What Made Balbir Singh Senior Different From Other Sportsperson

NewsBharati    25-May-2020
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-Anjali Ankad 
 
When Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri in 1965 had requested Indians to donate to the National Defence Fund, Balbir Singh Senior gave away his Olympic medals. “The country’s troubled time was bigger than my Olympic medals. That’s why I gave it to the national defence fund,” Singh said.
 
Hockey fans will definitely agree to the fact that if the Dhyan Chand was the hero of the Pre-Independent India, then Balbir Singh Sr is the hero of the post-independence era.
 
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Singh, one of the best centre forward India had produced in Hockey, passed away on early Monday.  He spent his last days in hospital when he was admitted in 2018 due to pneumonia and heart ailments. He played a crucial role in continuing the winning streak of Indian Hockey in the Olympics. The former Indian skipper was part India's wins in the 1948 London Olympics, 1952 Helsinki Olympics in which he was the vice-captain, and 1956 Melbourne Olympics as captain. 
 
He was everywhere when he started playing hockey - off the field as well as on the field to contribute in the Indian Hockey. However, in the initial stages of his career, he had to overcome several obstacles. He had seen India being divided with few of the key players chose Pakistan over India. It was difficult for him to see his team being separated as he always believed that the team wins the match, not a player. “Hockey is a team game and without my team, I would be nobody.”
 
He had to go through a phase when the nation dealing with Partition. The partition at that time had torn the families and it did even spare the sports. Partition did to the sport, what partition did to families. It tore the soul of a country apart. It tore the soul of Indian hockey apart.
 
Having said that, 20-member Indian team was formed and Singh was not in the original list but came on board due to his abundance talent in making his opponent goalkeepers anxious. Making his first appearance at the 1948 London Olympics he played against Argentina. Following that he played in final against Great Britain where he scored the first two goals and India won by 4–0. He had scored eight goals out of 13 goals India scored. Let’s not forget he played only two matches.
 
He went on to earn his first Olympic medal. Recalling the moment, he had said, when saw the Indian flag being hoisted in in front of thousands at Wembley stadium, he realised what Independence meant. He felt nothing but emotional and proud.
 
From then on, his ceaselessly went to win two more Olympiads, in 1952 at Helsinki in which he scored nine of the 13 goals and in 1956 at Melbourne, where he was the captain.
 
In the eight matches played at the three Olympic Games, he has scored 22 goals.

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When Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri in 1965 had requested Indians to donate to the National Defence Fund, Balbir Singh Senior gave away his Olympic medals. “The country’s troubled time was bigger than my Olympic medals. That’s why I gave it to the national defence fund,” Singh said.
 
However, the medals were kept in Punjab’s chief minister’s office and were sent to Singh - with a letter which read: “These medals are the country’s pride and prestige and couldn’t be sold.”
 
Balbir holds the unique honour of being the flag-bearer to the Indian contingent in two successive Olympics in 1952 and 1956.
 
Singh also led the Indian team in the inaugural hockey competition of the Asian Games in Tokyo where India earned silver.
 
After contributing to playing, in his late fifties, Singh did not stop in serving the game. He was a coach, manager, selector and administrator. He was manager when India won the World Cup for the first time in Kuala Lumpur in 1975 and the only time so far. Other victories included a gold medal at the 1966 Asian Games, bronze at the 1971 World Cup, bronze at 1982 Champions Trophy.
 
However, the most depressing moment of his life came when he was the manager and the team lost the gold medal match to Pakistan in 1982 Asian Games in Delhi.
 
Due to his immense involvement in Hockey Balbir was honoured with Padma Shri in 1957. He came the His autobiography, My Hockey Days, throws light on the many facets of the life and times of this remarkable Olympian.
 

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Hockey was more than a sport for him as he was regarded as ‘Modern Day-Dhyan Chand’. Indeed, he was! Salute to a true hero who made India in many ways. India will always remember him!