There used to be a time when India used to be counted amongst the stalwarts of field hockey. Erstwhile legends like Dhyan Chand weaved magic in the field, and countries stood in awe of the careless superiority which the Indian squad displayed. Those days are long past, but India still remembers the people who played a part in developing our glorious sporting history. One such person was Major Dhyan Chand, Hockey player extraordinaire.
Dhyan Chand was born in Allahabad to an army family, on the fateful day of 29th August, 1905. In contemporary times, this date is celebrated all over India as National Sports Day. Unlike most prodigies, Dhyan Chand didn’t play hockey from an early age. If anything, he was really into wrestling. He subsequently followed his father’s footsteps and joined the army at the tender age of 16, where he realised his destiny as a Hockey player.
Entry into the International Arena
While part of the Indian Army team, Dhyan Chand toured New Zealand, where they won 18 matches, drew 2, and only lost 1. While receiving widespread praise for the same, their trials were not over yet. Field Hockey was not a part of the Olympics at the time, and Dhyan Chand along with other influential people had to lobby hard to reintroduce it.
Once it was decided that India needed a Hockey team to represent her, an Inter-provinces tournament was held, where Dhyan Chand shined and made it as part of the roster. This was just the beginning of an era of mastery and perfection.
Once in the Olympics, India showed the world why it was the best team of that generation. Dhyan Chand helped India win three successive Olympic Gold medals in field hockey, and established a legacy in the process. They say that the third time is the charm. In his case, every time was a charm.
He was the leading goal scorer at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics, where various local newspapers called him the magician of Hockey. In the 1932 Olympics final, Dhyan and his brother Roop Singh scored a total of 18 goals together to defeat the USA 24-1. Talk about soft power.
Legend also has it that after his impressive showing at the Berlin Olympics, none other than Adolf Hitler offered him a German Citizenship and a place in the German Army. You read that right. The man who was single-handedly responsible for the holocaust was a fan of Dhyan Chand’s game.
As time passes, the respect for Major Dhyan Chand among the Indian sporting community only grows. Recently, the Indian Women’s Hockey Team qualified for the Olympics, and they were quick to say that that is the best possible homage to pay the erstwhile legend. It was his birthday a couple of days ago, and let’s face it, he wouldn’t have been too happy with the state of Indian Hockey. Indeed, Dhyan Chand would have liked nothing better than to see the golden days of Indian Hockey revived, and with any luck, we are sure to see that soon.
It is fair to say that Dhyan Chand was the captain of the ship which steered India through its wonder years in the Olympics. While the later days of his life were not happy, as he had run out of money and health, he will forever be remembered as a person who put India’s name on the world stage for everyone to see, be it a random labourer from Ahmedabad, or Adolf Hitler.