1952 Helsinki Olympics: A fifth hockey gold for India

Keshav Datt, one of the finest half-backs on the turf, had the blessings of the legendary Dhyan Chand, with whom he had toured East Africa before first heading to the Olympics.

Balbir Singh scored three goals against Great Britain in the semifinals on July 20, 1952, and a world-record five against the Netherlands four days later.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

The year 1952 stands crucial in the Indian calendar. The nation not only completed its election for the first Lok Sabha after Independence, it revived the habit of clinching gold medals at the Olympics.

Keshav Datt was part of that historic side that thrashed the Englishmen 4-0 in their own backyard — at Wembley Stadium in London. The event was a shot in the arm for the sporting fraternity and the broadcast industry, especially after the horror of World War II that led to the cancellation of the Games in 1940 and 1944.

One of the finest half-backs on the turf, Datt had the blessings of the legendary Dhyan Chand. Datt had toured East Africa in 1947 under the latter’s leadership before heading to the Olympics.

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The Lahore-born hockey player couldn’t return after Partition. After a few years in Bombay, he moved to Calcutta in 1950 where he represented Mohun Bagan — the most famous Indian club of the time — in multiple sports.

In 1952, Datt was included in Kunwar Digvijay Singh’s team for the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. There was a lot of controversy regarding the selection and omission of certain players, but the team’s pre-Olympic camp in Denmark helped the contingent acclimatise to the Nordic weather conditions. And they beat a powerful Holland 6-1 for a fifth gold.

Keshav Datt is the lone surviving member from the class of 1948 and 1952.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

 

Datt’s children, Anjali, Kiron and Arun, grew up on the stories and a scrapbook filled with photographs and newspaper cutouts. “We were very proud of our father when we were kids — as we still are, of course. We heard about his sports achievements from an early age, and admired all the many trophies he had collected over the years,” Anjali says in a chat with Sportstar.

She also highlighted her father’s achievements as a shuttler in Bengal. “Apart from hockey, he had also won championships for badminton at the state level before we were born.

“Later in life, he was a keen tennis player and we were able to watch him play at various club tournaments in Kolkata.”

The children did not have access to the Olympic medals while they were growing up. “The Olympic gold medal was not on display at our home as it was too valuable. It is now the most prized possession of my brother Arun,” says Anjali.

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Datt donated the 1948 medal to the National Defence Fund after the Indo-China War. Arun preserved the 1952 medal.

Datt is 95 and is the lone surviving member from the class of 1948 and 1952. The Olympian lives in the quiet neighbourhood of Santoshpur surrounded by greenery, still maintaining an interest in sports through television and newspapers.