Olympics A-Z

Olympics A-Z: A brief history of Hockey at the Games

Gaurav SinghGaurav Singh

July 4 2021
Hockey PR sreejesh tokyo olympics
(Courtesy : hockeyindia)

India will be aiming to end a 41-year medal drought in Tokyo.

Hockey is a sport that grabs a lot of attention at the Olympic Games. Only a handful of team sports feature at the quadrennial event and hockey is one of the most popular ones among them. Therefore, it gives a different flavour to the wide audience watching all across the globe.

India have been the most successful nation in hockey. The Indians have claimed a total of eight Gold medals. The Netherlands have won a combined five Gold medals (men and women), whereas Australia, Great Britain and Germany have four Gold medals each.

At the Tokyo Olympics, India, Japan, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Germany, Great Britain, the Netherlands and South Africa will field both men’s and women’s teams. Whereas, Belgium and Canada have qualified only for the men’s section. On the other hand, China and debutants Ireland will participate only in the women’s section. All matches will take place at the Oi Hockey Stadium.

Indian team at Olympics

In their maiden participation in 1928, India were the only non-European participant at the event. It ended in a 3-0 triumph over hosts Netherlands in the final. The team were not only prolific in front of the goal but also had a water-tight defence. Due to this, they didn’t concede a single goal on their road to glory. Four years later, the Indians came out on top in a tournament that featured only two other nations.

However, it was at the 1936 Berlin Olympics where the Indian team would leave an indelible mark on the sport. Up against the hosts in the final, India dismantled Germany 8-1 to record their third successive triumph. India’s maiden participation as an independent nation came in 1948. Once again, the hosts were the victims of the Indian team’s magic on the field. Great Britain were on the receiving end of a 4-0 drubbing in London.

India outclassed Germany at their home during the 1936 Olympic Games (Credits- News 18)

In 1952, the Dutch team were outclassed 6-1 in the final. Four years later, arch-rivals Pakistan were put to the sword. Once again, the team didn’t concede a goal in the entire campaign. That victory meant India had now bagged a remarkable six successive Olympic Gold medals in hockey. Another 1-0 win over Pakistan came in 1964. India’s last Gold medal win came after a thrilling 4-3 victory over Spain in 1980. In addition, the Indians have also claimed one Silver and two Bronze medals at the Olympics in the sport. Therefore, the men’s hockey team’s record on the grandest stage is unparalleled.

The women’s hockey team has found success harder to come by. At the inaugural women’s event in 1980, the team finished in fourth place. A 36-year hiatus was finally ended when the women’s team qualified for Rio 2016. However, they were eliminated in the group stage.

Notable players

Let’s take a look at some of the historic figures in hockey at the Olympic Games.

Dhyan Chand

“The Wizard of Hockey” is the greatest player ever to have played the game. Dhyan Chand’s superb ball control mesmerized the entire world. A Major of the Indian Army, Chand won three successive Olympic Gold medals from 1928 to 1936. However, his influence extended beyond those victories. Dhyan Chand’s birthday also acts as the National Sports Day of India on August 29.

Balbir Singh Sr.

Balbir Singh Sr
Balbir Singh passed away due to COVID-19 related complications (Credits- Hockey India)

Widely regarded as one the great centre-forwards in hockey, Balbir Singh Sr. was an instrumental figure in Indian hockey. He won three consecutive Olympic Gold medals from 1948 to 1956. Singh holds the record for the most goals by an individual in an Olympic men’s hockey final. He set the record by netting five goals in India’s 6–1 victory over the Netherlands in the final of the 1952 Olympic Games. 

Owing to his achievements, Singh was the first sports personality to be honoured with the prestigious Padma Shri award. Recently, the Mohali International Hockey Stadium was renamed the Olympian Balbir Singh Senior International Hockey Stadium in his honour.

Luciana Aymar

Nicknamed “The Maradona of Field Hockey,” Argentina’s Luciana Aymar is the greatest female hockey player of all-time. She is known for her ability to beat opposing players with pace and dynamic dribbling skills. Four Olympic medals, two World Cup titles and six Champions Trophy crowns underline her status as one of the sport’s all-time greats.

Ellen Hoog

Ellen Hoog holds the top position as the most celebrated female hockey player of the last decade. The Dutch player took the gold medal after representing the Netherlands at the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games. Her offensive speed and ability to change direction swiftly made her one of the most dangerous midfielders in the world.

Teun de Nooijer

The Dutch legend scored many goals for his country (Credits- FIH)

Teun de Nooijer is one of the finest male hockey players of the modern era. As a pioneering forward of the Dutch national team, he made over 400 appearances for his country. De Nooijer won Gold medals at the 1996 and 2000 Olympics and also led his country to the final in 2004 and 2012.

Interesting Olympics Trivia

  • The 1932 Olympics saw the shortest edition of hockey, featuring only three teams – India, Japan and the US.
  • Zimbabwe is the only African country to win an Olympic medal in hockey (Gold). The historic feat was achieved after winning the inaugural women’s hockey tournament at the 1980 Moscow Olympics.
  • Balkishan Singh Grewal is the only Indian to win an Olympic hockey gold medal both as a player and a coach. He was a member of the Gold medal-winning team at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and was head coach of the team that won Gold at the 1980 Olympics.
  • Finland in 1952 and Brazil in 2016 are the only countries that have never played Olympic hockey, except when it hosted the Games.
  • Dhanraj Pillay is the only player to have played in four Olympics, four World Cups, four Champions Trophies and four Asian Games.

Tokyo 2020 contenders

At the upcoming Tokyo Olympics, several nations will be vying for the coveted Gold medal. In the men’s section, Australia and Belgium are big favourites for the title. Netherlands, Germany and defending champions Argentina will also look to stake their claim for the top prize. The Indian team have been going through a resurgence in recent years and could grab a podium finish if they manage to display their A-game in Japan.

Gursahibjit Singh Graham Reid Hockey India
The Indian team have performed wonderfully under Graham Reid (Credits- Hockey India)

In the women’s section, World No. 1 Netherlands, who have reached the final at each of the last four Olympics, are strong favourites. Australia, Argentina, Germany and Great Britain have the ability to push them all the way. India and newcomers Ireland could be the surprise package of the tournament. Hence, another mouth-watering edition of Olympic hockey is just around the corner.

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