Harpal Singh Bedi
New Delhi: India’s only World Cup-winning captain Ajit Pal Singh feels that winning start is crucial for Indian hockey team at Tokyo Olympics as it will help them gain confidence and momentum.
Writing for Hockey India’s Flashback series, Ajit Pal Singh, considered to be one of the finest midfielders of his era, exuded confidence of Indian team putting up good show at the Games.
“I know some of the players in the present team personally, and I know how capable they are, and I believe they will do well.
“They should start well because that will help them gain confidence and momentum. They have my full support, and I wish them all the best from the core of my heart,” Ajit Pal Singh who led India to its only World cup win in 1975 at Kuala Lumpur was also World Cup medallist (Bronze in ’71, Silver in ’73).
Going down memory lane, the 74-year-old recalled his dream Olympic debut and India’s back-to-back Bronze medal-winning feat at the 1968 Mexico and 1972 Munich Olympic Games.
He relives his memories “I was picked up for the coaching camp of the 1968 Olympic Games, while I was in college, representing my home state Punjab. I would say, I was the youngest player at the camp, and I feel I was very lucky that I ultimately got a chance to play in the 1968 Olympic Games,”
Having lost the opening match against New Zealand, there was some reshuffling in the team, and I was brought in as the centre-half. My first Olympic match turned out to be against West Germany, who were one of the strongest teams during that time.
“I had butterflies in my stomach the night before the match, so you can imagine the pressure, we had already lost the first match, and we were supposed to pit against a quality side.
“I would say, I handled the pressure pretty well, and ended up contributing to the team’s 2-1 win. I never looked back from there, and eventually played all the matches at the Mexico Olympics.”
The team led jointly by Prithipal Singh and Gurbux Singh after losing their first match to New Zealand, went on to win their remaining league stage matches against West Germany (2-1), Mexico (8-0), Spain (1-0), Belgium (2-1), Japan (5-0 walkout) and East Germany (1-0).
However, they lost to Australia (1-2) in the Semi-Final and for the first time in the Olympics history, India didn’t feature in the Final of the quadrennial Games. India beat West Germany 2-1 to clinch the Bronze medal.
He went on to narrate: “We went on to win each of our remaining league stage matches, but unfortunately, we lost to Australia in the Semi-Final and finished the campaign with a Bronze Medal.
“So, that was something really special, you know going for the first time, playing all the big matches, and coming back even with a Bronze medal, I think was a great achievement as far as the Olympics is concerned”.
About team’s preparations and campaign at the 1972 Olympic Games, the Jalandhar-born player said, “Almost all the players were dropped after the Mexico Games, except four of us — Perumal Krishnamurthy, Harbinder Singh, Harmek Singh (who led the side ), and I could make it to the squad of the 1972 Olympics.
“As an experienced player, I would say, we did contribute to the team in the best way possible. We prepared really well under our Coach KD Singh Babu, who led the 1952 Olympic-winning team, and a lot of top players from the 40s and 50s came in to help us at the coaching camp.
At Munich also, we went with a target of winning the Gold medal, but unfortunately lost to Pakistan 2-0 in the Semi-Final, and that was a big loss, a big setback.
“Nevertheless, we came back with a bronze medal, which was India’s 10th consecutive medal at the marquee event. he added