1960 Olympics hockey: Laying the groundwork for four years later

In Rome, we knew it wouldn’t be easy. India had managed to win 1-0 against Pakistan in 1956 and there were other teams coming up fast, including Australia.

Pakistan’s Bashir Ahmed duels with India’s Jaswant Singh in the final of the Rome Olympics on September 9, 1960. Pakistan won 1-0.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

To be the first Indian hockey team to return without an Olympic gold medal is not something to be proud of, but that setback laid the groundwork for four years later.

To make the cut for even the probables list of the Olympic team was considered a huge achievement back then; being part of the actual team was more difficult. I was included for the trials after impressing the federation at three domestic tournaments on the trot in 1959 – the Bombay Gold Cup, the Aga Khan Gold Cup and the National Championships.

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That was just the start, though. With at least five players vying for every single spot, and all equally good, it was not easy. On top of that, as a midfielder, my competitors included the legendary Leslie Claudius, who would be the captain. But I managed to make the cut, along with Joseph Antic, and even got to play all the games despite being the youngest of the lot.

In Rome, we knew it wouldn’t be easy. India had managed to win 1-0 against Pakistan in 1956 and there were other teams coming up fast, including Australia. But it was not a weak team; we were capable of winning gold. We had the experience of Claudius and Raghbir Singh Bhola and the inimitable Shankar Laxman in the goal. We had Prithipal Singh and Udham Singh in the ranks.

India captain Leslie Claudius takes the second step on the podium.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

 

But the team could not combine well. For some reason, the flow wasn’t there. The Europeans were stronger and I think we made the mistake of trying to outplay them in their style. It wasn’t suited to us. But we must also remember that times were changing, the competition was increasing. There could not be 10, 12 or 15 goals scored in a game any more by any team. The 1956 final had established that. The final was close and Pakistan managed to score early. We tried but could not find the target. It was a strange feeling to not hear the national anthem at an Olympic stadium; it had never happened before. If you ask me or anyone from that time, no one can explain either the result or that feeling.

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For me, personally, the lessons learnt were to help me in Tokyo four years later. As captain, it was to be my finest hour, defeating Pakistan again in the final and reclaiming the gold. It was like restoring lost honour, taking what was rightfully ours.

Charanjit Singh, a member of the 1960 squad, captained India to gold at the 1964 Olympics.

As told to Uthra Ganesan

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