Field hockey is one of the near-constant features in the Summer Olympic Games and it is a sport that India dominated like no other country has managed to.
After a first appearance at the 1908 Games in London, hockey became a firm fixture on the Olympic programme at 1920 Antwerp Games. It was not until 1980 that women made their entrance in this sport and India are yet to win a medal in that discipline. The men, however, sit atop the gold medal standings despite not winning a medal since the Moscow Games in 1980.
The Indian men’s team won six consecutive titles between 1928 and 1956. In that period, they scored a total of 178 goals and conceded just seven, winning every single out of the 25 matches they played. Till their defeat in the 1960 Rome final against Pakistan, India were unbeaten in 30 consecutive matches, and scored 197 goals, giving away only eight.
Those are records that are unlikely to be matched in the Olympic Games history.
India's field hockey medals at Olympic Games
|Los Angeles||1932||Gold||Lal Shah Bokhari|
|Helsinki||1952||Gold||KD Singh ‘Babu’|
|Melbourne||1956||Gold||Balbir Singh Sr|
|Mexico||1968||Bronze|| Prithipal Singh|
Most gold medals at Olympics field hockey (men)
|India||8 (1928, 1932, 1936, 1948, 1952, 1956, 1964, 1980)|
|Germany*||4 (1972, 1992, 2008, 2012)|
|Pakistan||3 (1960, 1968, 1984)|
|Great Britain||3 (1908*, 1920, 1988)|
|Netherlands||2 (1996, 2000)|
|New Zealand||1 (1976)|
Indian hockey’s golden streak at the Olympics Games:
1928: Played 5, won 5 (29 scored, 0 conceded)
1932: Played 2, won 2 (35 scored, 2 conceded)
1936: Played 5, won 5 (38 scored, 1 conceded)
1948: Played 5, won 5 (25 scored, 2 conceded)
1952: Played 3, won 3 (13 scored, 2 conceded)
1956: Played 5, won 5 (38 scored, 0 conceded)
Here, we take a look back at the six consecutive gold medals that India won from 1928 Amsterdam to 1956 Melbourne:
The world was introduced to the magic of Dhyan Chand. In India’s first appearance in field hockey at the Olympic Games (as part of the British Raj back then), the team went undefeated over the four Division A games and then beat host Netherlands in the final. India went that Olympic tournament in Amsterdam without conceding a goal, while scoring 29 themselves. And at the center of it all was Chand, who finished the tournament with a total of 14 goals including two in the final.
According to a report in Olympics.com, “Legend has it that the Dutch officials took his stick apart to see if there was a magnet hidden inside it! One newspaper report described it thus: ‘This is not a game of hockey, but magic. Dhyan Chand is, in fact, the magician of hockey’.”
India squad: Jaipal Singh (C), Richard Allen, Dhyan Chand, Maurice Gateley, William Goodsir-Cullen, Leslie Hammond, Feroz Khan, George Marthins, Rex Norris, Broome Penniger (VC), Michael Rocque, Frederic Seaman, Ali Shaukat, Sayed Yusuf, Kher Singh Gill and Nawab of Pataudi.
1932 Los Angeles
It was once again the Dhyan Chand show as his exploits saw Los Angeles Times name him best athlete of the Olympic Games. It was just a mini tournament with just three teams and the Europeans missing from the field. India notched a record 24-1 win against the hosts USA where Chand and brother Roop Singh scoring 18 between then and they drubbed Japan 11-1 to win their second Olympic gold medal. The tournament was marred in the lead-up by reports of groupism as well as travel-related issues but once they took to the field there were only one winners.
India squad: Lal Shah Bokhari (C), Richard Allen, Muhammad Aslam, Frank Brewin, Richard Carr, Dhyan Chand, Leslie Hammond, Arthur Hind, Sayed Jaffar, Masud Minhas, Broome Penniger, Gurmit Singh Kullar, Roop Singh, William Sullivan and Carlyle Tapsell.
There are said to be posters all over the German capital proclaiming: ‘Visit the hockey stadium to watch the Indian magician Dhyan Chand in action.’ That was the magnetic quality of the Indian star, now the captain of the side.
Considered by some as the greatest Indian hockey squad, the Dhyan Chand-led Indians did not have the best of build-ups to the tournament. There were a couple of concerning defeats pre tournament but once the Games began, there was no stopping them. The crowning moment of the tournament was a win in the final against the hosts.
According to a report on Olympics.com, “Dhyan Chand scored in six goals in the 1936 Berlin Olympic final. This despite losing a tooth after a collision with German goalkeeper Tito Warnholtz. Dhyan Chand returned to the field after seeking medical attention and in the second half, he reportedly played barefoot to run faster.”
India squad: Dhyan Chand (C), Richard Allen, Ali Dara, Lionel Emmett, Peter Fernandes, Joseph Galibardy, Earnest Goodsir-Cullen, Mohammed Hussain, Sayed Jaffar (VC), Ahmed Sher Khan, Ahsan Khan, Mirza Masood, Cyril Michie, Baboo Nimal, Joseph Phillips, Shabban Shahab-ud-Din, G.S. Garewal, Roop Singh and Carlyle Tapsell.
