The year was 1928 and India, then under British rule, had waited 28 years since the colonized nation’s first Olympic gold. Hockey — later to become India’s national sport — was an on again off again fixture at the world’s biggest sporting event. But 1928 was hockey’s year, and India’s.
Hockey had been written off the Olympics in the Paris Games of 1924 because the sport lacked adequate infrastructure. The removal drew an immediate response from enthusiasts of the sport culminating in the creation of the International Hockey Federation the same year.
Four years later, the newly-formed Indian Hockey Federation insisted that the sport find its way back into the Olympics. It was this insistence on the Indian Hockey Federation’s part that would usher in India’s golden age at the Olympics and give birth to India’s first sporting superstar — Dhyan Chand.
The Indian hockey team’s debut at the Olympics was marred with controversy over captaincy and interpersonal conflict. But on May 17, when the Indian hockey team went head-to-head with Austria, history was made. India won the match 6–0 with Dhyan Chand scoring three goals.
The Indian hockey team went on to win the Olympic gold that year.
And thus began India’s overwhelming dominance in the world of field hockey. The 1932 Olympics saw India make records that would stand the test of time. India’s 24–1 score against the US hockey team remains the highest score in international hockey to date.
Of the 35 goals scored by India in the tournament, 25 were scored by the two brothers — Roop Singh and Dhyan Chand and the Indian hockey team won its second Olympic gold.
The controversial 1936 Berlin Olympics saw the Indian hockey team win its hattrick gold. Legend has it that Adolf Hitler was so impressed with Dhyan Chand that he asked the ace sportsman to join the German Army. Fortunately, Dhyan Chand wasn’t interested.
The three consecutive Olympic golds in field hockey went on to make the Indian hockey team virtually invincible. Indian hockey’s uncontested Olympic supremacy would go on till 1964.
Even as the 1968 Mexico Olympics saw the end of India’s dominance in the world of hockey, the country’s hockey fraternity still had an institution in Dhyan Chand long after his playing days were over. He was conferred with the Padma Bhushan, India’s third-highest civilian honour, in 1956. Dhyan Chand’s birthday, August 29, is celebrated in India as National Sports Day.