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Tuesday, May 26, 2020

remembering Hockey legend Balbir Singh

Kiren Rijiju, Minister of State (Independent Charge) of the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports and Minister of State in the Ministry of Minority Affairs of India is seen with the legend.   Nation is paying homage to the legend !

Can you identify the player in suit ? – had he been a Cricket player of IPL fame, most of us would have identified him in a trice.

India had last made it to the knockout stages in 1980 Moscow Olympics. This was also the Games in which it won last of their eight gold medals in hockey. India have won a record eight gold medals at the Olympics. Could read that way back in  1932 Olympics,   the Indian team put in a fine performance though the field was reduced to just three contenders, United States and Japan being the other two. India notched a record 24-1 win against the hosts and drubbed Japan 11-1 to win their second Olympic gold medal.

Hockey had debuted much earlier.  At the 1908 Summer Olympics, a field hockey tournament was contested for the first time. Six teams entered from three states. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was represented by a team from each of the four Home Nations: England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Germany sent a championship club team, while France sent a team composed of players from three clubs.  England won the gold medal, Ireland the silver, and Scotland and Wales the bronze medals.  The Summer Olympics in 1928 in Amsterdam, Netherlands, was golden for India as India took its first ever gold in the sport of field hockey, beginning a streak of six consecutive gold medals in the sport.

The 1952 Summer Olympics, officially the Games of the XV Olympiad, were held in Helsinki, Finland, from July 19 to August 3, 1952. Helsinki had been earlier selected to host the 1940 Summer Olympics, which were cancelled due to World War II. It is the northernmost city at which a summer Olympic Games have been held.

The indian team was : Kunwar Digvijai Singh - Captain, Leslie Claudius, Keshav Dutt, Chinadorai Deshmutu, Randhir Singh Gentle, Grahanandan Singh, Ranganandhan Francis, Jaswant Rai, Balbir Singh Sr., Dharam Singh, Govind Perumal, Raghbir Lal, Udham Singh, and Muniswamy Rajgopal — Field hockey, Men's Team Competition.  Team India won the Gold and Khashaba Jadhav, won Individual Bronze medal in  Wrestling, Men's Freestyle Bantamweight.

Balbir Singh was vice-captain of 1952 Olympic team, with K. D. Singh as the Captain. Balbir was India's flag bearer in the opening ceremony. He scored a hat trick against Britain in semi-final, which India won 3–1. He scored five goals in India's 6–1 win against the Netherlands setting a new Olympic record for most goals scored by an individual in an Olympic final in men's field hockey. The previous holder of this record was England's Reggie Pridmore with his four goals in England's 8–1 victory over Ireland in the 1908 Olympic final. Singh scored nine of the India's total 13 goals at the Helsinki Olympics, 69.23% of the team's goals.

A goal-scoring machine from the days when hockey was played on grass, Balbir won three Olympic golds — 1948, 1952 and 1956 — and was India’s most-decorated athlete ever. The legend is no more – he passed away on 25.5.2020 after battling multiple health issues. The iconic player was 95 and is survived by his daughter Sushbir and three sons Kanwalbir, Karanbir, Gurbir. "He died at around 6:30 this morning," Abhijit Singh, Director Fortis Hospital, Mohali, where he was admitted on May 8, told PTI. Balbir Sr was in a semi-comatose state since May 18 and had developed a blood clot in his brain after being first admitted to the hospital for bronchial pneumonia with high fever.

One of the country's greatest athletes, Balbir Sr was the only Indian among 16 legends chosen by the International Olympic Committee across modern Olympic history. His world record for most goals scored by an individual in the men's hockey final of the Olympics still remains unbeaten.

Balbir Singh Dosanjh (1923 - 2020)  played a key role  in India's wins in London (1948), Helsinki (1952) (as vice captain), and Melbourne (1956) (as captain) Olympics. He is regarded as one of the greatest hockey players of all time, a modern-day Dhyan Chand, a legend regarded as  greatest ever centre-forward.  Singh was the Manager and chief coach of the Indian team for the 1975 Men's Hockey World Cup, which India won, and the 1971 Men's Hockey World Cup, where India earned a bronze medal. During the London Olympics in 2012, Singh was honoured in the Olympic Museum exhibition, "The Olympic Journey: The Story of the Games” held at the Royal Opera House.  The exhibition told the story of the Olympic Games from its creation in 776BC through to the London 2012 Olympic Games. He was one of the 16 iconic Olympians chosen  whose example "tells of human strength and endeavour, of passion, determination, hard work and achievement and demonstrates the values of the Olympic Movement.

Son of a freedom fighter, Balbir had a difficult initiation into hockey. He grew up in Moga, detesting the police who had jailed his father multiple times. The same police force, as fate would have it, would shape his hockey career. At Wembley stadium on 12th Aug 1948, a just born Nation (India) beat its earlier colonisers securing a Gold with a sense of pride.   
Balbir at Melbourne

He may not be a household name like Dhyan Chand or others from that era, but Balbir will remain the ultimate grand old man of Indian hockey, both in terms of stature and the warmth he effused.

Before concluding the man walking in that photo is another Hockey legend – Dhanraj Pillay, a fine player.  He became a National player in  1989, represented India in four Olympic Games, World Cups and Champion Trophies each. He made 339 appearances for the national team and is recorded, to have scored 170 goals. He also played for clubs in countries such as Malaysia, France, England and Germany. Recognizing his achievements, he was awarded the Padma Shri by the government of India in 2000.

Tributes to Hockey legend Balbir Singh

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

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