Indian hockey team’s 1932 Olympics gold no less than a Hollywood blockbuster

The Indian hockey team scored 35 goals in two matches after overcoming financial troubles and a tiring voyage to win a second-consecutive Olympic gold.
By Rahul Venkat

The world was still reeling from the after-effects of the Wall Street crash of 1929 and the Great Depression when the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles came calling.

India were among the countries reeling under financial pressure and the Indian hockey team briefly considered pulling out of the Summer Games.

Having won the gold at the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam, hockey was a matter of national pride and the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) soon conducted national trials to pick the best possible team.

India kept their reputation intact and on August 11, 1932, the Indian hockey team won a second-consecutive Olympic gold medal, beating hosts USA with a score of 24-1.

An exhibition-filled ride to Los Angeles

Apart from the legendary Dhyan Chand, the IHF picked his younger brother Roop Singh as well. Three members of the 1928 side - Eric Pinniger, Richard Allen and Leslie Hammond – too made it to the 1932 Olympics team. Lal Shah Bokhari was named captain of the Indian hockey team heading to the Games.

Their hockey skills never in doubt, the major challenge was to raise money and send the team to Los Angeles, California for the Olympic Games.

The IHF reached out to royal families and governors and also managed to obtain a loan. The federation raised funds mainly through gate receipts at exhibition matches as the Indian hockey team criss-crossed the country and played in some big cities like Bombay, Bangalore, Madras and Delhi.

That was not all. On its 42-day sea voyage to Los Angeles, the Indian hockey team played exhibition matches at every port it stopped. The team not only collected money but showed the world what they were capable of as hockey players.

The Memorial Coliseum served as the venue for the men’s hockey tournament at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics. Photo: Twitter/Olympics

The team’s bonhomie paid a price though as petty things created some discordance among players.

A golden key, traditionally presented to team captains at a reception in San Francisco, caused some tension as team manager Guru Dutt Sondhi felt he should have received it! However, IHF president AM Hayman’s timely intervention helped resolve the matter.

Back-up goalkeeper Arthur Hind’s refusal to wear a turban, a part of the official team attire, created a mild furore. However, Hind quickly apologised to the team after assistant manager Pankaj Gupta ensured better sense prevailed.

On the field, of course, there were no signs of any discordance or friction. It was a one-way journey for the Indians as the scorelines would suggest.

Steamrolling run to gold

While India made the bold decision of travelling all the way to Los Angeles for the 1932 Summer Olympics, other nations didn’t have the same enthusiasm.

Effectively, the men’s hockey competition at the 1932 Olympics boiled down to a three-horse race with Japan and hosts United States of America completing the line-up.

The depleted field meant that every nation was assured of a medal. With no need for knockout matches, teams played a round-robin league with the gold going to the team with maximum points.

India played Japan in the first match. The Japanese were left bamboozled as Dhyan Chand scored four times, Roop Singh and striker Gurmit Singh Kullar slammed a hat-trick each as the Indian hockey team won 11-1.

A confident India rotated its entire 15-member team against USA in its next match. To be eligible for a medal at the 1932 Olympics it was mandatory to play a game.

Dhyan Chand and Roop Singh were at their scoring best yet again and USA were caught by a wave of goals as India returned 24-1 winners.

This time, younger brother Roop Singh scored a mind-boggling 10 goals while Dhyan Chand was happy with two less. Gurmit Singh Kullar scored five goals while Eric Pinniger scored the other.

The USA pulled one back and the way it came was nothing short of dramatic.

With such a huge lead in hand, the Indian hockey team’s defenders decided to let the American attackers have a go. They didn’t realise that custodian Richard Allen was busy signing autographs behind the goal-post! USA did have their share of hurrah.

Japan had earlier beaten the USA 9-2 in between and grabbed silver.

However, the Indian hockey team’s dominance was never in question and they had clearly left an indelible mark on its audiences at the 1932 Olympics.

“All the colour, glamour and pageantry of Rudyard Kipling's India might well have found its incarnation in the personnel of the Indian team which is to represent the land of Mahatma Gandhi,” a Los Angeles daily reported.

“So agile are the members of the team that they can run the full length of the hockey field, juggling a small wooden ball with the flat of a hockey stick."

Their superiority was also noted by Los Angeles’ sports journalists, who voted the Indian hockey team’s prowess as ‘the most outstanding exhibition of skill in any sport.’

The gold at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles laid the foundation for greater things to come. The competition would get better four years later at Berlin but the Indian hockey team was destined to keep creating history for many Games to come.