In the recent years, actor Akshay Kumar has been setting a record of sorts with his interesting choice of scripts that derive inspiration from real life. While his upcoming film Toilet: Ek Prem Katha tackles the issue of open defecation in India, his next movie Padman is about menstrual sanitation.
Continuing this trend, the National Award-winning actor recently took to twitter to announce his upcoming film Gold, a period sports drama that is inspired from independent India’s first victory at the 1948 Olympics.
Here’s the story of the historic triumph that catapulted the Indian hockey team into an elite league of global teams that dominated their respective sports. Interestingly, from 1928 to 1956, India won six straight gold medals while remaining unbeaten at the Olympics!
In 1908, hockey made its Olympic debut at London. This was a time when the sport had barely taken root in India, with only few clubs in Calcutta and Bombay organizing sporadic tournaments. The first meeting of the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) was held on September 7, 1925, in Gwalior with the election of Col Bruce Turnbull as president and NS Ansari as secretary.
It was due to the efforts of this newly formed organisation that the Indian hockey team made its first appearance at the 1928 Olympics at Amsterdam. In an outstanding debut, the team won its maiden gold medal by beating hosts Netherlands in the final without conceding a single goal.
This is what a Dutch journalist, impressed by the Indian team, wrote: “The Indian ball seems ignorant of law of gravity. One of those tanned, diabolical jugglers stares at the ball intently; it gets upright and remains suspended in the air. It only proceeds on its way when the player has bestowed an approval nod on it.”
The tournament also saw the birth of a legend in Dhyan Chand who scored 14 goals, including a stunning hat-trick, in the final. The son of an army man, the hardworking lad would stay up late into the night, practicing his skills alone in the moonlight. His teammates therefore had affectionately nicknamed him ‘Chand’.
Such was the magic of the hockey wizard that when the team returned from Amsterdam, thousands of people had gathered at the Bombay Docks to to get a glimpse of their Olympic hero. This was in stark contrast to their departure when the team was seen off at the Docks by three persons.
This, as it turned out, was just the beginning. In its next two outings at the Olympics, in 1932 and in 1936, the team won consecutive golds to cement its position as the undisputed champion of men’s hockey.
However, no team from Great Britain participated in the Olympics between 1928 and 1936. So, to Dhyan Chand’s deep regret, the Indian team did not get the opportunity to defeat their colonial rulers at their own game (Britain had won the Olympic titles in 1908 and in 1920) during these years.
This was soon to change.The year was 1948 and the Olympics were being held in London. In the aftermath of World War II and the partition, the IHF had somehow managed to field a team for the games. Dhyan Chand had retired, but there was no dearth of talent in the Indian squad that was marching under its own flag at the Olympics for the first time.
When the defending champions walked into the Wembley stadium, they were greeted by a standing ovation from the crowd of 20,000 who were eager to see them play.
Determined to make their newly-independent nation proud, the Indian team sailed through the preliminaries with the very talented Balbir Singh Sr. playing a key role. The team then defeated Netherlands in a closely-fought semi-final to reach the final. In a case of poetic justice, their opponents were Great Britain, making a comeback to the international tournament.
In the semi-finals, Great Britain had defeated Pakistan (whose style of play was similar to India’s) and the British were fully anticipating another upset. However, they were in for a rude shock. Despite the conditions (the heavy, muddy turf and light rain) favouring the home team, the Leslie Claudius-led side played outstandingly to thrash Britain 4-0.
One year after India achieved freedom from colonial rule, the anthem of independent India played as the Tricolour went up on British soil. For the players, it was a moment they would cherish for the rest of their lives.
As the British captain Norman Borrett told the awaiting press: “I did not think they were going to have such a victory on ground so unsuited to their play. But tonight showed how magnificent they are under any condition.”
The victory of the Indian hockey team at the 1948 Olympics was significant for many reasons. First, the world’s biggest sporting competition had returned after a gap of 12 years (due to the World War II). Second, India had become independent just a year back and was still finding its feet in the global arena. Third, in the absence of the legendary Dhyan Chand, most people expected the defending champions to falter in the tournament.
Not only did the Indian hockey team battle against all odds to prove their deterrents wrong, they did it with such elan that they won the hearts of millions of sports fans across the world.
Indian hockey’s golden run at the Olympics continued in 1952 and 1956 (where they beat Netherlands and Pakistan respectively) before being broken by Pakistan at the 1960 Rome Olympics. However, India won back the Olympic crown from Pakistan in Tokyo Olympics,1964. All in all, India has the incredible record of 11 hockey medals in 12 Olympics between 1928 and 1980!
This era of invincibility has ended now, but the name ‘India’ still resonates in the hockey universe. It has been 37 years since Indian hockey’s last Olympic gold at Moscow, but mention Olympic hockey to any hockey aficionado in the world and the first nation that comes to mind is India, thanks to its amazing record. As Keshav Dutt, member of the winning teams at the 1948 and 1952 games, once said, “It was hockey that was responsible for putting India on the map of world sports.”