India has had a glorious past in the sport of Hockey. Indian Men’s Hockey Team was the first non-European team to be a part of the International Hockey Federation. The history with Olympic gold began in the 1928 Olympic Games. The Indian Hockey team participated in their first Olympics in 1928 and winning their first ever Olympic Gold. This was the beginning of dominance that would continue for years to come. With 11 Olympic medals – 8 Gold, 1 Silver and 2 Bronze medals – India is the most successful team in the history of field hockey. India has produced many top players throughout its history.
Let’s look at the 5 greatest Indian Hockey players:
The year 1928 is of great importance to Indian Hockey, India won its first Olympic gold medal and a prolific player in Udham Singh was born. Udham Singh was born in Sansarpur village which is considered to be a cradle of Indian Hockey. Udham Singh was a product of the DAV College. He played four Olympics from 1952 to 1964. He donned the Indian colours in 1952 (Helsinki), 1956 (Melbourne), 1960 (Rome) and 1964 (Tokyo) and had three gold medals and a silver to cherish. He was unfortunate not to etch his name as the only Indian to have been in five Olympics, a finger injury came in the way of his making to the London Olympics in 1948. He was the highest goalscorer at the 1956 Olympics with 14 goals The stick was to him what a paintbrush would be to an artist. It was a throbbing spectacle whenever he fashioned his stocky frame to weave its way through the rival defence and leave it in a state of inertia. He was a Half Back and had the adaptability to play from Left Inside, Right Inside, Center Forward and Center Half positions as well. After he hung his boots, he continued to serve Indian hockey as a coach. Under his guidance, Indian Hockey managed a bronze medal at Mexico Olympic 1968 and silver medal finish at Bangkok Asian Games 1970. The Government of India honored him with the Arjuna Award in 1965 for his services to Indian Hockey.
Balbir Singh Sr.
Balbir was born to Karam Kaur and Dalip Singh Dosanjh on 31 December 1924. World Wide Web records his birthday as 10 October, but that was a random date registered by his freedom-fighter-teacher father who was too busy getting in and out of prisons to record his correct date. He is often called Balbir Singh Senior to distinguish him from other Indian hockey players named Balbir Singh. He started as a goalkeeper, before moving up as a full-back, and eventually a center-forward. His coach Harbail Singh played an important part in his evolution as a player. He is widely regarded as the sport’s greatest ever center-forward and his records cement this reputation. He was a part of Olympics in London(1948), Helsinki(1952) and Melbourne(1956). He played a crucial role in winning gold medals in all of those Olympic. He scored a brace in finals of London Olympics. In 1952 Olympics Finals, he scored five times against the Netherlands. It remains a world record for most individual goals in an Olympic final. He was the Manager and Chief Coach of the Indian team for the 1975 Men’s Hockey World Cup, which India won. He is the First Sportsperson to be awarded Padma Shri in 1957. He and Gurdev Singh were featured on a stamp issued in 1958 by the Dominican Republic to commemorate the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. In 1982, the Patriot Newspaper judged him as the Indian Sportsperson of the Century. His endless list of achievements makes him as the greatest of all times.
Claudius firmly believed one could achieve one’s ambitions on the sports field with hard work. He went to four Olympics and never returned empty-handed; gold medal finish in 1948, 1952 and 1960 and a silver medal in 1960. He confessed in one of his interviews, the silver hurts as he was the captain. Leslie Claudius shares with Udham Singh the distinction of being one of only two Indian players to win four Olympic medals in field hockey. He believed there was no substitute for training. He used to train tirelessly to achieve perfection in his game which was evident. He could also trigger off a breathtaking counter with his foxy reading of the game. He could slow down the game or set up the pace with his brilliant vision of the contest. He is one of the finest right halves. He is the first Indian Hockey player to earn 100 caps. In 1971, he was awarded Padma Shri award by the Indian Government. He was the sixth Indian Hockey player to receive this honour.
If India ever did produce a magician after Dhyanchand, it was Pillay. He played for Indian National Hockey Team from 1989 to 2004. He is the only hockey player in history to have played 4 World Cups, 4 Olympic Games and 4 Champion Trophies. Under his leadership, India managed to win Asian Games Gold in 1998, Gold medal in Champions Challenge in 2001 and Asian Cup Gold in 2003. Although not a part of the golden era in Indian Hockey, he relentlessly played his part in bringing glory to Indian Hockey. A player worthy of Olympic Gold medal but his fate did not agree. He represented India 339 times and scored around 170 times. He would beat defenders so effortlessly and take them out of the game, many times selflessly setting his teammates up for an open goal. Few read the game like he did. His performance at 1994 World Cup in Sydney earned him a place in the World XI, he was the only Indian to be included in that list. His aggressive on and off the field. His on-field aggression left the spectator in awe. His off-field aggression did not go well with the Hockey Federation. He played his last game at the 2004 Athens Olympics. He was taken off after just 98 seconds. It was a humiliating end to a spectacular career. He was awarded Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award in 2000 and Padma Shri Award in 2001.
Dhyan “Chand” Singh
Dhyan Chand is the greatest ever Hockey player to have played the sport. He was called a magician and his exploits in Hockey gave India an international identity. What Don Bradman is to Cricket, Muhammad Ali is to Boxing, Pele is to Football; such is Dhyan Chand’s identity with Hockey. His achievements in Hockey is insurmountable. His birthday, 29th August, is celebrated as National Sports Day. On this day, The President of India gives away sport-related awards such as the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, Arjuna Award, and Dronacharya Award. His hunger for Goal scoring is enviable. His dedication for the game was supreme. Dhyan Singh used to practice a lot during the night after his duty hours, he used to wait for the moon to come out so that the visibility in the field improved. This is the reason his fellow players called him Chand and it stuck with him for eternity. He scored more than 400 goals in his career spanning from 1926 to 1948. He has three Gold medal in Olympics in 1928, 1932 and 1936. In 1928, Indian Hockey team participated in their first Olympic Games. Dhyan scored a brace at 1928 Olympics Finals against Netherland and finished the tournament as top scorer with 14 goals. In 1936 Olympics in Berlin, after witnessing his dominance against Germany in the finals Aldof Hitler offered him a senior post in the German Army which he refused. The following are few of honour conferred upon him. The National Stadium, Delhi was renamed Dhyan Chand National Stadium in 2002 in his honour. An Astroturf hockey pitch, at the Indian Gymkhana Club in London, has been named after Indian hockey legend Dhyan Chand. The government of India has issued a commemorative postage stamp and a First Day Cover in honour of Dhyan Chand. He remains the only Indian hockey player to have a stamp in his honour. An Astroturf hockey pitch, at the Indian Gymkhana Club in London, has been named after Indian hockey legend Dhyan Chand. A hostel at Aligarh Muslim University of which he was an alumnus, has been named after him. India’s highest award for lifetime achievement in sports is the Dhyan Chand Award which has been awarded annually from 2002 to sporting figures who not only contribute through their performance but also contribute to the sport after their retirement.