Players S.K.Uthappa and Kothajit Singh are keen to excel for India in international hockey tournaments.

Environmental influences do shape individuals. They have spurred two youngsters, hailing from distant corners of the country, to take up hockey seriously despite the not-so-lucrative status of the sport at present. Despite their different backgrounds, S.K. Uthappa (21) and Kothajit Singh (19) share the same passion – to excel on the astro-turf. The two players earned their maiden India shirts in the recently-concluded Test series against South Africa and impressed with their performances.

The chief coach of the Indian team, Michael Nobbs, was delighted to see them perform to their potential and compete for spots in the National side for the forthcoming Olympic qualifier. It was only natural for Uthappa, from Coorg (the nursery of hockey in Karnataka which has produced stalwarts like M.P. Ganesh, B.P. Govinda and Arjun Halappa), to pick up the crooked stick. “In Coorg, everyone plays hockey. My brother played for the Bangalore University.

My family always wanted me to play hockey and represent the country,” said the well-built player sporting attractive locks.

“I thought, let me play the game I am good at,” added Uthappa, who had moved to Bangalore eight years ago to pursue the sport at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) centre there.

Best player

Uthappa, an attacking midfielder, hogged the limelight in last year's National championship in Bhopal, where he was adjudged the best player. From there, he took the big leap. “Representing the country was a big moment for me. I want to give my best (for India),” said Uthappa, a B.Com final year student at the College of Commerce in the Garden City. “I am grateful to my college which has helped me a lot in pursuing my sport.” A promising player who idolises centre-half Sardar Singh, Uthappa feels his game has improved a lot after attending the National camp.

A video games fanatic and a Chelsea fan to the core, Uthappa is a sportive guy in his inner circle. “All my team mates play pranks on me

for my surname. They say, I am the ‘Robin Uthappa' of hockey,” he says with a smile.

Quite different from the Karnataka player is Kothajit, a typical shy Manipuri. Born to a family of hockey players, the teenager had no choice but to play the sport. “In my family, my parents, three brothers and a sister are all hockey players,” said Kothajit, belonging to the land of Olympian Thoiba Singh.

Incidentally, Kothajit and Changlensana Singh were the latest men's hockey players from the state to make it to National side after several years.

Made a mark

Kothajit, who moved to the SAI centre in Lucknow in 2009 to hone his skills, made his mark in the Ranchi National Games in February last. Later, he proved his worth when he was selected for the National camp. “An Olympics medal is the ultimate achievement in hockey. I am aiming for that,” said the gritty player. “I admire Dhanraj Pillay. I wanted to be like him when I started,” said the midfielder, who began as a forward. Kothajit, despite his passion for hockey, has not lost touch with his studies and is continuing his Std X at present. “I find time to go through my books and prepare for the exams.”

The soft-spoken Manipuri, who loves to go out with friends and watch movies in his free time, is not untouched by the influence of Facebook. “It is part of today's life. I am not a regular Facebooker, but sometimes use it to stay in touch with my friends,” says the happy-go-lucky youth. Kothajit, however, does not forget the primary aim of his life – to make an impact by keeping up the good work on the turf.

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