam Sushila Chanu (Halfback player and former captain of the India Women’s National Hockey team); Waikhom Suraj Lata Devi (former captain of the India women’s national hockey team). However, Nilakanta is the only person among them whose team has won a medal in any Olympics – that’s Tokyo Olympics 2020.
So far, Manipur has produced 19 Olympians who competed in five disciplines viz, hockey, boxing, weightlifting, judo and archery. For the 2020 Tokyo Olympics which began on 23 July and continued till 8 August, five athletes from Manipur would compete in four disciplines- hockey, boxing, weightlifting and judo. Saikhom Mirabai who competed in weightlifting was the first Indian to win a medal (silver) in the Tokyo Olympics.