Balbir Singh: India mourns loss of hockey legend and independence hero

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Balbir Singh pictured (l) in London in 1948 with Indian High Commissioner Krishna Menon and in Melbourne in 1956, main the staff to a different gold

Indian sport is mourning the loss of one of its biggest heroes – hockey participant Balbir Singh – who helped the newly unbiased nation win its ever gold medal on the 1948 London Olympics.

Singh died on the age of 95 within the northern metropolis of Chandigarh after a chronic pulmonary sickness, his household mentioned.

In an illustrious profession, Singh gained two extra Olympic gold medals. Even after retirement he coached the Indian staff that gained the World Cup in 1975.

But it was his exploits at one of the extra uncommon Olympics that he first made his mark.

The 1948 Olympics had been held in a London nonetheless rising from the chaos of World War Two and had been generally known as the Austerity Games.

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Food was nonetheless topic to rationing and members of the British staff supplemented their meagre diets with whale meat.

Athletes, who had been housed in RAF camps and college halls, had been advised to convey their very own towels and medals had been handed over with out ribbons to save cash.

The Indian males’s hockey staff met hosts Great Britain within the ultimate and beat them 4-Zero with centre-forward Singh – then aged 23 – scoring twice within the first half.

In a 2014 interview, Singh recalled the charged environment in a packed Wembley Stadium and seeing Queen Elizabeth – mom of Britain’s present monarch – who had been the final Empress of India till independence a 12 months earlier than.

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Media captionWatch: Archive report concerning the opening of the 1948 Games

He mentioned British supporters shouted “well played Balbir” after the Indians clinched gold.

“It’s impossible to explain the feeling of joy and happiness,” he mentioned. “You have to experience it. I was so happy. I was on top of the world. The memory of my first Olympic Games in 1948 is still fresh in my mind.”

In one other interview he advised The Times of India the way it had felt to see the Tiranga – the tricolour flag of the newly unbiased India – being raised within the medal ceremony.

“The Tiranga rose up slowly. With our national anthem being played, my freedom-fighter father’s words ‘Our Flag, Our Country’ came flooding back. I finally understood what he meant. I felt I was rising off the ground alongside the fluttering Tiranga,” he mentioned.

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Media captionThe Hockey India League was created in 2013

The victorious Indian staff obtained a rapturous welcome on its return residence. In his autobiography, The Golden Hat-Trick – My Hockey Days, Singh recounted how large crowds met them in Mumbai (then Bombay) the place many of the gamers had been from.

“We were swept off our feet and it was here that I realised what the victory meant to our nation, starved as it was of world class accomplishments. Hockey was the only sport that gave the country a ray of golden hope, something to cheer for and celebrate.”

The Indian staff efficiently defended its title within the following two Games in Helsinki and Melbourne.

In the 1952 ultimate, Singh scored 5 objectives in India’s 6-1 victory over the Netherlands – a document that also stands. At the 1956 Games he captained his staff after they scored 38 objectives in 5 matches and conceded none. They took gold in a detailed 1-Zero victory over Pakistan.

Singh added silver medals to his assortment on the Asian Games of 1958 and 1962, earlier than starting a profitable profession as a coach.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was amongst those that paid tribute.

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Balbir Singh pictured in 2014 in Chandigarh

“He brought home lots of pride and laurels,” Mr Modi tweeted. “He also made a mark as a great mentor. Pained by his demise.”

Hockey India president Mohammed Mushtaque Ahmad mentioned they’d not solely misplaced their biggest hockey legend “but we have also lost our guiding light”.

“His achievements in the post-independent era have been well-documented,” he mentioned. “Hockey has lost its brightest star and everyone at Hockey India is pained by this news.”

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