Odisha is one of the poorer states in the country. Needless to say, sports facilities aren't exactly top class in the region. Hell, we have only produced 2 international cricketers in the last few decades.
The only athlete from the state that laymen have probably heard of recently is Dutee Chand. So, it's safe to say the state doesn't get a lot of things right, when it comes to developing sportspersons.
But as a fellow Odia, nothing gives me greater joy to admit that if Odisha gets one thing right, it's Hockey. It doesn't matter if it's the men's or the women's team, Odisha is a gift that keeps on giving.
Yesterday, the Indian Women's Hockey team qualified for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. And in that team, were 3 players from Odisha!
1. Deep Grace Ekka
Ekka, who was a part of the National Women's Hockey team that qualified for the Tokyo Olympics, is a 25-year-old defender who has been playing international hockey since the year 2011.
To put that into perspective, she was 17 when she joined the Indian team in Argentina for a Four-Nation Tournament and helped the team win a bronze!
She has since doubled the role in the team as a defender and a drag-flicker and has more than 200 international caps to her name.
She has come up with winning performances at the 9th Women’s Asia Cup in Japan 2017 and was also a part of the team that won the Bronze Medal at the Women's Asia Cup 2013, and the Gold Medal at the Women's Asia Cup 2017.
She played a key role in India winning the Asian Champions Trophy in 2016. Last month, she had spoken to reporters stating her desire to help India qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Well, she kept her word!
2. Lilima Minz
Minz, like Ekka, is a 25-year-old who hails from the district of Sundargarh, which according to a report in 2017, had been the home to 60 national team players, including the former legendary captain Dilip Tirkey.
Minz, who recently completed 150 International caps from the country had also made her debut during the four-nation tournament in Argentina.
She has since been a member of the team which took part in the Women’s Hockey World League Semi-Final in 2013, along with the team that won the test series 6-0 against Malaysia in 2014.
She also became a part of the side that won Bronze Medal at the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, Korea.
The 25-year-old midfielder became a permanent part of Indian history when she went on to represent India at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, where the Indian Women’s Hockey team made their first appearance after a gap 36 long years!
Her most recent achievement prior to helping the team qualify for the 2020 Olympics was winning the Silver Medal with the team at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia.
3. Namita Toppo
When India went to England in September, Toppo was just making her comeback into the team after spending a long time on the sidelines due to injury.
Like the two names on the list before her, Namita made it into the international scene at the age of 17 and she hasn't looked back ever since.
She has been a part of all the major tournaments like FIH Women’s World League Round 2 in 2013 where India lifted the trophy and the 3rd Women’s Asian Champions Trophy 2013, where India bagged a silver.
Along with Minz, she was also the part of Indian midfield that made history at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
The experienced midfielder will now join her teammates in preparation for the Tokyo Olympics next year.