Amid beats of drums, traditional tribal dance and cheers, four hockey players from Odisha, who were part of the Indian hockey teams at the Tokyo Olympics, were given a rousing welcome in their home district of Sundergarh.
The four hockey players — Amit Rohidas, Birendra Lakra, Deep Grace Ekka and Sunita Toppo — returned to their native villages in Sundergarh district on Saturday, after their stupendous performance at the Tokyo Games.
Rohidas and Lakra represented the men’s team, while Ekka and Toppo were part of the women’s team.
After 41 years, India won a medal in hockey at the Olympics after the men’s team clinched the bronze in Tokyo on August 5, defeating Germany 5-4 in a thrilling play-off encounter.
While the women’s hockey team’s dream of securing a maiden Olympic medal remained unfulfilled after they lost 3-4 against Great Britain in the bronze medal play-off match, it was their best ever performance at the Olympic Games so far.
Accompanied by former India hockey captain Dilip Tirkey, the players reached the Veer Surendra Sai Airport in Jharsuguda around noon on Saturday.
The officials of Sundergarh district and the state sports department welcomed them at the airport and took them to Sundargarh, a distance of 22 km, on a special carcade.
A procession was taken out in the district town from the Parijat Park to the Circuit House. Several vehicles and two-wheelers decorated with flowers and Indian tricolour were part of the procession.
A large number of people came out on the streets to welcome the players with great enthusiasm. The players were felicitated at different squares along the route.
Later, the district administration felicitated the hockey stars at the Bikash Bhawan in Sundergarh.
“I am feeling very happy. A large number of people have come to welcome us. My family has also come to receive me. I cannot express my feelings in words,” said Rohidas, adding that the junior hockey players will be inspired by this gesture.
Deep Grace Ekka also expressed her happiness on receiving such a grand welcome in her home district.
“We started playing hockey here and today such a large crowd came to welcome us. It is a very special moment for all of us,” she said.
As per its earlier announcement, the state government has given a cash award of Rs 2.5 crore along with DSP-rank posting to Lakra and Rohidas. Ekka and Toppo were given Rs 50 lakh each.
On August 17, the Odisha government had felicitated both the men’s and women’s hockey teams in Bhubaneswar at a special programme in the presence of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.
The Odisha government has been the sponsoring both the men’s and women’s hockey teams since 2018. On August 17, Patnaik announced to extend the sponsorship deal for another 10 years.