Charanjit Singh, captain of India’s Men’s Hockey team that won the historic Gold at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics passed away on Thursday in Una, Himachal Pradesh at his home, after suffering a heart attack.
VP Singh, Charanjit Singh’s son was quoted by PTI as saying, “Dad was paralysed after suffering a stroke five years back. He used to walk with a stick but since the last couple of months, his health deteriorated and this morning he left us,”
Shocked by the news, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to Twitter to convey his condolences.
“Saddened by the passing away of the noted Hockey player, Shri Charanjit Singh. He played a key role in the successes of the Indian Hockey Team, most notably in the Rome and Tokyo Olympics in the 1960s. Condolences to his family and friends. Om Shanti,” the PM tweeted
Saddened by the passing away of noted Hockey player, Shri Charanjit Singh. He played a key role in the successes of the Indian Hockey Team, most notably in the Rome and Tokyo Olympics in the 1960’s. Condolences to his family and friends. Om Shanti.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) January 27, 2022
Union Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju shared a similar sentiment and tweeted, “Very sad that the legendary Hockey player, Charanjit Singh Ji has passed away. He was an outstanding player and former captain of the Indian Hockey Team. The team won Hockey Gold Medal in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics! My deepest condolences to his family members.”
Very sad that the legendary Hockey player, Charanjit Singh Ji has passed away. He was an outstanding player and former captain of Indian Hockey Team. The team won Hockey Gold Medal in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics ! My deepest condolences to his family members. pic.twitter.com/fd3lcm7S3S
— Kiren Rijiju (@KirenRijiju) January 27, 2022
The Indian men’s hockey team had won six consecutive golds from 1928 to 1956 before the golden run came to a screeching halt at the 1960 Rome Olympics. What added insult to injury was the fact that India’s arch-rival Pakistan had won the medal.
The heartache of Rome Olympics
Charanjit, who had been pulling the strings from the midfield throughout the tournament got injured before the big final. As a result, the creative outlet of the team got nullified and Pakistan emerged victorious with a slender 0-1 margin.
Nursing the wounds of missing out on a golden opportunity, the Indian team went through the rigours of another four-year Olympic cycle – qualifying and ultimately reaching the shores of Tokyo to restore the parity.
The redemption arc of Charanjit and his team
India under Charanjit opened the tournament with a convincing 2-0 victory over Belgium and settled for a draw in the next game – a first for the Indian side. Another draw followed against Germany. The media, no more fickle than today’s media, was quick to write off the champions that had stood on the podium on six occasions earlier.
However, captain Charanjit galvanized his troops and egged them to believe in their abilities once again. As a result, the mentality monsters quickly shrugged off the disappointment and got on with the process.
It looked like the Indian side was still warming up to the new style of play they had adopted in the run-up to the Olympics. Instead of playing the cute, one-touch, artistic hockey, India switched gears to keep the Europeans at bay by playing a physically demanding game, that needed extreme work rate from all 11 men on the pitch.
After starting slow, India found its mojo and went on to win four consecutive games and thrashed Australia in the Semifinals 3-1 to set up the summit clash with the perennial nemesis – Pakistan.
The final frontier
The stage was set as ‘the War on Komazawa Turf’ began. Pakistan had hacked and slashed their way through to the finals, beating Australia, Great Britain, and hosts Japan, in the process. While India was playing a physical game, Pakistan took it a notch above by being abrasive, rough, and brash.
Such was the physicality in the match that the referee had to line up the teams in the middle of the match and ask them to behave themselves.
Speaking about the pause in the game, Charanjit remarked, “I told my boys to focus on the game, rather than wasting time talking to them. We were tested hard but also showed great character, and won the match by a narrow 1-0 margin to return home with that historic gold medal.”
Through a penalty corner that was later turned into a penalty stroke, Mohinder Lal drilled one at the back of the net to give India the lead. Pakistan tried hard to come back but the resolute Indian defence didn’t allow anything to penetrate the box, with Shankar Lakshman, manning the goalpost.
In the end, India emerged on top and put behind the heartbreak of four years ago, as the players burst into Bhangra to celebrate their 7th Olympic gold medal. The War on Komazawa Turf was won and Charanjit finally had his redemption.