TORONTO: Winning independent India’s first gold medal and singing our new National Anthem was an exhilarating experience, all-time hockey great Balbir Singh, who was a member of the hockey team that won the gold medal at the London Olympics in 1948, tells Gurmukh Singh.
“There are many, many such moments from the Olympics that are etched in my memory. But I would like to mention the moment when we won the final match against Great Britain in the 1948 London Olympics. It was for the first time that our Tricolour fluttered at the top and our National Anthem sounded sweet. It was a spectacular scene- worth remembering repeatedly. India had just got independence, and we were playing under our own National Flag for the first time,’’ the 87-year-old former centre forward (sitting in the centre of the picture) tells News East-West in an interview.
With him, India went on to win gold medals in the next two Olympics in 1952 and 1956 to complete what is known as independent India’s “Golden Hat Trick.”
The Vancouver-based Balbir Singh, whose record of goals – three out of three goals in the semi-final and five out of six goals in the final – in the 1948 London Olympics still stands, says India can become the world champion again if they go about it methodically.
So does he believe that India will ever regain the old Olympics glory in hockey, he says, “Why not? Long-term planning is necessary, and long- term planned effort is required.”
Isn’t he is hoping against hope given India’s poor record in world hockey since the late 1970s, he says, “Well, the world survives on hope.”
But the present mess in Indian hockey, he says, is due to the presence of two national level hockey bodies.
The greatest living Indian hockey star, who has just been included in the list of 16 all-time Olympians, feels that popularity of cricket is definitely one of the reasons for the decline in hockey.
“Of course,’’ he says when asked pointedly whether cricket is behind the decline in the popularity of hockey in India.
When he is asked to name top five Indian players of all time, Balbir Singh says laughing, “India has produced many players of calibre. It can be debated and decided only by the seasoned hockey writers…”
But the hockey wizard Dhyan Chand was his inspiration to take up hockey, he says.
“I was in the eighth grade when I saw in some news real a picture of Dhyan Chand swinging back after scoring a goal in the Berlin Olympics. That picture is still fresh in memory. After seeing his pose, I thought to myself: can I also become another Dhyan Chand. That’s was the trigger for me. The legend was, like me, also played as centre-forward,’’ says Balbir Singh who will in London for the Olympics to see India’s performance.