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The Remarkable Legacy of Indian Hockey

Digvijay Singh Deo | CNN-News18

First published: June 18, 2016, 12:05 PM IST | Updated: June 18, 2016
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The Remarkable Legacy of Indian Hockey
Indian hockey team celebrate winning silver medal in Champions Trophy 2016. (Getty Images)

Ask any sportsperson, the pinnacle of sporting success for them is to stand on the Olympic podium and see their country's national flag rise in that hallowed arena. It is that dream that pushes them into making sacrifices as they chase Olympic glory.

The London Olympics saw India finally take steps towards realising its true potential at the Olympics. Abhinav Bindra had raised the bar in Beijing with a first ever individual Gold medal.

Just one individual Gold in a country of a billion plus people. Even the six medals at London 2012 were nowhere close to the tally India should be aspiring for. But at least it was a start.

1972 Olympic team leaving for tour of Egypt and East Germany ahead of the Munich Olympics 2.

Rio promises to be a make or break moment in Olympic sport. It will be a test of the system. Have we as a country been able to back the phenomenal talent that exists? Is our sport still mired in red tape that ensures the athlete is not at the centre of the pyramid with every effort going in to ensure his or her well-being?

Our pre-Olympic build-up series India’s Champions premieres on Saturday. For the last 5 months, a team of journalists, producers, editors and video journalists have been travelling all across India, spending time at national camps, trying to understand the effort that goes into preparing for the Olympic Games.

However no story of Indian sport is complete without a look back at a rich legacy. The Champions of today are inspired by past generations who have coveted Olympic glory. Only a handful have managed to attain the ultimate glory in world sport, an Olympic medal.

Captain KD Singh introducing President Rajendra Prasad to Balbir Singh Dosanjh and other team members after a 5th consecutive Gold in Helsinki in 1952. Captain KD Singh introducing President Rajendra Prasad to Balbir Singh Dosanjh and other team members after a 5th consecutive Gold in Helsinki in 1952.

Yet the story of India at the Olympics begins with Hockey. Very rarely has a sport been as synonymous with a country than India and Hockey. It is a rich legacy, 8 gold medals, six of those consecutive wins across four decades.

From 1928 to 1960, the Indian Hockey team were invincible at the World stage. Such was the domination that the Silver medal in 1960 and Bronze medals in 1968 and 1972 were looked upon as failures.

What would Indian Hockey give today to be back on the Olympic podium?

Captain Dhyan Chand and a team mate share a light moment during the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Captain Dhyan Chand and a team mate share a light moment during the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

It is that special legacy which kicks off our Olympic coverage. For the first time ever on television, we at CNN News 18 have attempted to showcase that golden era when India ruled the world in Hockey. It has taken a special effort to put this tribute together.

Very little archival material is available in the public domain of the pre-independence years. Yet thanks to the families of players who played in that era, 1928-1936 we have managed to piece together a visual narrative that we hope celebrates our Champions who played for an India that was under British rule.

The International Hockey Federation, FIH and Hockey India through their good offices allowed us access to rare archives which have been used throughout the documentary.

Dhyan Chand and his team at a reception during 1936 Berlin Olympics. Dhyan Chand and his team at a reception during 1936 Berlin Olympics.

Special stories and anecdotes from family members make this a special show. Did you know that Hockey Wizard Dhyan Chand almost missed the preparatory camp of the 1936 Olympics as his Army regiment was set to be deployed in Burma?

The team was selected in his absence, yet when he belatedly arrived at the camp the Captaincy was bestowed on him as the appointed Captain felt he could not do justice to the role.

Unfortunately there were no Olympics in 1940 and 1944 due to the Second World War and that was the last the Olympics saw of Dhyan Chand. In 1948 a newly independent India had to battle not just strong teams but also cope with the exodus of players to Pakistan. But even that proved to be a minor hitch as

Team which won Bronze at 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. Team which won Bronze at 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.

India asserted its supremacy over Great Britain in the final. The hosts had not fielded a team at the Olympics since1920, for fear of losing to their subjects.

Do watch Balbir Singh Dosanjh expressing his joy at marching behind the Indian tr-colour and not the Union Jack and the feeling of euphoria at hearing the national anthem play at Wembley stadium post their 4-0 win.

Through Balbir we pay tribute to an exceptional team which included greats like KD Singh Babu, Leslie Claudius and Keshav Dutt who ensured a 5th consecutive Gold in1952. Balbir was injured while leading the 1956 team but the team came back home with a sixth consecutive Gold medal.

Captain Balbir Singh on the victory stand after India beat Pakistan 1-0 in the final at Melbourne in 1956. Captain Balbir Singh on the victory stand after India beat Pakistan 1-0 in the final at Melbourne in 1956.

The run came to an end in 1960 but paradise was regained in 1964 when Charanjit Singh’s team beat Pakistan for the Gold. However the slide of Indian Hockey began after that as infighting and federation politics saw India pay the price.

In 1968 and 1972 the team returned with a Bronze medal while Montreal saw the team draw a blank, unable to adjust to a change from grass to artificial turf. The pain of those campaigns is expressed by 3-time medallist Harbinder Singh, Ashok Kumar, Aslam Sher Khan and Dr Vece Paes.

But there would be one final hurrah. Vasudevan Bhaskaran’s team, dubbed ‘Babes of Indian Hockey’ for their relative inexperience won an 8th and final Gold for Indian Hockey at the Moscow Olympics. It has been 36 years since an Indian Hockey team stood on the podium.

The focus is now completely on individual sports, yet every Olympics the Indian Hockey team go in as contenders due to that rich legacy. Will Rio see the wait end?

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