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Story of a Gold Medal Pakistan wins Olympic Hockey Gold

I have watched the trailer of the Indian movie, ‘Gold’ – a story of India winning gold at the1948 London Olympics. This was the first gold medal won by independent India. Starring Akshay Kumar, the movie is a typical sports film in the mode of Chak de India and Bhaaag Milkha Bhaag.

But India was already a hockey superpower at the time. They had won consecutive gold medals since 1928 in the sport. They bagged the incredible record of winning the 1936 Berlin Olympics when they beat the Germans in their own capital by a preposterous margin of 8 -1. Adolf Hitler was present in the VIP box of the stadium. He witnessed his ‘super-race’ athletes getting decimated at the hands of players like Dhyan Chand and Ali Iqtidar Shah Dara.

Col Ali Iqtidar Shah Dara (right) and Major Dhyan Chand (left)

Due to the onset of the Second World War in 1939, Olympics did not take place in 1940 and in 1944. In 1947 British India was partitioned into two independent dominions of India and Pakistan. Whilst I can understand the emotional importance of an independent India competing on an international stage, with the added charm of facing and defeating their former colonial masters Britain to win the gold medal, I believe that a much better story would be Pakistan winning her first gold medal at the 1960 Rome Olympics. Let me tell you why.

Our hockey team, as compared to India, was decidedly an underdog. The nascent state of Pakistan, created in 1947, was fighting for its very survival. It faced extremely hostile circumstances that ranged from refugee crises, a fragile economy, lack of essential supplies like food and medicines, hostile neighbours and a raging war in Kashmir. This was not the best of times to invest time and money in a luxury like sport.

Because Pakistan had inherited some of the hockey stars who had played for British India, we could at least field a team that was competitive at the international stage. Ali Iqtidar Shah Dara, who was a member of the incredible team of 1936 had opted to join Pakistan and was nominated the captain. He had a few other experienced players which formed the team nucleus. Bereft of even half decent financing, the young nation managed to scrape together, just enough funds to send a team to the ‘48 Olympics.

We gave a credible fight to the hockey superpowers (including a 6-1 drubbing of the strong Dutch team), and subsequently qualified for the semi-finals. This team was, however, beaten by the hosts Great Britain. Pakistan returned medal-less after also losing the 3rd– 4th position match.

It was a similar story at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics where we finished fourth.

Brigadier Abdul Hamid Hamidi

In 1956, the old guard had mostly retired and the Hockey team was now composed of young, energetic players. Captained by the military man Abdul Hamid ‘Hamidi’, the team put in a disciplined performance at the1956 Melbourne Olympics. Here we managed to break the semi-final jinx and qualified to play the finals. In the final, the ever-confident Indians were waiting for us. The final was a clash of Asian-style Hockey titans. A fast-paced game was characterized by typical short passes, incredible stick- work, dribbling and deft body dodges.

Pakistan narrowly lost out to India with a score line of 3-2. Nationwide celebrations started in India at their remarkable record sixth consecutive gold. Pakistan, however, had given them a jolt and had won their first-ever medal of any colour in Olympics by bagging the silver.

This was followed by our first ever championship win in Tokyo. Abdul Hamid ‘Hamidi’ claimed sweet victory against the Indians as he led Pakistan into the final of the Asian games in 1958.

The mercurial inside-right Hamidi now sensed his chance. He began planning his Olympic heist which was only two years away. He understood the importance of discipline and a strict training regimen. As the team captain with a remarkable track record, he had the clout to implement his vision on the entire team.

Fast forward 2 years, Pakistan stepped into the playing field at the Rome Olympiad. We impressively beat Australia, Poland, and Japan. In the quarter-finals, we overcame the formidable Germans and then beat Spain in the semi-finals.

In the final, it was yet again the auld enemy waiting for their plucky neighbours to fight for the gold medal. The Indians were playing to win their seventh consecutive gold. They were understandably confident. They were up against a young Pakistan side that was brimming with youthful energy, bundles of natural skill and an Indefatigable spirit of making the country proud.

The match started as it usually does when these two titans face each other – at a blistering pace with a palpable nervous tension in the air. This tension gripped not only the players and the spectators but their entire nations. A quarter of the world’s population sat glued to their radio sets, listening to the running commentary with bated breath.

India, led by their three times gold-winning halfback Leslie Claudius, was desperate to prove that Pakistan’s win two years ago in Tokyo was a one-off. Pakistan under Hamidi were, however, proving to be tough opponents.

Both teams showcased yet another cracker of a match with slick movements and eye-catching passing game. Pakistan’s defence under the formidable Chaudhry Ghulam Rasool (father of, later Captain, and World Cup winner Akhtar Rasool), had, like India, only conceded one goal in the entire tournament.

It was the Indian team that had its defences breached. Pakistani captain, inside right Hamidi (who else?) saw an opening to his right and slid a through-pass to his right-out Nur Alam. Nur Alam dashed down the right flank, wrong-footing the Indian defence and then fired a cross in the D.

Abdul Waheed Khan who was one of the finest centre-forwards of those times had been waiting for just that kind of a pass. He however missed connecting the blistering cross. The ball thus reached the diminutive inside-left Naseer Ahmed ‘Bunda’. A Pindiwal, Bunda (nicknamed by his own mother who had had his ear pierced by a little earring) was short in stature and sported a thin, wiry frame. He was blessed with incredible speed and when on song was absolutely un stoppable. Bunda controlled the cross at the top of the Indian D, flicked a dodge past a couple of Indian defenders and pushed the ball in the left corner of the goal. GOAL !!! This was not just another hockey goal. This was the crowning glory of an incredible struggle that started merely twelve years ago.

Pakistan, of course, went on to de throne the Indians from the first position, thus ending their unparalleled winning streak. This gold medal won by the green shirts, was the first ever gold medal won by the young nation.

The medal provided a much-needed morale boost to the nation. The people of Pakistan received their heroes with a befitting, boisterous reception. The team was honoured by a grateful President Ayub Khan who, in recognition of the incredible talent that the nation had shown in the sport, declared Hockey as the national sport of Pakistan.

Hamidi retired after this Olympic win (having played in four Olympics). But the young team that he had helped to gel together, continued to win further laurels for the nation.

It is THIS remarkable journey of Pakistan Hockey from 1948 to 1960, that can be a fitting subject for an epic movie. The film, if well made, would be a blockbuster. It would have all the ingredients that make a great movie. The fervent expectations of a young nation, the historic rivalry between arch-enemies, nursing the weight of history – a David vs Goliath factor, the agony of defeat, the value of hard work and ultimately, the ecstasy of victory. Now, when a new Pakistan beckons, I cannot think of a more appropriate time to commission this project.

Lights, camera, and action!

PS: Brigadier Abdul Hamid Hamidi was laid to rest in July 2019. He was 92

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