The Flying Sikh and Balbir Singh Sr. had been appointed to the Punjab state sports department around the same time in 1960 by then chief minister Partap Singh Kairon, who was a sports enthusiast himself.
The duo first met when they travelled together to Melbourne for the 1956 Olympics as part of the Indian contingent.
“He was a great sportsman, after Dhyan Chand if there was one name in hockey, it must be Balbir,” sprinter Milkha Singh told The Times of India after Balbir Singh Sr. passed away on Monday.
“He was already a big name in Indian hockey, and I was glad to be part of the same 1956 Olympics contingent when he captained the team to gold.
“It is an irreparable loss.”
The legend transcends borders
While Balbir Singh Sr.’s home country mourned the death of the legend, neighbours Pakistan also held him in high regard, with many of their yesteryear stars having played with the former Indian hockey captain during their days together in pre-independence India.
Another Pakistan legend Motiullah Khan, who won gold and silver at the Olympics, recalled that though the nations would tough it out on the field, they were good friends off it.
“At the 1956 Olympics, we had many players from Punjab’s province in the squad, so Balbir Singh Sr. often used to come to our camp at the Olympic village,” he told the Hindustan Times.
“We lost the final to India that year and I remember the game because of how good Balbir Singh Sr. and Leslie Claudius were. We all hold them in high regard.”