A fine example of Balbir Singh Senior‘s dedication came during the 1956 Olympics when he took the field against Pakistan in the men’s hockey gold medal match. Also Read - Staying Calm in Crunch Situations Will be Key in Olympics: Navneet Kaur
The three-time Olympic gold medallist Balbir died on Monday morning at a Mohali hospital, aged 96. Also Read - Asian Hockey Federation to Organise Online Education Workshops For Hockey India Coaches, Match Officials
Balbir had to sit out most of the campaign after picking up an injury but returned for the semi-final clash against Germany which India won 1-0 and were just one step away from completing a hat-trick of Olympic gold medals. Also Read - My Focus is on Staying Fit And Securing a Place in Tokyo-Bound Squad: Reena Khokhar
Ahead of the final clash, Balbir took pain-killing injections, recalls former India footballer Tulsidas Balaram who was part of the team that finished a historic fourth at the 1956 Summer Games.
“India (were) pitted against Germany in the hockey semi-finals at the majestic Melbourne Cricket Ground (and) our captain (Singh) led from the front as India won by a solitary goal to set up a clash of titans against Pakistan in final,” Balaram wrote on All India Football Federation’s website.
“After bowing out in 1948 and 1952, Pakistan finally reached the final and they were desperate to end India’s monopoly. It was nerve-wracking, and the entire Indian contingent was feeling it,” he added.
India went on to beat Pakistan 1-0 to claim a third straight gold.
“…so many memories from 1956 Olympics … especially the manner he (Singh) rose above everything as India defeated Pakistan in the final. Balbir-paaji’s dedication was heroic. He came out with a plaster on his finger and took pain-killer injections before the match,” Balaram wrote.
For Balaram, Balbir was unlike any other sportsperson.
“He (Singh) was a culmination of many. In my entire sporting career, I have hardly seen another sportsperson as disciplined, dedicated, and honest as him. His athletic build complemented his agility. His turn, precision and ability to generate pace from nowhere was above all,” he wrote.
The 84-year-old Balaram said during the 1956 Olympics, the Indian contingent stayed at one corner of the Games Village. Due to the proximity of their respective grounds, the football and hockey players sometimes trained together.
“As an ardent hockey follower since my childhood, I got a bit star-struck in the Games Village seeing Balbir Singh, Leslie Claudius, Shankar Lakshman, Ranganathan Francis, Amir Kumar and many more,” he said.
He continued, “Everyone in the team was not just a player, but an elegant artist! The coordination between Udham Singh and Balbir Paaji was terrific and even as the hockey team began its campaign, Balbir-paaji’s fiver against the Netherlands in the previous Olympics (1952 Helsinki) final was still going around like a fairy tale.”