IN this Feb 6, 2009 file photo, India’s three-time field hockey Olympic gold medallist Balbir Singh poses with the stick of Indian hockey legend Major Dhyan Chand Singh, with which Dhyan Chand played in the 1936 Berlin Olympics final, in Chandigarh.—AFP
IN this Feb 6, 2009 file photo, India’s three-time field hockey Olympic gold medallist Balbir Singh poses with the stick of Indian hockey legend Major Dhyan Chand Singh, with which Dhyan Chand played in the 1936 Berlin Olympics final, in Chandigarh.—AFP

NEW DELHI: India’s three-time Olympic gold medallist Balbir Singh has died at the age of 95 after a prolonged pulmonary illness.

Balbir helped India win their first Olympic gold as an independent country at the 1948 London Games when they beat Britain 4-0 in the final.

Balbir scored two of India’s goals at Wembley Stadium and became one of the biggest stars of the Games.

“I was on top of the world,” he said later. “It was very special to beat the former rulers in their country.”

India then went on to defend the title at the next two Games in Helsinki and Melbourne.

Balbir scored five goals in India’s 6-1 victory over the Netherlands in the 1952 final — a record that still stands.

He also captained the country at the 1956 Games when they scored 38 goals in five matches and conceded none.

“Today, we have not only lost our greatest hockey legend but we have also lost ‘our guiding light’,” Hockey India president Mohammed Mushtaque Ahmad said in a statement.

“His achievements in post-independent era have been well-documented ... Hockey has lost its brightest star and everyone at Hockey India is pained by this news.”

Following his retirement, Balbir coached the Indian team which won the World Cup in 1975.

“He was a hard task master,” said Ajit Pal Singh, who was captain of the 1975 team.

“I still remember how he imbibed, self belief and unity which helped us to win,” Pal Singh told Press Trust of India.

Published in Dawn, May 27th, 2020