Hockey

I owe all my achievements to destiny: Balbir Singh Sr.

Balbir Singh Sr.  

The quiet determination with which he so gloriously served the country at three successive Olympics — 1948 London, ’52 Helsinki and ’56 Melbourne — is part of Indian sporting lore. On Saturday night, at the RP-SG Indian Sports Honours in Mumbai, the most striking thing about Balbir Singh Sr. was the sprightly manner with which he carried himself at 93.

His grandson, Kabir, remained a close shadow as the great man climbed the few steps on to the stage to receive his lifetime achievement award. But as he started his acceptance speech, the packed house fell into rapt attention.

Balbir who holds the unique record of scoring the most goals in an Olympic final — five against Holland in Helsinki — was quick to accept a request for an exclusive interview with The Hindu.

“It is too late now. We will meet tomorrow,” he said.

India’s best ever centre-forward, and the first sportsperson to be awarded the Padma Shri, was ready for the 11 a.m. appointment on Sunday, and before long was well into a journey down memory-lane.

“I will keep this short, but you should know that it was destiny which helped me to achieve all I did during my career,” said Balbir. “I was 12 when I started playing, initially as a goal-keeper. Then I moved up as a full-back, and when I was called to play for Friends Club for a tournament, I was played as a centre-forward for the first time.

“It was also by accident that I made the shift from Lahore to Amritsar. I had failed at the intermediate level, but the Khalsa College allowed me to join the degree course, and that helped me come up to the International arena within a short span of time.

“The other blessing in disguise was Punjab Police’s forceful insistence for me to join their ranks. My father was a freedom fighter and a teacher, and I initially turned down the offer, moving to New Delhi instead and joining the Central PWD.

“I starred for CPWD in a few matches, but Punjab Police, keen to have my services, forcefully took me back to Jalandhar, giving me two options — play for them or spend time in jail!”

As the topic changed, Balbir was firm in his opinion that it was not the advent of the astro-turf which brought about Indian hockey’s decline.

“To my mind, the synthetic surface is the best for a game like hockey, for the players to showcase their skills.

“After the World Cup triumph in Kuala Lumpur a year earlier, we had approached the ’76 Montreal Games (where hockey was played on a synthetic surface for the first time) quite under-prepared.

“Sadly, that poor outing cast a long shadow over the Indian game,” he said.

“But now that the junior team being able to win the junior World Cup after a long gap, I am sure things will improve in the long run.

“Though official records show October 10, 1924, as my birth date,

“I was actually born on December 31 that year. So, my wish and prayer is that India will get back to the top of the pedestal once again at the 2024 Games in Paris. I will be 100 then!” Balbir said, with a twinkle in his eyes.

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Printable version | Mar 4, 2021 3:20:32 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/hockey/i-owe-all-my-achievements-to-destiny-balbir-singh-sr/article20353467.ece

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