The legendary Indian hockey team captain breathed his last on Monday morning in Chandigarh.
The Indian sports fraternity went into mourning as they woke up to the news of the demise of former Indian Hockey Team captain Balbir Singh Sr on Monday morning.
Balbir Singh was one of the sporting greats of India who has inspired a whole generation to take up Hockey. His legacy is such that one can easily consider him at the same level of other sporting greats of our country like Major Dhyan Chand, Sachin Tendulkar and Chuni Goswami.
Growing up in an army background made him very passionate to serve his motherland and therefore Hockey became his medium to show his love for India. He saw a newsreel about India’s 1936 Hockey triumph and that sparks the fire in him.
During his time at his school, Balbir Singh Sr was spotted by Harbail Singh as a talented Hockey player who then insisted his father Balbir to shift to Khalsa College in Amritsar, where Harbail himself was the hockey coach. He wanted to train Balbir with care and after getting permission, Balbir Singh Sr. joined the Khalsa College and started his intensive training under Harbail Singh.
Singh was part of the Indian Hockey team which travelled to the 1948 London Olympics. He first featured in a game against Argentina which was India’s second match. However his career highlight came in the finals against England where the centre forward scored a brace in India’s 4-0 win. This gold medal as an independent nation remained as one of the biggest highlights of his illustrious career.
Four years later, in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, Balbir Singh Sr was the flagbearer for India and was also the vice-captain of the Indian Hockey team. Balbir Singh Sr scored a hattrick against Great Britain in the semi-final and set a new level for himself when he scored five against the Netherlands in the match where India won 6-1. It is a Olympic record of an individual scoring five goals in the final. Singh was at a level of his own as he scored nine goals of in total of India’s 13 at the Helsinki Olympics.
Balbir Singh’s glorious hattrick of Gold came when he lead Indian Hockey team to the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. He scored five goals against Afghanistan in their opening match, however, received an injury and missed the rest of the group matches. However injury could not shatter his lofty dreams of the gold medal as he came back in the semi-finals and eventually after edging past Pakistan in the finals, he guided India to another Olympic Gold.
In 1958, he was also a part of the Indian Hockey team which won silver in the Asian Games. In the same year, Balbir Singh Sr became the first Indian sportsperson to be honored with the Padma Shri award.
After his retirement from the sport, Balbir Singh Sr became the chief coach of the Indian Hockey team which clinched Bronze medal at the 1971 World Cup. Four years later, he was once again at the helm of the Indian Hockey team, winning the country’s only Gold medal in World Cup Hockey till date.
Singh’s legacy was such that he was the only chosen Asian and Indian in the 16 Iconic Olympians list selected by the Olympic Committee. The incredible success stories of these legendary Olympians were told in the Olympics museum in Lausanne, Switzerland through photographs, interviews and historic footages.
Recognizing the exceptional achievements of Balbir Singh Sr in the field of Hockey, he was conferred with the Major Dhyan Chand Life Time Achievement Award by Hockey India in 2014. His contribution towards Hockey and Indian sports has resonated through generations which makes his absence even more painful.