Our girl Nikki makes it to Rio

Khunti lass becomes state's first woman hockey player at Olympics

By A.S.R.P. Mukesh in Ranchi
  • Published 13.07.16
Nikki Pradhan

Ranchi, July 12: Bring on the drum rolls. Nikki Pradhan (23), hockey player from Hesal village, Khunti district, today became the first woman from Jharkhand to represent Indian hockey at the Olympics.

Hockey India, which in New Delhi announced the women's team for the Rio Olympics scheduled next month, named midfielder Nikki as a part of the team, bracketing her with Jharkhand's Jaipal Singh Munda, Michael Kido, Sylvanus Dungdung, Ajeet Lakra and Manohar Topno, all of whom have played at the Olympics, from Munda in 1928 to Topno in 1990.

"Jharkhand girl Nikki Pradhan's inclusion to the Olympics hockey team is a matter of great pride for the entire state. My good wishes are with her," chief minister Raghubar Das said.

Hockey Jharkhand president Bhola Nath Singh, speaking to this correspondent from Delhi, couldn't hide his elation. "It's a historic day for us, for the whole of hockey fraternity in the state and everyone who loves the sport. Our girl Nikki has made it to the Indian squad for Rio," Singh said.

Nikki, also speaking from Delhi, said the team would leave for Rio from Delhi on July 15.

"I am happy and excited but I'll truly celebrate only after our team clinches a medal for India," said the girl who's played hockey from childhood with sisters Shashi, Kanjli and Serina. "I was confident of an Olympics berth because of my form. But now, I want to do India proud. We have a good team this time," she said.

Team India will be captained by Sushila Chanu with Deepika Thakur as the vice-captain. Rani Rampal, Vandana Kataria, Lilima Minz and Poonam Rani will spearhead the forward line. The defence line-up comprises Sunita Lakra, Sushila Chanu and Deep Grace Ekka. Nikki apart, other midfielders are Navjot Kaur, Renuka Yadav and Anuradha Devi.

The second of five children of Soma Pradhan, a policeman posted in Bihar, and homemaker Jetan, who stays in Hesal, Nikki said they were always into hockey.

"We are four sisters and one brother, who's the youngest. We four sisters and cousin Pushpa Pradhan are all hockey players. Pushpa has represented India. My eldest sister Sashi and I are employed with Indian Railways because of hockey. My younger sister Kanjli is in SAI, Ranchi centre, and another, Serina, is in a cadet with Bariatu hockey centre," she said.

And now, she's an Olympian. "Yes, it's sinking in," said the excited girl, who's represented India at Asia Cup matches in the past. "I was called for the Olympic camp for probables in Bangalore this January. We've been training and playing hard till the final announcement today," she said.

Back in Ranchi, Nikki's coach Fulkeria Nag, who's also originally from Khunti, but currently posted at the SAI Ranchi centre in Morabadi, was elated.

Nag, who knows Nikki closely - she was with her at the Bariatu hockey centre from 2005 to 2013 - has fond memories of her former student. "When we first saw her in 2005, we knew that she had great potential. Her body language, agility and physical fitness stood out. We were right. Nikki went on to play in several formats of the game, sub-junior and junior nationals, national and international meets," said the coach. "And now, the Olympics. We are all excited and will pray hard," she added.

"Personally too, Nikki is different," said Nag fondly. "She remembers me whenever she goes abroad to play. Last year when she had gone to play in an international meet, she bought me a T-shirt. Seldom does anyone remember."