After showing their outstanding performances in the Tokyo Olympics, hockey players of Odisha who are members of the National teams, returned to their soil to a rousing welcome by the state and the people.
Women players Deep Grace Ekka and Namita Toppo and men's team members Birendra Lakra and Amit Rohidas were received at the Biju Patnaik International Airport here by Sports & Youth Services Minister Tusharkanti Behera and the department secretary R Vineel Krishna.
Odisha Hockey Promotion Council Chairman Dilip Tirkey, Abhijit Paul of Odisha Olympic Association, several other officials and members of the public were also there to welcome the players who scripted history.
Welcoming the players, Dilip Tirkey who is a former India captain, said, "It is after 41 years that India has won a medal in hockey. The Indian women's team has also performed exceedingly well against some of the top teams in the world at the Olympics. It is a matter of great pride for Odisha Hockey that four of our own played a significant role in making this miracle happen for India!
Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik will felicitate the four players for their Olympic achievements, officials said.
A new era in Hockey has started and Odisha is proud that players from the state have made their mark in the international platform. and this time on they have brought glory not only for their state but the entire nation and we are extremely proud of each one of them. Our Olympians have inspired a generation of young hockey players and will Hockey surely will scale greater heights from here on, minister Behera said.
The Indian men's hockey team secured an Olympic medal after 41 years, beating a plucky Germany 5-4 to secure the bronze in an edge-of-the-seat play-off match.
The women's team too created history and surpassed all expectations by entering the semifinals of the Games for the first time. They, however, lost 3-4 to Great Britain in a hard-fought bronze play-off.
The state has been abuzz with excitement ever since names of its were announced in the team squads and as they moved through the league stages and progressed into the knockouts, there was a sense of pride.
Once the teams came out in flying colours, it became a moment of glory for Odisha too as the state has partnered with Hockey India to sponsor the Indian National teams, men and women, for five years starting 2018.
Birendra Lakra, the legendary defender from Odisha was selected as co vice-captain of the men's team for his second Olympics after missing out on the bus in 2016 because of injury.
If there is anyone who deserves the maximum applause after goalkeeper Sreejesh for saving numerous penalty corners, it's Odisha lad, Amit Rohidas. Amit has proved to be one of the best first-rusher seen at the Tokyo Olympics.
Deep Grace Ekka was named as the joint vice-captain of the Indian women's hockey team for the Tokyo Olympics. She has been one of the most consistent guarding the defence almost single-handedly.
Namita Toppo with 165 caps to her name and one of the most experienced players in the Indian Women's Hockey Team was named in the 18-member squad for the Olympics, making it her second consecutive Olympics after Rio 2016.