1972 Munich Olympics: India's era of dominance in hockey ends

In 1972, we had a team that, on paper, was capable of regaining the gold but we came back with a bronze.

Goalkeeper Frederic Manuel falls in front of Pakistan’s Abdur Rashid during India’s 0-2 loss in the semifinals in Munich on September 8, 1972.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

When we went to Mexico City in 1968, I was still a college student and one of the youngest in the side. We were the defending champions but came back with bronze because of several reasons. Four years later, in 1972, we had a team that, on paper, was capable of regaining the gold.

The Munich Games will forever be known for the Games Village massacre and it was tragic, but honestly, I don’t think that had anything to do with our own performances or results. Yes, the Indian block was very close to the Israeli block, maybe 60-70 metres away. We had to cross the common area walkways to reach the dining hall and we could see the masked men on the roofs of the Israeli block. Clearly they could see us too. But they did not bother with any other athlete.

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Our team was a good mix of youth and experience, but everyone was mature. Post-1968, a lot of players had been dropped barring four-five, and a new team was being built from 1970 onwards. But we lost because of our own mistakes, some during the tournament and some even before. Against Pakistan in the semifinals, we got 16 penalty corners, if I remember correctly. We could not convert any, plus we missed open sitters. How can any team at that level expect to win a game, leave aside gold, with such a performance?

Captain Ajit Pal Singh (centre) with his team.   -  The Hindu Photo Library


I would say, and most in the team agreed even back then, that we messed up with the selections, too. Two players who should have been there, regardless of who was dropped, were Surjit Singh (made his debut the next year at the World Cup) and Balbir Singh of Railways (who was part of the 1968 team). Mukhbain Singh was the only penalty corner hitter. Surjit could have replaced him if needed; he was excellent but was not included in the side. Also, if I am not wrong, Aslam Sher Khan did not play a single game. All these were our own mistakes.

READ | 1968 Mexico Olympics hockey: ‘Man-made mistakes cost us’

Earlier it was only India or Holland in the 1950s. Now there was Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Spain and of course Pakistan. Back then, an Indian hockey team never thought of anything less than gold from any competition, and it was both a pressure and a confidence-booster for youngsters like me. But I had realised, even back in 1968, that the competition was getting tougher and India could no longer stroll to an Olympics gold. We did come back with bronze, but we knew the era of solo dominance was firmly over.

Ajit Pal Singh was a member of the bronze-winning Indian teams at the 1968 and 1972 Olympics.

As told to Uthra Ganesan

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