LEGENDARY HOCKEY STAR KNOWN AS THE GOAL MACHINES IS NO MORE
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S. BALBIR SINGH SENIOR (TRIPLE GOLD OLYMPIAN & VICTORIOUS CAPTAIN)
S. Balbir Singh (Senior) was born in his maternal uncle’s village Haripur, Tehsil Phillaur, District Jalandhar. His father S. Dalip Singh was a freedom fighter. Keeping in view S. Balbir Singh’s education he brought his only son and wife to Moga where he joined Dev Samaj School as a teacher. S. Balbir Singh studied and completed his matriculation from the same school.
S. Balbir Singh had a zeal for hockey from the early age of five. His dedication and commitment towards Hockey from primary schooling days took him to the Olympics. Joined Sikh National College Lahore where he completed F. A. and in 1942 from there shifted to Khalsa College, Amritsar from where he completed his B. A & enrolled himself for M. A. English.
Khalsa College had four hockey grounds. In 1943, S. Balbir Singh was selected to represent Panjab University, which at that time covered colleges from undivided Punjab, Jammu & Kashmir, Sindh, and Rajasthan. The Panjab University hockey team won All Inter-University titles for three years in a row: 1943,1944 and 1945. S. Balbir Singh was a captain in 1945. In 1947 he was a member of the last hockey team of undivided Punjab that won the title in 1947 National Championships under the Captaincy of Col. AIS Dara.
1948 London Olympics was S. Balbir Singh’s first appearance along with the newly Independent India’s first Olympics participation. It was during India’s second match against Argentina where S. Balbir Singh scored 6 of India’s 9 goals which led India to a grand win. he played in the finals against Britain which was the first-ever encounter between Indian and Britain post-independence. S. Balbir Singh scored the first two goals within 15 minutes that resulted in Independent India winning its First Olympic Gold. During 1952 Helsinki Olympics S. Balbir Singh was Vice Captain and flag bearer of the entire Indian Contingent. In semifinals against Britain, he scored all three goals in India’s 3-0 victory. In finals against Holland S. Balbir Singh created history with his world record in Olympics by scoring 5 of 6 goals.
The records stand unbroken till date. The record has facilitated his name in The Guinness Book of World Records. S. Balbir Singh has coached eight Indian Hockey Teams for major International Tournaments and all teams had a podium finish. This includes 1975 Kuala Lumpur World Cup Gold where he was Chief Coach cum Manager of Team India. The only World Cup Gold to date. During the 2012 London Olympics S. Balbir Singh was chosen as one of the sixteen ‘Iconic Olympians’ across all participants in all disciplines since the start of the modern Olympic Era in 1896 by the custodians of Olympic History, The Olympic Museum to have their ‘Olympic Journey’. Showcased as part of the 2012 London Olympic Games, the only Sportsperson From World Hockey, The only Asian male & The only Indian to be honored in the manner.
During the 1956 Melbourne Olympics he captained the Gold Winning Hockey Squad when Independent India completed a hat trick of Olympic Golds and for S. Balbir Singh to this was his Third Olympic Victory in a row. He was the proud flag bearer of the Indian Olympic Contingent for the second time. During the 1954 Singapore Malaysia tour he scored 83 goals out of India’s 121 goals. Fans started calling him Balbir- The Goal Machine. He was the first Sportsperson to receive Padma Shri Award in Sports Category (1957). He featured on a stamp issued in 1958 by the Dominican Republic to commemorate the 1956 Olympics. He lit the sacred flame during 1982 Delhi Asian games where he was also Chief Coach cum Manager of team India that won Silver Medal. In a national poll he was adjudged to be Indian Sportsperson of the century during 1982.
In 2006, he was adjudged “The Best Sikh Hockey Player”. In 2015 he was conferred with the First Life Time achievement award by Hockey India. S. Balbir Singh helped Punjab Government in setting up Punjab Sports Department from scratch and is responsible for chalking out a number of important schemes to promote Sports in Punjab which includes rural sports, women empowerment, talent hunt (catch them young). He also initiated Sports pension scheme for veteran sportspersons, summer coaching camps for schools & colleges, sports scholarships, Maharaja Ranjit Singh Award for excellence in Sports, Sports Gradation Policy, 3% quota for sportspersons in govt jobs & Educational institutes.
These schemes are functional to date. He served in Punjab Sports Department from 1961 to 1982 and retired as Director Sports. In 2014 his name was recommended by Chief Minister of Punjab for Bharat Ratna- India’s highest civilian award. His message for today’s youth was – Aim high, work hard, think positive- Spot at the top is always vacant. Excellence is not an art but a habit, practice hard to gain Perfection.
ABOUT THE WRITER
- Prabhleen Singh is an Administrative Officer in Engineering Wing of Punjabi University, Patiala. He’s a doctorate in management and has written two books on prominent Sikhs. He is also an office bearer of a number of non-government organizations.