This day that year: 70 years ago, India won first Olympic gold after independence
Independent India won its first gold medal at the Olympics, in field hockey, at London exactly 70 years ago to the day.
The Kishan Lal-led hockey team, depleted by the partition, beat all odds to win 4-0 against Great Britain -- the significance wasn’t lost on anyone then -- at the Empire stadium in London (now the Wembley).
Partition, and the departure of some Anglo-Indian players had weakened India, although the team was still among the favourites. Indeed, between 1928 and 1956, India remained the Olympic champion, winning six gold medals. Still, with the necessity of having to rebuild the team, and with some members losing family and property during the partition, the Indian team at the London games was a definite underdog.
A Hindi movie based on independent India’s first gold at the Olympics, Gold, releases later this week, timed with Independence Day on August 15.
There were other challenges before the team too. The Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) was out of funds. The former patrons of the sport in India, the maharajahs, were too occupied in settling their own affairs post partition to be bothered.
Field hockey was introduced in the Olympics in 1908. India won the gold in 1928, 1932, and 1936 (India won the gold at the 1936 games in Berlin by defeating Germany 8-1). The games were not held in 1940 and 1944 on account of World War II.
Great Britain was no slouch in hockey either. It won the gold at the Olympics in 1908 and 1920. Legend has it that the country withdrew from hockey at the Amsterdam Games in 1928 to avoid the ignominy of losing to a colony, India.
The Great Britain team overcame Pakistan 2-0 in the semi-finals before clashing with India in the summit clash. The legendary Balbir Singh Dosanjh scored a brace while Trilochan Singh Bawa and Pat Jansen scored a goal each to hand their former rulers a crushing defeat, three days before independent India turned one.
As Balbir Singh puts it: “That day when our flag was hoisted in front of thousands of Britons at the Wembley Stadium, I realised what independence means. When the national anthem was played and the flag was going up, I felt that I was flying.”