Youngsters set to live a dream at Olympic Qualifiers

New Delhi: A sport for most, hockey has been a way of life for 19-year-old Indian midfielder Kothajit Singh whose entire family has played the game.

Kothajit, who earned a berth in the 18-member squad for the London Olympic qualifiers starting here on February 18, grew up quite literally breathing, sleeping and dreaming hockey in Imphal.

"My three elder brothers played hockey, one for ONGC and two for Army. My elder sister was a goalkeeper, even my parents played the sport. So I have been brought up in an environment of hockey," said the soft-spoken midfielder.

"There was a ground just 15 minutes away from my home and I used to play there since I was eight. Even in spare time, we would pick up the stick and play among each other or sometimes just alone," he added.

Asked to elaborate on his journey to being an India player, Kothajit said: "I played U-14, U-16, Nationals but in 2009 I moved to the SAI centre in Lucknow and that proved to a turning point of my life."

"I trained there and sharpened my game. I played for OIL team and there the coaches helped me improve as a player but never thought that I would play for India so early. I want to do well for my country," said Kothajit, who donned the national colours in the five-Test series against South Africa.

Another youngster who had a similar tale to tell was promising forward SK Uthappa, who also earned a berth in the 18-member team which will play in the qualifiers to be held at the Dhyan Chand National Stadium from February 18-26.

The 21-year-old Uthappa too picked up hockey at an early age after seeing his brother play the game.

"I hail from Coorg (Karnataka). My brother played hockey for Bangalore University and I grew up watching him and picked up the sport as a profession at the age of 14," said the articulate youngster with a smile.

"I moved to Bangalore eight years ago to continue my passion at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) centre there. My parents have always been like a rock behind me and supported me in everything I did," he added.

Uthappa, who scored three goals during the Test series against South Africa, idolises India vice-captain Sardar Singh and said it was a dream come true to share the locker room with him.

"I have always liked him a lot and it is like a dream to play along side him. All the seniors are very warm and helpful, they point out our mistakes and guide us," said the well-built Uthappa, who was adjudged the best player at the National championship in Bhopal last year.

Even the seniors seem impressed with the promising duo with midfielder Ignace Tirkey saying that both of them have potential.

"They are very good players and are shaping up well. They will gain in experience," he said.