Feature

Indian hockey men at the Olympics: A gold-laden history

The men’s team dominated the prestigious event in the early years, winning six consecutive golds from 1928 to 1956 and have added two more since.

By Olympic Channel Writer ·

The Indian hockey men’s team have qualified for their third-straight Games at the 2020 Olympics and going by current form, look formidable enough to get home an Olympic medal, a feat they have not managed since Moscow 1980.

Ably led by skipper Manpreet Singh, the team is looking rejuvenated under head coach Graham Reid, regularly mounting attacks and creating multiple goal-scoring chances, something that the Indian hockey teams of yesteryear did aplenty.

The Indian hockey men’s team have won eight Olympic gold medals in all, six of them in a row (from 1928-1956) and added two more at Tokyo 1964 and Moscow 1980.

Let’s have a closer look at the staggering run the Indian hockey team enjoyed during this glorious period:

Amsterdam 1928

India won its first Olympic hockey gold in the 1928 Olympic Games at Amsterdam. The sport returned to the Olympic fold after eight years, having last been played at Antwerp 1920.

The Games saw the emergence of a certain wizard who went by the name of Dhyan Chand, though his genius was yet to be discovered. The Indian hockey legend scored 14 goals to end the event as top-scorer.

The team scored 29 goals without reply across five matches and fittingly, it was Dhyan Chand’s hat-trick that secured a 3-0 victory in the final over home side, the Netherlands that gave the Indian hockey men’s team its first-ever gold medal at the Games.

The Indian hockey team completed their first hat-trick of gold medal at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Photo: Olympic Archives

Los Angeles 1932

The 1932 Games at Los Angeles saw several bruised egos in the Indian hockey squad as the ‘Indians’ and the ‘Anglo-Indians’ were at odds against one another with one member of the squad even refusing to wear a turban, a part of the official team attire.

Fortunately, though, the players opted to channel their frustrations on the hockey pitch, which itself was reduced to just three nations competing- India, hosts USA and Japan.

The Indian hockey team decimated the hosts 24-1 in their first game, with Roop Singh, Dhyan Chand’s younger brother, scoring a scarcely believable 10 goals. The latter, not to be left behind, followed suit with eight of his own.

With such fearsome form coming into the ‘final’, Japan stood no chance and predictably, the Indian hockey team thrashed them 11-1 to win a second consecutive Olympic gold medal.

Berlin 1936

The 1936 Games in Berlin saw the Indian hockey team bag a third Olympic gold medal and it was a fitting send-off for the then 31-year-old Dhyan Chand, who announced his retirement post the tournament and was promptly handed captaincy.

They went on yet another dominant run, scoring 30 goals and conceding none against Hungary, USA, Japan and France in the league stages and the semi-final as Dhyan Chand and Roop Singh again featured heavily in the scoring charts.

The final saw another star performance from the wizard, who scored a hat-trick, his second in Olympic finals, as the Indian hockey team beat hosts Germany 8-1 to ensure that Dhyan Chand retired with three Olympic golds to his name.

Roop Singh won the Olympic gold in hockey at Los Angeles 1932 and Berlin 1936

London 1948

With World War II leading to the cancellation of the 1940 and 1944 Olympics, the Indian hockey side saw an enforced lull of 12 years at the Games but they ensured that they returned with a fourth gold medal and their first after independence.

The event saw the emergence of a new star in Balbir Singh Sr. The striker played a starring role as the Indian hockey team beat Argentina 9-1 and Austria 8-0 before overcoming Spain 2-0 in the semi-finals.

The final pitted them against hosts Great Britain, the first time the two nations played against one another since India gained independence a year earlier, and they were greeted by a 25,000-strong capacity crowd at the iconic Wembley Stadium.

However, the Indian hockey team showed no nerves as Balbir Singh Sr scored twice to help them to a comprehensive 4-0 win. The movie ‘Gold’, which released last year was based on the performances of this team at London 1948.

Helsinki 1952

Four years later, Balbir Singh Sr put up another heroic performance, scoring nine goals across three matches, eight of them in the semi-finals and finals, as the vice-captain of the team.

The Indian hockey team first rolled Austria over 4-0 as the Europeans had no reply for a second-consecutive Olympics to the all-dominating team. In the semis, Great Britain managed one goal but were outdone by Balbir Singh Sr’s hat-trick to go down 3-1.

The side reserved their best for the last as they outdid the Netherlands 6-1 in the final, with Balbir Singh Sr scoring five goals and skipper KD Babu adding the finishing touches as the Indian hockey team reigned supreme for a fifth time at the Olympics.

Melbourne 1956

The crowning glory for the Indian hockey team came at the 1956 Games in Melbourne, as they completed a second hat-trick of Olympic golds and their first as an independent country.

They started the campaign with a breezy, by their own lofty standards, 6-0 win over Singapore and more than doubled that tally in a 14-0 win over Afghanistan before going two better to annihilate USA 16-0, in their first three league matches.

They were brought down to earth somewhat by Germany in the semis as they could notch only a solitary goal to progress to the final against Pakistan. It was supposed to be a tough fixture made more difficult by the fact that Balbir Singh Sr suffered a fracture in his right hand.

However, the striker, now promoted to captain, came up with a true leader’s performance, playing through the pain to help his team eventually triumph 1-0 and lift a historic sixth Olympic gold.

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Tokyo 1964

The Indian hockey team’s Olympic dominance was ended by arch-rivals Pakistan at Rome 1960 as the latter beat them 0-1 in the final to win their first Olympic gold. However, India came out trumps four years later as the sides met in a third-consecutive Olympic final.

Unlike previous Games, the Indian hockey team found it difficult to get past teams, as they drew 1-1 against East Germany and Spain while beating Malaysia, Belgium and the Netherlands by either two or one-goal margins.

They steamrolled Canada 3-0 and Hong Kong 6-0 before beating Australia 3-1 in the semi-finals to gain back their credibility. However, Pakistan came into the final unbeaten throughout the tournament and their triumphs against India in the previous two Asian Games meant they started as firm favourites.

Pakistan’s Munir Ahmed Dar blocked a shot from a penalty corner with his foot, giving the Indian hockey team a penalty stroke which Mohinder Lal crucially put away to give them the lead.

The Indian hockey team then survived a barrage of attacks from the Pakistanis with goalkeeper Shankar Laxman saving everything that his rivals threw at him to ensure a seventh Olympic gold, made sweeter by the fact that they had ended Pakistan’s brief sway over them.

Moscow 1980

Three Olympics without the gold medal was unfamiliar territory for the Indian hockey team as coming into Moscow 1980, they had only managed two bronze medals at Mexico 1968 and Munich 1972 while recording an unheard of seventh-place finish at Montreal 1976.

They were under immense pressure coming into the 1980 Olympic Games and again, it was not an easy run. The Indian hockey team beat Tanzania (18-0) and Cuba (13-0) by huge margins but these were unfancied opponents.

They drew 2-2 each with more competitive ones in Poland and Spain but had done enough to reach the semi-finals where they put up a vintage performance to dismantle Russia 4-2.

Facing Spain in the final proved another arduous task as the European nation put up a tough fight but the Indian hockey team were saved by Mohammad Shahid, who had set up several goals across matches, and scored one himself in the final to enable a 4-3 victory and give the Indian hockey team its eighth and final Olympic gold to date.

With that, the total number of gold medals won by the Indian hockey team in the Olympics is eight.