Barely a year after winning the World Cup in the hot and steamy Kuala Lumpur, Indian hockey slid to its nadir amidst considerable controversy and acrimony among players as the high-profile team finished a shocking seventh. The unheralded New Zealand won the gold on the spanking new synthetic pitch that made its international debut.
With few players having even seen an artificial surface much less played on it, the Indian team, under World Cup captain Ajit Pal Singh, playing in his third Olympics, set off for Canada via Europe where they played a few warm-up games. It was a journey that was marred by infighting regarding the division of money accrued through sale of hockey sticks.
Indiscipline that bordered on open rebellion affected India’s performance that can be best described as up and down on a surface the players were unfamiliar with. Three victories and two losses tied India with Australia in the battle for the second place in the group.
The two teams were then involved in a play-off that ended in a 1-1 draw resulting in the tie-breaker. Ajit Singh, taking the fourth stroke, failed to convert and the Aussies came through 5-4 in the shootout for an aggregate 6-5 win and a berth in the semifinals.
India never really recovered from this defeat and went down 2-3 to West Germany after leading 1-0 at the break in the play-off game for 5-8 positions before defeating Malaysia 2-0 on penalty corner conversions by Aslam Sher Khan to finish seventh for their worst ever performance in the Olympics.
The repercussions of the Montreal disaster were to resonate over the following couple of years that witnessed player rebellion, suspensions and quarrel over captaincy. And though India were destined to regain the gold medal four years later at the boycott-ridden Moscow Olympics from a depleted field, the country’s hockey reign and the “golden era” had well and truly ended.
Indian team: Ajit Pal Singh (captain), Ashok Dewan, Ajit Singh, Bir Bahadur Chhetri, Aslam Sher Khan, Surjit Singh, Baldev Singh, Virender Singh, Mehboob Khan, Mohinder Singh, Victor John Phillips, Ashok Kumar, BP Govinda, Harcharan Singh, Vasudevan Baskaran, Chand Singh.
League: India lost to Holland 1-3 (Phillips 1).
India lost to Australia 1-6 (Surjit Singh 1).
India beat Canada 3-0 (Phllips 2, Ajit Singh 1).
India beat Malaysia 3-0 (Ashok Kumar 2; Surjit Singh 1).
Play-off for 2nd position in Group: India lost to Australia 6-5 on penalty strokes*. Full-time: 1-1 (Surjit Singh 1); Extra-time: 1-1.
Classification (5-8 positions): India lost to Germany 2-3 (Mohinder Singh 1; Ajit Pal Singh 1).
For 7-8 positions: India beat Malaysia 2-0 (Aslam Sher Khan 2).
*Penalty Stroke competition v Australia: India — Surjit Singh (scored 1-0); Ajit Pal Singh (scored 2-1); Ashok Kumar (scored 3-2); Ajit Singh (missed 3-3); Phillips (scored 4-4). Australia — David Bell (scored 1-1); Robert Haigh (scored 2-2); Terry Walsh (scored 3-3); Trevor Smith (scored 3-4); Ric Charlesworth (scored 4-5).
Positions — New Zealand 1; Australia 2; Pakistan 3; Holland 4; Germany 5; Spain 6; India 7; Malaysia 8; Belgium 9; Canada 10; Argentina 11.
Keywords: 2012 London Olympics