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Legendary hockey star Balbir Singh takes you back... to 1948!

Legendary hockey star Balbir Singh takes you back... to 1948!

09/05/2014

In the latest in our series of exclusive video interviews with Olympic greats, Balbir Singh who won three men’s hockey titles with India in 1948, 1952 and 1956 and who is widely regarded as the sport’s greatest ever centre-forward, relives his first gold medal, clinched against the hosts at Wembley Stadium.

Balbir Singh remembers the events of 12 August 1948 as if they were yesterday. Some 25,000 spectators packed into the stands at Wembley Stadium for the final of the men’s Olympic hockey tournament between the host nation Great Britain and India. The Punjab-born forward, then 23, recalls how he looked up to see Queen Elizabeth – the last Empress of India until independence a year before - in the VIP enclosure. And he still remembers the last words of advice from the Indian coach before taking to the field: “Don’t wait for the ball, chase after it!”

Over the next hour, the Indian team overpowered the hosts, who failed to cope with their inventive midfield play and high-tempo wing play. Singh scored twice in the first half to set India on their way to a resounding 4-0 victory.

It was a historic result on several counts. Not only was it the first ever encounter between India and Great Britain at the Olympic Games, it was also the first major sporting triumph for the former since it gained independence.

Singh says he will never forget the sportsmanship of the British fans, and seven decades on, he can still hear the cries of “Well played Balbir” that reverberated around Wembley. He also remembers how his captain finished the match in bare feet, after deciding that the playing surface was too slippy!

Recalling his first gold in London, Singh says: “It’s impossible to explain the feeling of joy and happiness. You have to experience it. I was so happy. I was on top of the world. The memory of my first Olympic Games in 1948 is still fresh in my mind…”

For Singh, triumph in London was just the start of a glorious Olympic career. In Helsinki four years later, India mounted a successful defence of their title, defeating the Netherlands 6-1 in the final… and this time Singh was the undisputed star of the show, scoring no less than five goals, an individual scoring record in an Olympic hockey match that stands to this day.

At Melbourne 1956, Singh, by now 31, captained the Indian team which secured a third consecutive gold, this time thanks to a close-fought 1-0 victory over neighbours Pakistan. He carried on playing at the top level until the early 1960s, adding silver medals at the Asian Games in 1958 and 1962, before embarking on a career as a coach, going on to manage the Indian team that won the Hockey World Cup in 1975.

Discover the best photos of London 1948

  • Olympic venues of the past ready for the Games

    Henley-on-Thames, host of the rowing events in both the London 1908 and 1948 Olympic Games.

  • Legacy of the London 1908 and 1948 Olympic Games

    Henley-on-Thames, the site of the London 1908 and 1948 Olympic Games rowing events.

  • From 1948 to 2012 and beyond

    Herne Hill velodrome, a venue used during the London 1948 Olympic Games and still used today.

  • Emil Zátopek (CZH)

    Emil Zátopek during the 5,000m at the 1948 Games in London, chased by Switzerland’s Erik Ahlden, the future Belgian winner, Gaston Reiff, and Dutchman Willem Slijkhuis

    ©IOC

  • Opening Ceremony London 1948

    British athlete John Mark, the last torchbearer of the Olympic flame, does a lap of Wembley Stadium and passes in front of the Organising Committee members

    ©IOC

  • Relay London 1948

    During the 1948 London Olympic Games Relay, the flame made a stopover in Lausanne. Here, we see it held by Maurice Duriaux as he left Mon-Repos Park in the town centre

    ©IOC

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