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In this Walk the Talk with The Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta, Balbir Singh Senior, part of the Indian hockey team that won three Olympic gold medals, speaks about playing for the tricolour, Dhyan Chand as a role model and the decline of Punjab sports.
Who is the greatest Indian sportsperson ever? I don’t want to argue and you can’t fight with Sachin Tendulkar, his reputation and his supporters, or the great Dhyan Chand, and his reputation and his supporters. But here is somebody, a bit forgotten in India, sadly, who’s been acknowledged by the International Olympic Committee… In fact, he has been listed among the 16 greatest icons in the Olympic Games in a 100 years across all disciplines. He is an Indian, his name is Mr Balbir Singh and he has won three Olympic gold medals.
Thank you. You have given me a new life.
You have given so much joy and skill to so many Indians. And sir, three Olympic gold medals — 1948, 1952, 1956 — and an unbroken world record for the largest number of goals in a final, 1952 at Helsinki.
It’s all thanks to the tricolour. I played for my country. I played for that flag. After every win, to see the flag fluttering and to hear the national anthem — it was really something special. It is something that has to be experienced, not something to be seen or told, but to be experienced.
Three gold medals, yes, but you also have a World Cup to your name. In 1975. You were the coach and manager of the Indian team, the only team that won the World Cup. And once again, that same feeling…the flag going up and the national anthem being played.
The national anthem and the national flag instil that spirit in you. You must win for the country, for that flag.
I knew you when I was in Chandigarh, that was more than three decades ago. We were all fans of yours. But I saw you last year when India played the qualifiers against France and I could see that you were the most animated person in the audience.
I am always for the Indian team. When an Indian team goes to Vancouver, and when I am there with my sons, I always cheer for the Indian team. And when the people of Vancouver ask me, I say, ‘Balbir Singh anywhere, Indian hockey first’. Indian hockey has given me this name and fame. India has given me this name and fame. I am always for India. I continued…