Balbir Singh Relives Memories Of The London 1948 Olympics


The 1948 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the XIV Olympiad, was an international multi-sport event which was held in London, United Kingdom. After a twelve-year hiatus caused by the outbreak of World War II; these were the first Summer Olympics held since the 1936 Games in Berlin. The 1940 Olympic Games had been scheduled for Tokyo, and then for Helsinki; the 1944 Olympic Games had been provisionally planned for London. This was the second occasion that London had hosted the Olympic Games, having previously hosted them in 1908, forty years earlier.

In June 1939, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) awarded the 1944 Olympic Summer Games to London, ahead of Rome, Detroit, Budapest, Lausanne, Helsinki, Montreal and Athens.[1] World War II stopped the plans and the Games were cancelled so London again stood as a candidate for 1948. Great Britain almost handed the 1948 games to the United States due to post-war financial and rationing problems, but King George VI said that this could be the chance to restore Britain from World War II. The official report of the London Olympics shows that there was no case of London being pressed to run the Games against its will.

The Games of 1944 had been allocated to London and so it was that in October 1945, the Chairman of the British Olympic Council, Lord Burghley, went to Stockholm and saw the president of the International Olympic Committee to discuss the question of London being chosen for this great event. As a result, an investigating committee was set up by the British Olympic Council to work out in some detail the possibility of holding the Games. After several meetings they recommended to the council that the Lord Mayor of London should be invited to apply for the allocation of the Games in 1948.

lest get some close to the 1948 Olympics. Balbir Singh Relives Memories Of The London 1948 Olympics

Balbir Singh remembers the events of 12 August 1948 as if they were yesterday. Some 25,000 spectators packed into the stands at Wembley Stadium for the final of the men’s Olympic hockey tournament between the host nation Great Britain and India. The Punjab-born forward, then 23, recalls how he looked up to see Queen Elizabeth – the last Empress of India until independence a year before – in the VIP enclosure. And he still remembers the last words of advice from the Indian coach before taking to the field: “Don’t wait for the ball, chase after it!”

Over the next hour, the Indian team overpowered the hosts, who failed to cope with their inventive midfield play and high-tempo wing play. Singh scored twice in the first half to set India on their way to a resounding 4-0 victory.

It was a historic result on several counts. Not only was it the first ever encounter between India and Great Britain at the Olympic Games, it was also the first major sporting triumph for the former since it gained independence.

Singh says he will never forget the sportsmanship of the British fans, and seven decades on, he can still hear the cries of “Well played Balbir” that reverberated around Wembley. He also remembers how his captain finished the match in bare feet, after deciding that the playing surface was too slippy!

Recalling his first gold in London, Singh says: “It’s impossible to explain the feeling of joy and happiness. You have to experience it. I was so happy. I was on top of the world. The memory of my first Olympic Games in 1948 is still fresh in my mind…”

For Singh, triumph in London was just the start of a glorious Olympic career. In Helsinki four years later, India mounted a successful defence of their title, defeating the Netherlands 6-1 in the final… and this time Singh was the undisputed star of the show, scoring no less than five goals, an individual scoring record in an Olympic hockey match that stands to this day.

At Melbourne 1956, Singh, by now 31, captained the Indian team which secured a third consecutive gold, this time thanks to a close-fought 1-0 victory over neighbours Pakistan. He carried on playing at the top level until the early 1960s, adding silver medals at the Asian Games in 1958 and 1962, before embarking on a career as a coach, going on to manage the Indian team that won the Hockey World Cup in 1975.

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