India’s triple Olympic gold medallist and one of the legends of hockey, Leslie Claudius passed away here on Thursday after a prolonged illness.
Claudius was suffering from cirrhosis of the liver and frequently needed hospitalisation in the past couple of years.
Hockey Olympians from the city such as Gurbux Singh, Keshav Dutt and Vece Paes, who happened to play alongside him, remembered Claudius as a simple man who got love and respect from everyone for his great qualities.
Claudius, who was admitted to a city nursing home a week ago with liver ailment, had not been keeping well for more than a year. His condition deteriorated on Sunday when he was put on ventilator support.
According to his son Brandon, Claudius was showing signs of improvement but things took a turn for the worse on Thursday morning and the legendary player breathed his last at 3.25 p.m. Claudius was 85 and is survived by wife and three sons.
“He was more than a genius. He was probably the greatest athlete or hockey player India has ever produced. He had three Olympic golds and a silver, a feat that could hardly be matched by anyone,” Vece Paes said. “He was a gentle human being and was always smiling and greeting everyone. He was loved by all for his great qualities and that is why he lived so long,” he added.
“I had the fortune of seeing him both as a player and as a coach of Bengal and also the Indian side. He gave me sound workable advices that helped me find a place in the Indian team,” said Paes, who played for the Indian hockey team that won the bronze in 1972 Munich Olympics.
“He always stood by me and had faith in my abilities. He had an effective philosophy as a coach where he told me to keep the game simple while sticking to the basics. His words had a lasting impression in my mind as a player,” Paes said.
Good human being
“I met him first in 1957 when I came to the city. We played together for five years in the Bengal team. Since then we have always been keeping in touch and the reason was hockey,” said another noted Olympian Gurbux Singh, who is also the secretary of the Bengal Hockey Association.
“He was a good human being and his simplicity appealed to me the most. He had no ego despite being such a great player and hence got readily accepted by everyone around him.
We went to Delhi together this year to receive a felicitation before the London Olympics. We also shared the hotel room. He was a great companion,” Gurbux remembered.
“His greatest quality was that he always encouraged the youngsters. When he became a coach, he would be seen moving around with the junior players of the side.
This is how he gained instant acceptability and was loved and revered by every member of his team,” Grubux said.
“I am shocked on receiving the news of his death. He was a great friend but I could not visit him at the hospital because of my age and failing health,” said one of Claudius’ surviving national team member, 87-year-old Keshav Dutt.
“He was a fantastic player and we have great memories of the London (1948) and Helsinki (1952) Olympics where we won the gold together.
We also played together in the city team, Calcutta Port Trust, where we won the local league and also the Beighton Cup titles,” Keshav said.
Special Correspondent adds from Chennai:
Former India captain V. Bhaskaran said: “When I was part of the team, India won the silver medal in the Asian Games in 1978 in Bangkok, he was the team manager.
He was a very positive-thinking man. I have very fond memories of him.
In fact, I would say that he was one of the key personalities instrumental in reviving the India-Pakistan hockey series in 1978. It’s sad that such a legend is no more.”