“Seeing Leslie Claudius, I feel as if I have become younger by 10 years,” said V. Baskaran, captain of the 1980 Moscow Olympics gold medal winning Indian hockey team.
Baskaran put into perspective the interaction of some legendary Olympic gold winners with the London Olympics-bound Indian team members at a function organised by Hockey India (HI), here on Sunday.
“It is good for the young players who have never seen Claudius, Jaswant Rajput or Keshav Dutt. It is a historic moment in Indian sport,” said Baskaran.
For 85-year-old Claudius, who shares the record of winning maximum number of Olympic medals (three golds and a silver) in field hockey with the late Udham Singh, it was whiff of fresh air to be remembered and recognised after more than half-a-century.
The standing ovation he received while being felicitated by Union Sports Minister Ajay Maken and Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley was a token of appreciation of his great contribution to the sport.
“I am thrilled. I am on the top of the world. I am grateful for this,” Claudius said with a youthful exuberance defying his old and frail frame.
Remembering his maiden Olympic gold in the 1948 London Games, Claudius said, “It was an important Olympics. It was being held after 12 years (following the World War II), the spotlight was on this.
“The only time we were tested was against the Netherlands in the semifinal, which we won 2-1. The final against England was easy and we won 4-1.”
Claudius’ teammates in the 1948 and 1952 Olympics sides, Jaswant Rajput and Keshav Dutt, were also touched by HI’s gesture.
“Things have changed a lot. In our times, there used to be a lot of stick work.
“Now it has become a lot more physical,” Rajput gave a comparative analysis. “The competition has become tougher.”
“Olympics is not easy. One has to play with a lot of responsibility and needs to hold one’s nerve,” said Dutt.
M.M. Somaya, one of the 14 members of the Moscow Olympics squad was moved by the “care and warmth” shown by HI.
“I had not met many of my friends for nearly two decades. It’s a good way of linking up.”
Left-winger Zafar Iqbal and left-in Mohammad Shahid, who foxed the oppositions with their combination during the1980s, exchanged warm hugs while reminiscing their days of glory.
“Shahid was one of the greatest players India has ever produced. I was lucky to play with him. From running with great speed, Shahid used to stop like an engine getting seized and dodge the rival defenders.
“The European teams were clueless about him. It was (Ric) Charlesworth who worked hard to stop Shahid,” said Zafar.
Shahid said a lot of hard work went into achieving excellence. “Even while going to sleep, we used to think about how to improve our game. You need wholehearted dedication to reach the heights.”
HI presented Rs.200,000 to each of the 34 legendary players. Twenty six of them were present on the occasion, while four could not make it due to health reasons. Four others, who are settled abroad, were also absent.
On behalf of these illustrious players, former centre forward Harbinder Singh said, “It is a great pleasure and proud privilege. It is a milestone to bring former and present players together.
“This will motivate the present players to do well in the Olympics.”
On the occasion, two books, `Profiles of Indian Hockey Olympians' by K. Arumugam and a coffee table book on the Olympic qualifier held in India, were released.
List of Olympic gold medal winners: Balbir Singh Sr. (1948, 1952, 1956), Keshav Dutt (1948, 1952), Leslie Claudius (1948, 1952, 1956), G. Nandy Singh (1948, 1952), Jaswant Rajput (1948, 1952), Raghbir Lal (1952, 1956), R.S. Bhola (1956), Hardayal Singh (1956), Haripal Kaushik (1956, 1964), A.S. Bakshi (1956), Gurdev Singh (1956), Charanjit Singh (1964), Gurbux Singh (1964), Harbinder Singh (1964), Dharam Singh (1964), Balbir Singh (1964), Ali Sayeed (1964), Darshan Singh (1964), V. Baskaran (1980), Bir Bahadur Chettri (1980), Allan Schofield (1980), Sylvanus Dung Dung (1980), Rajinder Singh (1980), Davinder Singh (1980), Gurmail Singh (1980), Ravinder Pal Singh (1980), M.M. Somaya (1980), Maharaj Krishan Kaushik (1980), Charanjit Kumar (1980), Mervyn Fernandis (1980), Amarjit Singh Rana (1980), Mohammad Shahid (1980), Zafar Iqbal (1980) and Surinder Singh Sodhi (1980).