Team India hockey player and Steadfast Athlete Nilakanta Sharma has brought glory to his country on numerous occasions, having helped his team clinch the bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics 2020 and silver at the Commonwealth Games 2022.
The midfielder, who was conferred with the Arjuna award by the President of India in 2021, had to face several challenges to reach where he is today. He was born in Manipur, where everybody preferred football as a game. He took up hockey as he wanted to stand out of the herd. Nilakanta comes from a humble family background. His city didn’t have many facilities for training. He had to ride a bicycle for 5 km everyday to reach the only hockey ground in his town. Nilakanta didn’t even have a proper hockey stick, shoes, or gear. His passion for the sport drove him to train from 5:00 am to 8:30 am every day, as that was the only time the turf was available. However, Nilakanta had his parents’ support all along.
Nilakanta, whose achievements include golds at the Test Event Tokyo 2019, Asian Champions Trophy 2018, Junior Asian Cup (Kuantan) 2015, and Junior World Cup 2016, stepped into hockey as a game in 2002. But it was only in 2004 that he finally started playing local matches in Manipur. Life took a U-turn for Nilakanta when he decided to train at Olympian Ashok Dhyanchand Hockey Academy in 2011. He started taking a keen interest in the midfield position. By 2015 he had made his place in several state and national teams. In 2016 he got a chance to play for India in the World Cup, winning the gold at the Junior World Cup in Lucknow. A year after his win, Nilakanta was promoted to the senior rank. The Steadfast Athlete says he is fortunate to have played with some of the best players in India and has learned a lot from them. He looks back at that time and says, “I looked up to players like Chinglensana Singh and Kothajit Singh, who were also from my state. I knew doing well would bring great recognition and help me improve my family’s standard of living”. He always carried the dream of winning an Olympic medal for the country.
Nilakanta was a part of the Indian hockey squad that won a historic bronze medal for India at the Tokyo Olympics 2020, ending a 41-year old medal drought for India.
His chase for Tokyo 2020 began with winning the gold in the 2019 FIH Series finals. His performance in the Olympic Qualifiers in Bhubaneswar was exemplary. Nilakanta was confident of India making history in Tokyo.
As the countdown for Tokyo 2020 started, Steadfast held his hand strong, providing him with the right supplements required for a healthy diet. Nilakanta performed brilliantly in the group stage, contributing by winning four of the five matches. His skills were unmatched in the quarterfinals against Britain. The defeat against Belgium was an unexpected event, but his performance in the bronze medal match made the nation proud of him. He scored a goal and contributed towards the team’s victory in its final match.
Nilakanta’s journey from an athlete who didn’t have the right equipment or resources to a champion who contributed to Team India’s victory at Tokyo 2020 will inspire millions of Indians. Hailing from a state where football is more popular, Nilakanta took the road not taken and made his mark as part of the Indian Men’s Hockey team. These consecutive successes in international tournaments made him happy and boosted his morale.
“There is a lot of potential for Manipur hockey to grow further. I hope my performance in Tokyo has inspired more youngsters from my state to take up hockey,” says Nilakanta.
The team India player says each match, whether a win or a defeat, is analysed as a learning lesson for the future. He feels proud to be a part of India’s history.
“It was an incredible feeling to win the bronze medal. But, I believe there is scope for me to improve my game from here on and build on this performance in Tokyo,” says Nilakanta.
Nilakanta believes in working hard and has worked his way up over the years.
His mantra is to keep things simple and execute what is expected of him. He says each player is assigned a certain role by the coach and he simply tries to stick to his.
Even as far as his diet and routine are concerned, Nilakanta reveals that in the early years, he did not have the sense or the resources to gain knowledge of a proper diet. He just ate what was made at home. But now he sticks to the diet and routine given by his coaches, which includes workouts, diet, and relaxation, which are equally important in such fast and tiring sport.
The hockey ace has learned from his mistakes. Like in 2018, he was playing well and had gained confidence in his game but took practice lightly. In the subsequent selections, around 27-28 players were selected, including his juniors, but Nilakanta was not included in the team.
“That was a big hit for me. I realised my mistake and gave all my time and dedication to my practices and focused on myself and my game,” he says.
Nilakanta became a part of Steadfast Nutrition in 2020. He had tried and tasted a few of Steadfast’s protein supplements and later got an offer to join Steadfast Nutrition as their athlete.
Nilakanta now consumes several supplements across its recovery, energy, and wellness categories. He says Steadfast Nutrition is for athletes who aim to give their best on the field. His all-time favourite is the protein supplement Wheylo.
“Wheylo has become my first choice. It has a mild taste which is accentuated by coconut milk powder and is also easy to digest,” says Nilakanta.
“It’s a pleasure for me to be a part of this family,” says Nilakanta.
Nilakanta is focussing on winning more medals for the nation. He aims to help his team win the gold for India at the next Olympics.