Nilakanta Sharma hopes Olympic bronze will inspire youngsters of Manipur to take up hockey

New Delhi, Sep 16 (PTI): Indian men’s hockey team midfielder Nilakanta Sharma hopes his contribution to the country’s bronze medal-winning feat at the Tokyo Olympics will inspire a generation of youngsters from his home state Manipur to take up the sport professionally.

Nilakanta was a vital cog in India’s midfield in Tokyo, where the country ended a 41-year-old Olympic medal drought.

Before Tokyo, India’s last medal — a gold — came in the 1980 Moscow Games.

“Definitely there is a lot of potential for Manipur hockey to grow further. A lot of good things are happening in the state and the emphasis is on creating good infrastructure. I hope my performance in Tokyo has inspired more youngsters from my state to take up hockey,” the 26-year-old said in a Hockey India release.

Nilakanta, who was promoted to the senior rank in 2017, a year after winning the FIH Junior World Cup in Lucknow, believes the key to success for a player is continuous improvement.

He is targeting more laurels next year.

“I have had some time to introspect about my own performance over these past few years with the senior team. I think I have been very fortunate to have played along with some of the best players in India and have been able to learn a lot from them.

“I always like to keep things simple and execute what is expected of me. Each player is assigned a certain role by the coach and I just try to stick to it,” he said.

“I believe there is a lot of scope for me to improve my own game from here on and build on this performance in Tokyo. It was absolutely an incredible feeling to win the bronze medal.”

On a break after the success in Tokyo, Nilakanta is eager to regroup with his teammates at the SAI Centre in Bengaluru when the national camp begins next month.

“We will now sit down as a team and analyse our performance in the Olympics. I personally like these team meetings because everyone contributes and gets to put across their views.

“We discuss what worked for us as a team and what didn’t. Also, there is so much to learn from the leadership group which includes the senior players,” he said.