Balbir Singh, who won three Olympic hockey golds for India and became one of his country’s biggest sporting heroes, passed away at the age of 95 in May 2020.
Singh was a star in his team which won the Olympics gold medal in London in 1948 and Helsinki in 1952 and led the side that won in Melbourne in 1956. His five goals in the 6-1 defeat of the Netherlands in 1952 remain a record for an Olympic final.
Balbir had to sit out most of the campaign after picking up an injury but returned for the semi-final clash against Germany which India won 1-0 and were just one step away from completing a hat-trick of Olympic gold medals.
At the 1956 #Olympic Games, Balbir Singh Sr captained his team when they scored 38 goals in five matches and conceded none.
In the final against Pakistan, the Indian hockey legend played through a fracture in his favoured right hand to guide the team to a 1-0 victory!🥇 pic.twitter.com/77NHxZx8FY
— The Bridge (@TheBridge_IN) June 22, 2020
In the 1956 Olympic, when Indian hockey team played Pakistan for the first time in a final, Balbir Singh didn’t score. In an interview to Fiji Times, he revealed how he decided to play despite not being at his hundred percent.
“I told my coach that I won’t be able to give my best, so I should not play. But he told me that even if i wasn’t able to play my best hockey, my reputation was such that the opponent would use two players to mark me and it would free up space for my other forwards,” Balbir Singh said.
“My injury was kept a secret for the opposition and that I didn’t shake hands with anyone. Just waved. I took pain-killing injections at the start of the game and at half time and managed to play,” he added.
India won that game 1-0 to win their third straight Olympic gold.
Former India footballer Tulsidas Balaram, who was part of Indian contingent that finished a historic fourth at the 1956 Summer Games, recalled during the 1956 Olympics, the Indian contingent stayed at one corner of the Games Village. Due to the proximity of their respective grounds, the football and hockey players sometimes trained together.
“As an ardent hockey follower since my childhood, I got a bit star-struck in the Games Village seeing Balbir Singh, Leslie Claudius, Shankar Lakshman, Ranganathan Francis, Amir Kumar and many more,” he said.