Dhyan Chand had the guts to defy Adolf Hitler in the dictator's own country
August 29. National Sports Day and Major Dhyan Chand's birth anniversary.
Also, the day when the nation's top sporting awards are presented to the deserving athletes at Rashtrapati Bhawan. One of the awards is the highest possible honour for athletes, an award for lifetime achievement in sports - The Dhyan Chand Award.
There has been a longstanding demand to give the Bharat Ratna to the greatest hockey player in the world. But instead of arguing that point today, let us pay tribute in the best possible way – by talking about the greatness of the hockey legend.
The year was 1928 and Dhyan Chand showed his skills for the first time on the international hockey scene. In many ways, this was a more dramatic entrance than anything Indian cricket had achieved at that stage. That year saw India taking part in Olympic hockey for the first time in Amsterdam. And Dhyan Chand led India to a historic gold and for the next five Olympics, we would take gold 5 more times.
The next Olympics witnessed a couple of world records created by Indians, that still stand unbroken – one of which was the 24-1 rout of the USA, the record for the most number of goals scored in an international hockey match. It is safe to say that the Indian maestro was the guiding light of these great performances
Took to the game like a fish to water
Dhyan Chand had the gift to mesmerise opponents and crowd alike. But few know that he and his teammates had the guts to defy the Fuehrer, Adolf Hitler in his own backyard.It is said that Dhyan Chand – leading the Indian contingent refused to salute Adolf Hitler during the opening ceremony of the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The only other contingent to show such defiance was the American contingent. And, as the Nazi leader watched on, Jesse Owen and Dhyan Chand set the track and field on fire in their respective competitions.
While Hitler arrived for the guard of honour, the wizard of hockey carrying the flag in a light blue turban and golden outfit made a huge political statement in a grand gesture of defiance. This went largely unnoticed back in pre-independent India but it created quite a stir in Germany.
There are various theories that mention him turning down Hitler's offer of a position as a Lieutenant. Few say, he was asked to be a Colonel as well. It would be quite impossible to prove that this interaction between Hitler and Dhyan Chand took place but it is proven from video footage of the 1936 Berlin Olympics that the German leader was present at the stadium when India played his country in the gold medal match.
All-time greatest, the world has ever seen
India won all their three league matches against Hungary, USA, and Japan to move comfortably into the semi-finals. Dhyan Chand scored four goals against France as India hammered France 10-0 to be assured of a medal and a match against the Germans for the gold. A German newspaper carried a headline: 'The Olympic complex now has a magic show too. There were posters all over Berlin: 'Visit the hockey stadium to watch the Indian magician Dhyan Chand in action.'
The hockey final was watched by a crowd of 40,000 that included top Nazi officials like Hermann Goering and Hitler himself. Germany were thrashed by India with the captain scoring three goals and although the Nazi leader was supposed to present the gold medal to the winning team, it is said that he had left the stadium in frustration and anger.
The Berlin Games would be Dhyan Chand’s third and last Olympics at the age of 31 as he finished his career with three Olympic golds but more importantly attained worldwide fame. The numbers are a testament to that. In the three Summer Games where he played, India scored 102 goals and conceded only three.
Cricket may affectionately remember its Bradman but then the man himself, after watching Chand’s magical stick work at Adelaide, commented, "He scores goals like we score runs in cricket."Published 29 Aug 2016, 08:46 IST