When Balbir Sr went down memory lane remembering independent India’s first Olympic hockey gold

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May 25, 2020 3:28 PM

His world record for most goals scored by an individual in the men's hockey final of the Olympics still remains unbeaten. He had scored five goals in India's 6-1 victory over the Netherlands in the gold medal match of the 1952 Helsinki Games.

Singh, who won three Olympic gold medals in a stellar career, died at the age of 96 at a hospital in Mohali on Monday morning.

Balbir Singh Sr, one of the country’s greatest hockey players who passed away on Monday, was overwhelmed by a sense of patriotism when he recalled independent India’s first Olympic gold in the sport in 1948 London Games, exactly 70 years after the triumph.

Singh, who won three Olympic gold medals in a stellar career, died at the age of 96 at a hospital in Mohali on Monday morning after battling multiple health issues for over two weeks. On August 12, 2018, exactly 70 years after independent India had won its first Olympic gold in hockey in London, Singh went down the memory lane to recollect the feat.

“The event happened 70 years ago, but it feels like only yesterday. I still remember the feeling when the Indian flag was hoisted at the 1948 Olympics when we beat Britain 4-0,” Singh had said. “As our national anthem was being played and the tri-colour was going up, I felt that I too was flying with the flag. The sense of patriotism that I felt was beyond any other feeling in the world,” he added.

Singh, who started his hockey career as a goalkeeper before moving up as a full-back and eventually a centre-forward, had said that the maiden Olympic gold was special as they had defeated India’s once colonial masters in the final.  The victorious team had received a grand welcome from the Indian fans upon their return home.

A commemorative function was organised at the Chandigarh Press Club here, of which he was a honorary member, in August 2018 to mark the 70th anniversary of the event when the tri-colour was hoisted for the first time in London’s Wembley stadium. India had defeated Britain to claim the Olympic gold in men’s hockey, a win in which Singh played a key role by scoring two goals.

Singh had recalled that despite being in tremendous form he was not selected among the 39 probables for the finals in 1948, forcing some of his well wishers to approach the then Indian High Commissioner in London, V K Krishna Menon for his help.

Singh had said that it was only after Menon’s intervention and a loud hue and cry, he was eventually included in the playing eleven. “It was a proud moment for all of us when we defeated England, which had until a year ago ruled India for a long period, on their own turf (in 1948),” Singh had said.

“I still remember that before the match started, the Wembley stadium was reverberating with the noise of English fans. As we took an early lead and later on pumped in another goal, after the half time, some English fans started rooting for India, saying make it half a dozen goals,” he remembered.

Singh had said that August 12, 1948 was the “greatest day in independent India’s sporting history”. Notably, in 2012 London Olympics, the iconic centre forward was honoured as the only Indian among 16 chosen Olympic legends 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. He had scored five goals in India’s 6-1 victory over the Netherlands in the gold medal match of the 1952 Helsinki Games. In 2018, Singh had also attended a special screening of movie ‘Gold’, a sports drama inspired by real events of the 1948 Olympics when independent India had won its first Olympic gold medal in field hockey.

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