Despite the hat-trick of gold medals at the Games before, the 1948 campaign was special because, for the first time, the team was to march under the tri-colour and not the British-India flag. More importantly, it was considered to be a difficult campaign as the once all-conquering unit was now divided into two separate teams – India and Pakistan.
Modern India’s most decorated hockey legend Balbir Singh Sr. scored a brace as India hammered their former colonial masters on their own home turf 4-0 to clinch the gold medal.
“As our national anthem was being played and the tri-colour was going up, I felt that I too was flying with the flag. The sense of patriotism that I felt was beyond any other feeling in the world,” the late Balbir Singh had recalled at the Chandigarh Press Club.
India squad: Kishan Lal (C), Leslie Claudius, Keshav Dutt, Walter D’Souza, Lawrie Fernandes, Ranganathan Francis, Gerry Glacken, Akhtar Hussain, Patrick Jansen, Amir Kumar, Leo Pinto, Jaswant Singh Rajput, Latif-ur-Rehman, Reginald Rodrigues, Balbir Singh Sr., Randhir Singh Gentle, Grahanandan Singh, K. D. Singh Babu (VC), Trilochan Singh and Maxie Vaz.
No team from Great Britain or its constituent parts (i.e. England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales) took part in the Olympics between 1928 and 1936. It remained one of Chand’s biggest regrets in life that he did not get the opportunity to beat the rulers at their own game.
But there was a sense of poetic justice to it as well. When India reached the final of the 1948 Olympics hockey tournament, their opponents were Great Britain, making a comeback to the world event. And revenge was sweet, one year after they achieved independence from their former colonial rulers, India thrashed Britain 4-0.
Evidently, not for the first time, the build-up to the Olympic Games was marred by administrative controversies for the Indian hockey team. KD Singh Babu-led squad also had trouble with adapting to the conditions in Finland.
“Nanaji (grandpa) told me that the team would draw the curtains at all times and even used bedsheets to block out the light and make an entirely dark room to be able to get some sleep,” Kabir Singh, Balbir Singh Sr’s grandson, is quoted as telling the Olympic Channel.
The start of the tournament was iffy, but they peaked — as the cliche goes — at the right time to claim their fifth consecutive gold medal. India defeated Great Britain 3-1 in the semi-final with Balbir Singh Sr. scoring the second of his three Olympic hat-tricks. Saving the best for last, Balbir scored five goals on the day of the final, a record in the final of a men’s Olympic field hockey tournament that stands to this day. India stunned Netherlands 6-1 to win their fifth consecutive medal. The unbeaten streak continued.
India squad: K. D. Singh Babu (C), Leslie Claudius, Meldric Daluz, Keshav Dutt, Chinadorai Deshmutu, Ranganathan Francis, Raghbir Lal, Govind Perumal, Muniswamy Rajgopal, Balbir Singh Sr., Randhir Singh Gentle, Udham Singh, Swarup Singh, Jaswant Singh, C.S. Dubey, C.S. Gurung, Dharam Singh and Grahanandan Singh.
Already established as a great of the game, Balbir Singh Sr got the chance to lead India. The overwhelming favourites made it six gold medals on the trot and once again went unbeaten at the event. India did not concede a single goal in the entire tournament for the second time after 1928 Olympics.
Leslie Claudius, Randhir Singh Gentle, and Ranganathan Francis were playing their third Olympic Games along with Balbir who further cemented his status in the pantheon of legends in the game. But the contingent was dealt a blow as their leader got injured in the opening match. Reaching the final was largely straightforward, with Udham Singh stepping up.
With history about to be made when India took on Pakistan in the final, to mark the start of an epic rivalry, a call had to be made about their talisman. Balbir Singh Sr. had not played in any of the Indian hockey team’s matches since his injury. He led the team out on the field first and then on to the top of podium after a 1-0 win.
“That day when I led my team out to the victory rostrum, I swelled with pride. The crowd cheered us and it was a thrilling experience to acknowledge their applause,” the captain recounted about the experience at MCG.
“It was a very happy moment for us. We won all the matches in the 1956 Olympics,” former Indian hockey forward Gurdev Singh told Hockey India.
“This was only the second time that no team had scored against India in the entire Olympics campaign. Our captain Balbir Singh Sr’s finger was broken during the tournament, but he still played for the team. At that time, wherever the Indian hockey team went, it always won.”
India squad: Balbir Singh Sr.(C), Leslie Claudius, Ranganathan Francis, Haripal Kaushik, Amir Kumar, Raghbir Lal, Shankar Lakshman, Govind Perumal, Amit Singh Bakshi, Raghbir Singh Bhola, Hardyal Singh Garchey, Randhir Singh Gentle, Balkishan Singh Grewal, Gurdev Singh Kullar, Udham Singh Kullar, Bakshish Singh, O.P. Malhotra and Charles Stephen.
Full squad lists courtesy Hockey India.