Sportstar Archives: Reliving Indian hockey’s 1980 Olympic gold win

Imagine my position as captain. If we had lost, I would have been dubbed the worst captain Indian hockey had ever had. Such was my plight, but fortunately, things finally turned out in our favour. When I think of that gripping afternoon in the Moscow hockey stadium in the presence of a goodly crowd I still sweat.

In a topsy-turvy contest, we were sitting pretty until the last ten minutes when complacency on our part almost swung the game away in Spain’s favour. The leather ball (unlike the plastic balls now in vogue) had become a lot heavier due to the constant watering of the Polyturf and moved with less speed.

So in the final stages free hits from even Devinder Singh, our penalty corner specialist, were not travelling beyond ten yards. Spain stormed our end to force penalty corners. Spain’s strength was in that wonderfully endowed player Juan Amat, who had already struck terror with his three successful penalty corner hits.

You can imagine our tension as Amat, already the top scorer of the Olympics took four short corners hits in the last three minutes, with the score reading 4-3 in our favour. I remember, for the first corner, I stood to the left of the goal post. Amat’s stinger struck my stick. The situation was saved.

Next, I decided to stand on the right. Once again the ball was directed at my stick. One more escape. The third try was directed straight at the goal but the gallant (Bir Bahadur) Chettri deflected the ball away, inches from the goalmouth.

For the fourth hit, I stood near the left post. As luck would have it Amat’s shot struck my stick again, sending the ball away. The stick, with which I had played the whole Olympics, was broken due to the impact. Fortunately, when Amat was getting ready for another crack, the final hooter came to our rescue.

We could not believe that the result was finally in our favour until the Indian national anthem was played. I have never gone through such an excruciating experience before. I have preserved that broken stick as a reminder of those nail-biting moments that preceded the golden hour.

The credit for the victory had to go to coach Balkishen Singh for his thinking, grasping of the rival’s game and working of strategies. Had we lost, we would have only ourselves to blame. It was such an unpardonable lapse of concentration on our part in those final moments.

This was an Olympics where we had expected the U.S.S.R. to be one of our strongest challengers. Once we landed in Moscow, two factors dominated our planning. First was the news of the boycott and then, believe me, the series of defeats against Russia in the matches before the Olympics.

Fortunately for us, Moscow provided us with video films of the teams in the fray, including U.S.S.R. and Spain, the other team which was strong. We knew ball possession would be our main asset against our faster rivals. It worked against Russia whom we beat 4-2 in the league. We held Spain in a match, where (Mohammed) Shahid played havoc with the rival defence.

The draw against Poland cost us dear, for otherwise, we would have been declared winners on points after the league phase. With points tied, the rules required a final to behold.

We decided to shuffle the wingers and bring Shahid to the centre forward position. Spain fortified its defence by bringing one more player behind. Still, we dominated the first 20 minutes with Shahid and (Surinder Singh) Sodhi scoring. Spain reduced the margin through Amat by half time. Sodhi made it 3-1 soon after. Amat made it 2-3. The contest hotted up from then. Then we went up 4-2. Spain again reduced the margin and really went for the equaliser in the closing minutes. But we finally made it.

Source: The Hindu

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