Death of a sporting hero

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The glory days of Balbir Singh, who died at age 96 on Monday, began in 1947 when he first played for the newly-independent India. The days of glory never ended — he made a great career as a player, coach and elder. His was a rich life marked by remarkable achievements, which he wore lightly.

The first sporting feat of independent India was the gold won by the hockey team at the 1948 Olympic Games — won in London, beating newly-evicted colonial masters Great Britain. This was India’s fourth consecutive Olympics gold, but the sweetest — victory had been achieved in front of a partisan home crowd. Singh was the hero of the win, scoring two goals. The Indian tricolour was raised at the Olympics for the first time on August 12, 1948. India erupted in celebrations.

Singh added two more Olympics gold to his bag with the Indian teams in 1952 and 1956; in 1952, he scored a hat-trick against Great Britain in the semifinals and six goals in the gold medal match against the Netherlands — this remains a record in a final of the Olympics. In the 1956 final, in which India beat Pakistan, Singh played despite carrying an injury — the team fielded him in order to draw Pakistani defenders due to his formidable reputation as a goal-scorer. Singh hoped to captain the team in the 1960 Olympics as well but, to his surprise, was made a selector instead. India went on to lose the final to Pakistan.

Singh noted in his biography that he, along with Gurcharan Singh, trained the team for the 1964 Olympics for six weeks; again, to his surprise, the team was handed to someone ‘who had nothing to do with it’. However, it was under Singh that India won their sole World Cup title, in 1975. One of the greatest centre-forwards of the sport, Singh is considered second only to Dhyan Chand in the Indian hockey pantheon. Singh had the term ‘Senior’ appended to his name to distinguish him from other hockey stars with the same name — that senior, the last link to the team that won gold in London in 1948, is now gone…Thankyou The tribune