BENGALURU: Manipur has produced a number of hockey players of international repute with 1988 Seoul Olympian Thoiba Singh being the most famous. After a gap of 28 years, the northeastern state will see three from their region wearing the Indian colours in the hockey competitions at the Rio Olympic Games. While young Sushila Chanu will lead the women’s campaign, the duo of Chinglensana Singh and Kothajit Singh have been picked in the men’s team.
The selection of the three is a reflection of the talent the region possesses, which for years has struggled to come to the fore due to lack of government support.
As they prepare to head to their dream destination, Chinglensana and Kothajit hope that they would inspire players from the region to battle odds and pick up the stick. “Pursuing sport in Manipur is very difficult because facilities for the sport are very little. The government doesn’t help much and it is left to the families to chip in. It’s just your family that helps,” pointed out midfielder Chinglensena. The players’ accomplishment has brought much joy to the people there. Talking about the people’s response back home, Chinglensana explained, “Not just at home but the entire village is brimming with joy. There have been many hockey players from my village, but I’m the first Olympian.”
Life has been anything but a smooth ride for the 24-year-old. His parents separated when he was a child. He was left in the care of his uncles who found it difficult to make ends meet. Soon, he found a role model in former international player Brojen Singh. “I started playing hockey in 2002 and it was very difficult in the beginning. My uncle was not working. Brojen bhai gave me everything. He helped with equipment, kit, even gave me money. If I’m playing hockey today, it’s only because of him,” revealed the youngster from Bashikhong in Imphal East, whose name Chinglensena means ‘hill, place and gold’ in his native language (Chin hill, Len place, Sana gold.).
Kothajit, who is younger than his statemate, was a standby for the London Games, a scenario which pushed him towards becoming a better player. “I expected to be part of the team because I had worked hard. But I couldn’t make it. I was still young. So I decided to prepare for the next Olympics and keep performing well,” said the defender.
Recall his childhood days, Kothajit, a product of SAI, Lucknow, said it was his brothers who helped in nurturing his career. “There was a park close to where I lived. From the beginning, my brothers and I were interested in hockey. Financially, the situation in our household was difficult as my father was a manager in a store that sold coats and blazers, but nothing special. We were always aware that our elder brothers needed to find work quickly. Fortunately, they found employment and helped me shape my career.”
According to the national coaches, Kothajit is among the fittest players in the squad. Kothajit believes it has been earned by sheer hard work. “I pay attention to gym work, eating and sleeping. Even on Sundays, I train in the gym. When I go back home to Imphal, I do a lot of running, endurance training. I was very skinny earlier, with not much energy. My fitness was zero. But I worked on it quickly. My fitness has improved over a period of 4-5 years. It’s now in my head that I need to do everything quickly,” he revealed. The shy duo, are looking to leave a success trail for the hockey players of Manipur to follow.