How Adversities Shaped Odisha Defender William Xalxo’s Tryst With Olympics

This Is The Fourth Of A Series Odisha Bytes Is Running On Hockey Greats From Odisha, Ahead Of The Upcoming FIH Men’s World Cup To Be Co-Hosted By Bhubaneswar & Rourkela

Like countless kids who are born and brought up in Odisha’s Sundargarh district, William Xalxo was attracted to hockey at a young age, and started playing the stick game with village friends.

However, his journey was anything but a bed of roses.

Xalxo’s father, who worked on a small plot of land, moved to Kolkata to work as labourer on slightly higher wages to support his family. But then, catastrophe struck the Xalxo household as the lone breadwinner passed away.

Xalxo, just 9 years old at that time, was left with no choice but to help his mother and grandmother. Much before the boy turned man, he learnt to take responsibility the hard way.

That early exposure to harsh realities of life helped Xalxo develop into a dependable full-back who could be relied upon.

Xalxo, who studied at Birsa Munda Vidyapith Rourkela and then Sambalpur University, honed his hockey skills at Panposh Sports Hostel Rourkela before getting a chance to develop himself further at Air India Hockey Academy in Delhi.

The defender enjoyed a winning start to his international career as India topped the 4-Nation Junior tournament in Kuala Lumpur in 2003. In April 2004, Xalxo starred in India’s Junior Asia Cup triumph in Karachi, where they laboured past South Korea in a penalty shootout in the semifinal before outplaying arch-rivals Pakistan 5-2 in the title decider.

His solid, consistent performances in the backline earned 20-year-old Xalxo a call-up for the 2004 Athens Olympics, in August. It was a memorable moment for Odisha hockey as three players from the state were named in the Indian team — Xalxo, skipper Dilip Tirkey and Ignace Tirkey.

Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out to be a happy outing for Xalxo and his teammates. India managed to win just one out of five group league matches, thus missing out on a semifinal berth. Pakistan then rubbed salt into their wounds by whipping them 3-0 in a classification game, and India ultimately settled for a seventh-place finish at the Athens Olympics.

For the Champions Trophy in December 2004, Xalxo, Dilip Tirkey and Ignace Tirkey were joined by Ignace’s younger brother Prabodh in the Indian team. The men in blue notched up a memorable win against Germany, but lost 4 games – including twice to Pakistan — to finish fourth out of six teams.

A regular in the national team, Xalxo played in the domestic circuit for Air India and then Bharat Petroleum. Honoured with the Eklavya award in 2004, Xalxo’s promising international career hit a roadblock due to a nagging ankle injury.

Once he lost his place in the team, and was forced to take breaks to regain fitness, it became extremely tough to stage a comeback.

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