Feature

Barefoot and without a tooth, Dhyan Chand’s magic took centrestage at Berlin 1936

Surrounded by self-doubt heading into the Berlin Olympics, the Indian team put up a great show to win its third straight Olympic gold medal in 1936.

By Naveen Peter ·

Despite its comprehensive wins at the 1928 and the 1932 Olympics, the Indian hockey team was yet to be considered the masters of the game when the 1936 Olympics came along.

This was largely due to India winning their second gold medal in a depleted field at the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

Though the European nations stayed away from LA 1932 on account of the Great Depression, the four years since then saw them improve manifolds.

And for India, trying to defend the crown was not going to be an easy task.

However, the Indian hockey team - this time led by the talismanic Dhyan Chand - was riding on a 48-match winning streak a year before the Games and were on a definite high.

But as the 1936 Berlin Olympics edged closer, the Indian team was in for a reality check.

Dhyan Chand faces a worrying loss

Just ahead of their departure for the Olympics, the Indian team suffered a 4-1 defeat to a Delhi XI side that raised a few questions about their preparedness.

At the 1936 Olympics, hockey wizard Dhyan Chand (bottom right) had doubts on the Indian team’s capabilities

“I never recognised Delhi as a hockey-playing centre, but on this day they were right on top of us and completely outplayed us,” Dhyan Chand wrote in his autobiography Goal.

“While we were touring other centres before we finally sailed from Bombay, this particular defeat kept worrying me. For the first time, I was captaining the Olympic team; I wondered if India would lose the title under my charge?”

It was with this fear that Dhyan Chand and the Indian hockey team set sail for Berlin.

A long and tiring journey later, where the team encountered rough seas - with all but three members falling seasick - the Indian hockey team landed in Berlin two weeks ahead of its opening game against Hungary.

But the Indian hockey team’s form still remained a worry as they lost its opening warm-up game against a German XI 4-1 just days after settling into the Olympic environment.

“While the Delhi defeat could have been dismissed as a one-off, this German blitzkrieg in Berlin was more serious,” Olympics -- The India story, a book on India’s Olympic history, summed up the warm-up match.

“They now knew they were not invincible and the Europeans had caught up. It served as a perfect wake-up call.”

This loss didn’t sit well with the Indian team.

The Indian hockey team recorded convincing wins en route their title win at the 1936 Berlin Olympics

The management tried to help strengthen the team by trying to send Ali Dara, an inside forward who had played alongside Dhyan Chand, to Berlin before their opener. But the Indian player could only join much later. 

Meanwhile, in Germany, the team chose to go back to its basics as rigorous drills and training sessions twice a day became a norm. 

The team also adhered to a strict code of discipline which included fixed time for bed, meals and leisure. 

These sessions soon started bearing fruit as the Indian hockey team picked up steam as the Games edged closer and its confidence was back too with convincing wins in the remaining six warm-up games. 

Grouped alongside Hungary, the United States and Japan in Group A, the Indian team steamrolled its opponents to storm into the semi-finals of the hockey tournament. 

Dhyan Chand’s younger brother Roop Singh and Mahmood Jaffer were the stars of the group stages as the Indian hockey team, banked on the side’s attacking prowess, to record huge wins.

They won 4-0 against Hungary, and then beat the USA 7-0 with the skipper Dhyan Chand, Roop Singh and Mahmood Jaffer scoring two goals apiece while Ernest Goodsir-Cullen completed the rout.

Against Japan, in their final group game, the Indians enjoyed the majority of the possession and made good use of their stickwork to record a 9-0 win to move into the semi-finals where a quality French team awaited them. 

Barefoot and without a tooth

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

But despite such dominant performances, not many believed India could once again go on to retain the gold medal. This was largely down to the hosts Germany coming up the ranks in hockey over the past years.

While India eased through Group A, the Germans cruised in Group B and that set up an exciting gold-medal match.

“Germany had made tremendous strides and if the Indians are to win they will want to play even better than they did today when they gave their best display up to date,” Indian newspaper Statesman had noted following the Indian team’s win over Japan.

Not deterred by the reportage, the Indian hockey team continued its fine run at the Olympics with an empathic 10-0 win over France in the semi-final, with Dhyan Chand scoring four of those goals.

The 1936 Olympics hockey final too was no different as India was on the money from the first whistle, barely allowing the Germans any room to make any inroads.

Determined to bring home a gold under his captaincy, 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 raced to an 8-1 win to complete their first hat-trick of Olympic gold medals at the Olympics. Captain Dhyan Chand, the hockey wizard, led from the front to emerge as the top goal-scorer of the tournament. The Indian hockey team scored 38 goals in all in five matches and conceded just one.

“Dhyan Chand who once more proved himself as the best centre-forward in the world, demonstrated his worth as a great captain,” said team manager Swami Jagan Nath.

“Held in great esteem, affection and admiration by the hockey players, he was the central luminary around whom the members of the team revolved.”

The skilful forwards were duly supported by the hardworking halves as the team rose to the occasion and demonstrated a perfect game of hockey that left the crowd in awe.

It was Dhyan Chand’s third and final Olympics, and it was a befitting one for the then 31-year-old wizard.