Tokyo Olympic stars Rupinder Pal, Birendra Lakra retire from international hockey

The defenders who shone as India's hockey team won bronze in the Tokyo Games in August, the first medal for the country after 41 years, ended their international career.
Rupinder Pal and Birendra Lakra.(File)
Rupinder Pal and Birendra Lakra.(File)
Updated on Sep 30, 2021 10:30 PM IST
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It did not happen suddenly. It’s been a few days since defenders Rupinder Pal Singh and Birendra Lakra, both of whom played crucial roles in India’s bronze-medal winning campaign at the Tokyo Olympics, started talking to each other about retiring from international hockey.

For them, the Olympic medal—a first for India since 1980—represented the peak of their storied careers and a time to make way for younger players.

On Thursday the partners in defence announced their retirements together.

“Hockey has been my life. Last 13 years of my life have been so eventful. Living my dream of playing for India and winning so many medals in the process was just fantastic. I remember hard days when I did not have much money to travel and how my family struggled to provide me with basic facilities. Winning the bronze in Tokyo was the best thing to have happened,” said an emotional Rupinder, who started his hockey career from an academy in Ferozepur in Punjab before shifting to the Chandigarh Hockey Academy from where he earned his national call-up.

Born in Faridkot, Rupinder, who made his international debut in 2010, scored four goals in India’s Tokyo 2020 medal win, the second highest scorer for the team after fellow drag-flicker Harmanpreet Singh.

“I might not play for India anymore but I will be playing in the European leagues in the coming time,” Rupinder, 30, said.

Rupinder had been a regular in the Indian squad since the 2014 Asian Games. After the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, where India missed a medal, Rupinder was dropped for the Champions Trophy in the Netherlands. But he was picked again for the Asian Games in Jakarta.

He announced his retirement on social media and wrote, “I am leaving the team feeling happy and content as we have conquered the greatest dream which was to win an Olympic medal for India…”

“I believe it is time for me to make way for young and talented players to experience every great joy I have felt in these last 13 years of representing India,” he added.

Fondly known as ‘Bob’ by his teammates, Rupinder featured in most of India’s important feats in the past decade, including winning the 2014 Asian Games gold, the 2016 Asian Champions Trophy title, the 2017 bronze medal winning FIH Hockey World League Final and then Tokyo 2020.

CALM DEFENDER

Like Rupinder, the 31-year-old Lakra has been part of most of Indian hockey’s triumphs in the last decade and is a two-time Olympian.

The Odisha player missed out on the 2016 Olympics with a knee injury but made a strong return that year to play a pivotal role in India winning the Asian Champions Trophy. He was also a part of the 2014 gold medal-winning Incheon Asian Games team and the side that claimed bronze in 2018 Jakarta.

Born in Lachchada village in Odisha’s Sundergarh district, Lakra made his debut in 2012 in a Test series against South Africa, was part of the team that finished last in the 2012 London Games, was named the team’s joint vice-captain at Tokyo 2020 along with Harmanpreet before finishing with a total of 201 international caps. A reliable centre-back, the Odisha defender always possessed a calm and composed attitude when put under pressure by opposition forwards.

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.
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Wednesday, October 20, 2021