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Olympians and National Sports Awardees of Manipur

by Rinku Khumukcham
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By: Shukhdeba Sharma Hanjabam & Sanasam Yaiphaba Singh
India has won 35 medals (10 Gold, 09 Silver, & 16 Bronze) since its first participation in the Olympic Games in Paris in 1900 until the most recent 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. The medals were mainly won by Men’s Hockey Team (12 Medals – 08 Gold, 01 Silver, & 03 Bronze). Besides Men’s Hockey, 23 individual medals were also won, spreading across (i) Athletics, (ii) Wrestling, (iii) Tennis, (iv) Weightlifting, (v) Shooting, (vi) Boxing, and (vii) Badminton.
Shri Pangambam Nilakomol Singh is the first Olympian of Manipur. He participated as the Goal Keeper of the Men’s Hockey Team at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. 19 Players from Manipur, including Shri Pangambam Nilakomol Singh representing (i) Hockey (Men’s and Women’s), (ii) Weightlifting, (iii) Judo, (iv) Archery, and (v) Boxing, have continued to participate in the Olympic Games from 1984 to 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Manipur, with 0.24 % of India’s total population (2011 census) and 0.7 % of the total land surface of India, contributed 8.57 % of the Olympic medals (35 – India/ 03 – Manipur) since the 1900 Olympic Games. If we calculate the contribution from the first participation of players from Manipur, then it will be 14.29 % (21 – India / 03 – Manipur) since the 1984 Olympic Games. The medal winners of Manipur are:-
1. MC Marry Kom won the Bronze medal in Boxing at the 2012 Olympic Games, London.
2. Saikhom Mirabai Chanu won the silver medal in weightlifting at the 2020 Olympic Games, Tokyo.
3. Shanglakpam Nilakanta Sharma representing the Men’s Hockey Team, won the Bronze medal at the 2020 Olympic Games, Tokyo, after a gap of 40 years,
The late Lourembam Brojeshori Devi was the first female Indian Judoka to compete at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. The players from Manipur have participated continuously from the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney to the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. The highest participation was at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, with 05 players representing Hockey, Boxing, Weightlifting, and Judo. It was also the most successful Olympic Games in the history of Manipur so far; that two players out of five represented won a medal each (Silver and Bronze).
Given the lack of international standard sports infrastructure and the financial status/situation of the players, the contribution of Manipur to the Olympic Games is extremely encouraging. Besides the limited infrastructure and financial constraints, the other key challenge of the players was the limitation of specialized expertise in their games and supporting expertise such as doctors, physiotherapists, masseuses, nutritionists, sports scientists, and counselors, etc.
The Olympians, except two/three, were mainly from low-income families. Their only support system during the sports journey was their family and, to a limited extent, relatives and well-wishers. In the early days of their sporting career, many of them could not afford the basic sporting kits, including shoes. They relied mainly on second-hand kits, which they considered fortunate to get such items from the other players. The local coaches initially trained the players and they depend on the local food culture to compete in the games.
Some of the players, particularly women players, also bear the brunt of the social stigma of choosing sports as their career. Some women players even move out of their families to continue playing and training as they cannot continue playing from home under social and family pressure. Olympian Kunjarai Devi is the greatest inspiration for women players even today to energize themselves and fight against social and family pressure.
The do-or-die/perform-or-perish spirit of the players motivates them to entirely focus on the sports as they don’t have any good options even if they fail in their sporting career. After reaching a certain national and international level, many players discontinue active playing when they get decent job opportunities. Many players are also compelled to leave because of injuries and livelihood compulsions.
Manipur could produce the Olympians because many emerging players were nurtured and patronized by central government institutions like Railways, Air India, Central Security Forces, etc., by providing employment and opportunities for specialized training. It can be recalled that modern sports in Manipur were introduced, nurtured, and patronized by Maharaja Churachand Singh (1886–1941), popularly known as the father of Modern Sports in Manipur.
The Khuman Lampak Sports Complex, Imphal, where the 5th National Games was held in 1999, and the Sports Authority of India, Imphal Centre, were the only sports infrastructure facilities worth mentioning in Manipur. Manipur could produce many prospective Olympians if the international standard sports Infrastructure and an institutionalized support system for emerging players are prioritized. It is worth noting that most players reached the world stage by sheer force and will.
Though in its infancy, the National Sports University, which was launched to produce world-class sportspersons, could have taken the lead in this direction with a little more perceptiveness in planning and implementation.
The article briefly introduces the Olympians of Manipur and their unrivaled struggles to reach the podium of the Olympic Games. The book also introduces the National Sports Awardees of Manipur, which is the stepping stone to the Olympic Games.
Note: The article is an extract from a forthcoming book. Any corrections on the information about the Olympians and National Sports Awardees are welcome. Email:<[email protected]>;

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Imphal Times is a daily English newspaper published in Imphal and is registered with Registrar of the Newspapers for India with Regd. No MANENG/2013/51092


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