Growing up in Manipur, a state that has a deep-rooted passion for football, it came as no surprise that Bichu Devi Kharibam aspired to become a footballer. But destiny had other plans for her. (More Hockey News)
“Hailing from Manipur, it was natural for me to opt for football. I loved playing the sport. But it was my father who suggested that I should try my hand at hockey as I was not making it into the football team. He told me that if I don’t like hockey, it will be okay and I can always come back to football," Bichu recalled.
"Once I started playing, I started loving the game. I used to play as a striker but noticing my agility on the field and my height, one of my coaches advised me to give goalkeeping a try. But I never wanted to become one.
“It was tough for me at the start, however, as time went on, I started adapting to it. It is true that whatever happens, happens for the best. If it was not for all of that, I wouldn’t be here,” she said.
Fast forward to 2023, almost a decade since she picked up the hockey stick, the 22-year-old from Manipur is on her way to Hangzhou for the 19th Asian Games where India will be gunning for gold.
Her career has been on an ascent since she made her breakthrough with eye-catching displays in the 2018 Youth Olympics in Argentina, where India clinched a silver medal.
In the following year, she was named ‘Goalkeeper of the Tournament’ in the 4 Nations Junior Women Invitational Tournament in Dublin.
She then got an opportunity to represent the senior national team in the FIH Pro League 2021/22. She was also part of the team which won the inaugural FIH Women’s Nations Cup in Spain in 2022.
Heading to Hangzhou with an aim to earn a direct Paris Olympics 2024 qualification, Bichu expressed excitement about being picked in the squad.
“It feels amazing that I will be representing India at the Asian Games. All those years of struggle and sacrifice have finally paid off. It is every player's dream to represent the country at the highest level, and I am grateful that my time to live this dream is here."
To have her family in Bengaluru for the send-off ceremony hosted by Hockey India counts as one of the best moments in Bichu's life.
She said, "It was very special to have my family in Bengaluru for the ceremony. The smile on my family’s faces when they were called up on the stage to present my India jersey meant the world to me.
“Seeing them so happy and proud motivated me even more to perform to the best of my abilities. I had not gone home in a long time and when I hugged my mother, I remember, she started crying and hugged me tightly.”
Speaking about the team's preparations, Bichu said, “The preparations have been going well under the guidance of Janneke Schopman. We are motivating each other every day and pushing our limits to the maximum during our training. There is a feeling of excitement too because, for some of us, this is going to be our first appearance at the Asian Games,” she added.
The goalkeeper also shed light on facing quality teams at the Asiad, where the Indian team will begin their campaign against Singapore on September 27.
“Our aim is the gold medal. We know what is at stake here and we will not be taking any team lightly. We have been doing extensive goalkeeping sessions to improve on our mistakes. We cannot repeat the same mistakes if we have to come back home with the gold,” she signed off.