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2004 Olympics: Change in venues, no change in the (7/30/2004)
--S. Mageshwaran
The Rise and fall of Indian hockey

The Golden Beginning

CALL it a bundle of sentiments or a patriot. My eyes always fill with tears at every instance the three words India, Hockey and Olympics are uttered in unison. Tears of joy, they are, when people tell about the amazing abilities of the revered Dhyan Chand and Roop Singh. Tears of pride, they are, when onr learns about James Allen's remarkable show of defence in the Indian goal, not to concede even one goal at the 1928 Amsterdom Olympics. Tears of agony, they are, when India missing the sip once too often in the recent past.

My feelings are profound with emotion as I set out to chronicle India's advent, amazing achievements, feats of astonishing abilities and agonising decline of our rankings at the quadrennial sport extravaganza of the world. No words of praise can exaggerate India's stranglehold on the hockey world, till we lost it. Yes. In my books, no advent of astro-turf, no change of rules to suit the Euro powerhouses, no 'transformation' of power play from skilful stickwork, no evolution of playing tactics affected India's performances as our own lassitude to keep pace with times.

Hockey, as a sport, was a major hit in the Olympics since the day it made its debut at the 1908 London Games. The sport had not caught the imagination of many a country, but the popularity was increasing. In a manner of speaking, India were the yardstick for excellence during the early years of hockey. 'If you had to play hockey you had to play like the Indians, else end up on the losing side' was the popular feeling in the sporting world. Style and strategy wise, therefore, there was only benchmark: INDIA.

My attempt here is to bring to perspective, how great our men were when we kept winning the gold. How great they were in leaving the rest of fray bemused. How unfortunate they were when missing out what otherwise should have been theirs by right. How imprudently boorish we were while preparing for the Olympics.

Let's make a start where it all began.

GOLDEN LOVE AT FIRST STRIKE

1928 Amsterdam

Hockey, it is said, began as a sport among the tribals. It was the remarkable dexterity of these men from the underprivileged section of a social strata that made the sport what it is. Therefore, it was only logical that an adivasi from what would go on to become the most resourceful regions of hockey talent in India - Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa and parts of today's West Bengal - would be the captain of India's first ever Olympic hockey team.

May 17, 1928 was yet another day at the Dutch capital, but the most significant moment in Indian sport's history as Jaipal Singh led the Indian team on to the turf against Austria. To record a 6-0 win. A streak that continued with a 9-0 drubbing of Belgium and a 5-0 rout of Denmark before setting up the semifinal clash with Swiss. That match was won at 6-0 and India capped their spree leaving the Dutch lagging behind in front of a 24,000 partisan home crowd with a 3-0 triumph. Little wonder then the twice Olympic champions of hockey -- Britain who won the gold in 1908 (when hockey was introduced) and 1920 - withdrew even before the Games began.

Legend has it that the British watching the Indians' showing at the Folkstone Hockey Festival, (near Tillsbury Docks on India's route to Amsterdam) were so demoralised that they never took part in Olympic hockey competition till India won its independence.

The British hockey team, like their 'Royal Masters' were perhaps aware of the impending, inevitable of transfer of power from the British Raj to India. Not only on the hockey field, but also in the world of polity. Jaipal had to rush back to catch up with his studies at the Oxford just before the final, leaving it to Eric Pinniger to lead in the title clash, but that in no way affected India's tryst with gold.

For, during the Games, the hockey world as much as the Dutch crowd had discovered a puny and polite, but supremely prodigious youngster who would go on and rule the Hockey Empire. This young Lance Naik responding to the name Dhyan Chand was as instant a hit with the Dutch crowd as his stickwork and strike rate on the field. It was perhaps Dhyan Chand's wizardry that inspired a Dutch journalist to write: "The Indian ball seems ignorant of the laws of gravity. One of those tanned diabolical jugglers stares at the ball intently; it gets upright and remains suspended in the air. This is no longer the game of hockey. It is a juggling turn. It is splendid."

It was splendid juggling turn indeed for the game itself. For, thenceforth India's performance became the benchmark for measuring excellence in hockey skills. The Indian team at Amsterdam

Jaipal Singh (C), Nawab of Pataudi, Syed M. Yusuf (all London) , Broome Eric Pinniger (vice captain), Feroze Khan, Kher Singh (all Punjab), Shaukat Ali, Richard J. Allen (goalkeeper) (both Bengal), Dhyan Chand, Wil

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