Whenever India talks about Olympics, if there is one event that has hands down trumped over others in terms of success for the Indians, it is undoubtedly field hockey. Out of the total 28 medals won by India, 11 have come from hockey, while the remaining 17 has been shared between various individual sports.
Despite a fall from the grace for the current Indian hockey team, India used to be an intimidating appellation throughout the last century and this story is a celebration of the captains who could make the impossible happen for the Indian hockey team.
We will take a quick glance at the Indian captains who won gold medals for India in the prestigious Olympics.
1928 – Amsterdam – Jaipal Singh
India was absolutely at its intimidating best as they sailed hammer and tongs to the gold medal match by imposing a towering 26 plus goal difference. They were led by the likes of Jaipal Singh and powered past Austria by 6-0, Belgium by 9-0, Denmark by 5-0, Switzerland by 6-0 and finally smashed the Netherlands in the final by 3-0. Dhyan Chand wreaked havoc as he simply couldn’t stop scoring. India claimed the gold medal without breaking any sweat at all.
1932 – Los Angeles – Lal Shah Bokhari
This was a unique journey for the Indians as even before the tournament began, India was faced with an outrageous implosion that could have torn the team apart and the primary one of those problems was groupism between Anglo-Indians and Indians.
Despite off-field altercations, when the Indians took the field, they were simply merciless and reduced the USA and Japan to mere dust through a golden brand of performance. Under the leadership of Lal Shah Bokhari, India pulverized Japan by 11-1 as Dhyan Chand led the charge with four goals, followed by Roop Singh and Gurmit Singh Kullar’s three.
In the bout for the gold medal, India toyed with the woeful hosts as they tore apart the USA by 24-1, a record still to be broken in Hockey. Roop Singh pumped in 10 goals, while Dhyan Chand scored 8. Gurmit Singh Bhullar was once again in the thick of things with five goals next to his name.
1936 – Berlin – Dhyan Chand
This was another year of Indian dominance in field hockey as they ran riot in the group stage with 3 out of 3 victories and a goal difference of 20 plus. Roop Singh and Dhyan Chand plundered 13 goals between them and were absolutely untenable.
India hammered France by an emphatic margin of 10-0, thanks to the collective brilliance of their skipper Dhyan Chand and Roop Singh, who once again plundered six goals between them.
India conceded for the first time in the final of the tournament, not that it mattered, but a tiny blotch nevertheless. They ran amok over Germany by 8-1, with Dhyan Chand firing home four.
1948 – London – Kishan Lal
Despite a paradigm shift in the entire line-up that was brimming with new faces and questions of promise, India had no intentions of relenting. They triumphed over Spain, Argentina and Austria in the group stages, chronicling a goal difference of 18 plus.
For the first time in the antiquity of the Olympics and post-independence, India had a close brush with the Netherlands in the semi-finals. However, that couldn’t stop them from advancing to the finals as they won the tie by 2-1.
India was once again back to their scintillating best in the finals as they were able to hammer Great Britain by an emphatic 4-0 margin under the leadership of Kishan Lal.
1952 – Helsinki – K.D. Singh
This was for the first time that field hockey witnessed a complete knock-out format of the game that staged an even bigger challenge for India as a slip-up in just a match could have cost them the medal.
India was already a part of the quarter-finals where they had to take on Austria, who pumped a rippling display against Switzerland in the preliminaries. India hammered 4 past Austria to secure a semi-final berth against Great Britain.
There wasn’t much resistance from the Britons as India sailed hammer and tongs to the finals, eking out a comfortable victory by 3-1.
They were up against the Netherlands in the final, who had a golden opportunity to avenge their defeat in the semi-finals in 1948’s game. However, K.D. Singh’s exemplary captaincy led India to a phenomenal 6-1 victory over the Netherlands.
1956 – Melbourne – Balbir Singh Sr
India was once again back to their grisly selves under the leadership of Balbir Singh Sr. With the tournament being remonetized to its former group stage format, India wreaked absolute carnage in the opening round. They hammered Afghanistan by 14-0, the United States by 16-0 and Singapore by 6-0.
Despite such prolific goal-scoring prowess in the group stages, India took a cautious approach in the knock-outs. They were up against the United Team of Germany in the semi-finals, where they successfully prised out a 1-0 victory in a pulsating encounter.
They were confronted by their arch-rivals, Pakistan in the final, and it needed a 38-minute strike from Randhir Singh Gentle to win India the gold medal.
1964 – Tokyo – Charanjit Singh
This tournament was the test of fire for the Indian hockey team as they lost the gold to their arch-rivals, Pakistan, despite insane moments of brilliance from Leslie Claudius.
India managed to chronicle a victory in their tournament opener against Belgium by 2-0. However, they were suddenly struck by some bedazzling display from the Germans as the latter secured a lead in the 20th minute. India was staring at their first defeat in the group-stage games in the glittering antiquity of the sport. However, a late penalty corner from Prithipal Singh salvaged a fortunate draw against the bolstered Germany.
India was once again left stunned by Spain who managed to pull off another draw, making it 2 draws in a row, a result that was unknown to Indians until the latest edition of the quadrennial extravaganza. However, this impasse served as the tocsin for the Indian team as the players staged a strong watershed from the next game, winning four consecutive games to make it to the semis.
Collective brilliance from Joginder Singh and Harbinder Singh imbued the opponents with terror, while defender Prithipal Singh smashed 11 strikes.
Despite dampened conditions in the semi-final, India tamed a soaring Australia by 3-1, securing another title clash with their arch-rivals, Pakistan.
With intensified tensions off the field, India and Pakistan played out a goalless draw in the first half. India meant business straight away in the second half, as fierce pressure from them won them an important penalty corner. Prithipal Singh’s ferocious strike clipped Pakistani captain, Manzoor Hussain’s front foot, resulting in a penalty stroke for India.
As Mohinder Lal struck from the dreaded spot, Shankar Lakshman, India’s goal-keeper, walked away with the man of the match award for some rollicking saves against Pakistan’s famished attacking line-up.
1980 – Moscow – Vasudevan Baskaran
Despite a scintillating display throughout the history of the sport, India started losing its unrivalled dominance after 1964 and 1980 was the last year that India will be claiming their last medal in field hockey to date.
This was a totally untested team for the Indians, and the youth had some serious inspiration from retired hockey players and army chief. After the fray being reduced to a 6-team fray, India won their opening game against Tanzania by 18-0, which was followed by worrisome draws against Spain and Poland.
Sadly, Baskaran missed a penalty stroke in the dying embers against Spain to secure a victory. The Indian attackers made a hash of affairs, as they were overtly profligate and squandered countless opportunities.
However, their draw against European champions, Spain turned their fortunes for the great, and they hammered a woeful Cuba by 13-0.
Setting up an intense clash against the Soviet Union in the semi-finals, India went for changed tactics and was successful in drubbing their counterparts successfully by an emphatic margin of 4-2.
It was an ecstatic display from Surinder Singh Sodhi in the midfield that also saw him grabbing a brace to send India surging ahead in the first half.
MK Kaushik managed to score early in the second half but a spirited display from the Spanish captain, Juan Amat saw him score two goals in a span of two minutes, dragging the Spanish armada back to their feet.
This is when a surprising move of fielding Mohammad Shahid as a center-forward paid off handsome dividends, with him scoring India’s fourth goal, once again offering stringent resistance against the resurgence of Spain. However, Juan Amat fired home a hat-trick and compelled two quick penalty-corners to stifle India. However, the Indians kept their heads held high and secured their eighth gold medal.