1964 Tokyo Olympics hockey: A minute appeared longer than an hour

I felt a strange numbness after the match, but the realisation of the great victory sunk in when the national anthem started playing after the medal ceremony.

“Redeeming the gold was the top priority,” recalls Gurbux Singh.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

India had missed the gold at the 1960 Rome Olympics. It was a big disappointment for us as India had been winning the Olympic gold ever since hockey had become a permanent fixture in 1928 at the Paris Games. Redeeming the gold was the top priority as we travelled to Tokyo, which was the first Asian venue hosting an Olympics. We had lost to arch-rival Pakistan in the previous edition and there was a huge expectation on us to regain the top spot.

Nothing can be better in the life of a sportsperson than to represent the country in the Olympics. For us, the task was even bigger as we were shouldering the hopes of our country. Hockey was the only sport where we had a realistic chance of winning the gold.

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We had a disappointing start to our campaign as we drew two crucial matches — against Germany and Spain — in our first three outings. We were under a lot of pressure as another draw would probably have meant an exit from the event. The team management identified the flaw and reshuffled the forward line to get the team back in its rhythm. We recovered in time and went on to beat a big side like Holland in the last group league match. Once in the semifinals, we convincingly beat Australia to ensure a meeting with Pakistan in the final. I will remember the 1964 Games because of the new position I was asked to play. I had been a right full-back all along, but as our regular left-half was not playing well during the preparatory trip to New Zealand, I was asked to step in his place. I was scared of the proposition as I had to make a lot of adjustments to my game, but I accepted the challenge for the sake of my team and country.

Hockey at the Olympics had been about the India-Pakistan rivalry all along. This time was no different. The day before the final, our captain Charanjit Singh said the team should focus on playing a fair game. I remembered the Pakistanis playing very rough at the 1962 Jakarta Asian Games final (which India lost 0-2) and injured two of our players. I told my captain that if they try to play a dirty game, we should also play dirty, insisting on the “an eye for an eye” principle. That was the time there were no substitutions allowed and an injury would mean we would be playing with a man less. As expected, our opponents started playing rough, and once we began paying them back in the same coin, the physical game stopped. We played very well in the second half and Haripal Kaushik almost scored a brilliant solo goal, but he slipped and fell inside the D the moment he was trying to have a crack at the opposition goal. We kept piling up pressure on Pakistan and earned a penalty stroke when Prithipal Singh’s penalty corner attempt hit a Pakistani defender’s leg. Mohinder Lal converted the resulting penalty stroke by finding the top corner of the net.

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In the last five minutes, Pakistan was all over us, but Shankar Lakshman did a fantastic job in the goal saving at least three penalty corners. At that time, a minute appeared longer than an hour, and the moment the final whistle was blown, the whole Indian contingent which was there to support us was on the ground celebrating the fantastic win. I remember great athletes like Milkha Singh, Raja Karni Singh, Gurbachan Randhawa, Ashwini Kumar (then president of Indian Hockey Federation) came on to the ground and started dancing bhangra in joy.

I felt a strange numbness after the match, but the realisation of the great victory sunk in when the national anthem started playing after the medal ceremony. We all cried in joy.

Gurbux Singh won gold at the 1964 Olympics and was joint captain, with Prithipal Singh, of the team that won bronze at the 1968 Games.

As told to Amitabha Das Sharma

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