Munich 1972 Olympics: Indian hockey team returns with second straight bronze

The Indian hockey team won a bronze medal at the 1972 Munich Games, its tenth consecutive medal at an Olympics.
By Rahul Venkat

Dominating the Olympics, with six consecutive gold medals from 1928 to 1956, was a highlight of the Indian hockey team.

The golden streak ended in Rome 1960 when Pakistan relegated India to the silver but four years later in Tokyo, the Indian hockey team was on top of the world again.

It was increasingly getting clear that India would no longer steamroll any opposition that came its way. At the 1968 Games in Mexico, India, for the first time in an Olympics, finished third (bronze).

In Munich 1972, the script folded like it did in Mexico. India finished with a second consecutive bronze medal.

Indian hockey players, who played in Munich, later claimed the gold medal was very much on the cards but the horrific attack on the Israeli Olympic team upset the team’s rhythm.

After 11 Israeli athletes as well as a German police officer had lost their lives, a combination of fear, nerves and profligacy saw India losing to arch-rivals Pakistan at the semi final stage.

Legendary fathers and sons

The Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) had decided to send a young team to the 1972 Olympics. Only four members of the 1968 Olympic squad were selected this time.

Perumal Krishnamurthy, Ajit Singh and the veteran Harbinder Singh were three of them. The fourth one, Harmek Singh, was named captain of the side.

KD Singh Babu, captain of the 1952 Olympic-winning Indian hockey team, was the coach and two-time Olympic gold-medallist Keshav Dutt was the manager.

The young team, which boasted of exciting players like Ashok Kumar, son of hockey wizard Dhyan Chand, and Vece Paes, father of Leander Paes, had legendary figures to draw inspiration from.

To enable the team to develop a better understanding with each other, KD Singh Babu organised a few national camps at Lucknow and Jalandhar. The members spent more than two months preparing for the 1972 Olympics.

“We had a great mix of youngsters and experienced players in that side,” former Indian hockey team captain MP Ganesh, who was one of the forwards in 1972, said on the TV show on SONY, Medal of Glory.

“It was a talented team and we were all in great spirits at the national camps. We had a lot of belief in our abilities,” Ganesh said.

The Indian hockey team travelled to Munich brimming with confidence and it showed in their results at the Hockeyanlage, the competition venue at the Olympiapark.

Unbeaten in the group stages

India was drawn in Group B alongside the Netherlands, Australia, Great Britain, Poland, Kenya and New Zealand. India finished unbeaten in the group.

Though their campaign began with a 1-1 draw against the Dutch, India won the next two games comprehensively - 5-0 against Great Britain and 3-1 versus Australia.

The game against Australia was particularly memorable because of striker Mukhbain Singh’s hat-trick, India’s first against the Aussies in a major international competition.

A 2-2 draw against Poland followed but India made amends with identical 3-2 victories against Kenya and New Zealand to enter the semi-finals as group toppers with 12 points.

Tragedy strikes in Munich

The Indian hockey team was due to face arch-rivals Pakistan, who had finished second in Group A, in the semi-finals when tragedy struck.

The attack on the Israeli team caused the Olympics to be halted for two days and while the episode overshadowed the Games, it also impacted India’s run on the field.

“It happened just before the semi-finals and that was when we lost our rhythm as a team,” said MP Ganesh.

India had remained unbeaten in seven matches in nine days in the group stages, a great sign of its incredible fitness.

The Indian hockey team had played its last group game against New Zealand on September 4. The team was already on a two-day break and the unexpected delay due to the attack gave them a further two days off.

As a result, the team was rusty and it showed in the semi-final against Pakistan.

“I feel we were still confident, but we just could not put away our chances. We missed too many of them,” explained striker BP Govinda. ‘Too many’ was an understatement.

Against Pakistan, the Indian hockey team earned as many as 18 penalty corners, but spurned all. Even striker Mukhbain Singh, who was the top-scorer until then with nine goals, was goal shy.

One shot ricocheted off the post while Ashok Kumar narrowly missed another as his attempt flew just over the bar. Pakistan won 2-0.

“It was a big shock for us and we were all down on morale,” MP Ganesh admitted.

Comeback win helps clinch bronze

India still had a bronze medal to play for. They were up against the Netherlands, a formidable opponent who had won silver at the 1970 EuroHockey championship.

Moreover, the Dutch had held India to a 1-1 in the group league. However, the loss against Pakistan had fired up the Indian hockey team.

“We sat down and told each other that India cannot go back without a medal. We had lost in the 1968 semis as well but still returned with bronze,” said MP Ganesh.

The match against the Netherlands did not begin well for the Indian hockey team. Within six minutes of the start, Ties Kruize gave the Dutch an early lead.

India regrouped quickly and equalised through BP Govinda in the 15th minute, who was brought in as centre-forward in place of Kulwant Singh.

In the fitness of things, Mukhbain Singh scored the dramatic match-winner in the final minute of the bronze-medal game.

India surely did not go home empty-handed. A tenth successive Olympic hockey medal had been secured.

1972 Olympics Indian hockey team: Harmik Singh (captain), B. P. Govinda, Charles Cornelius, Manuel Frederick, Michael Kindo, Ashok Kumar, M. P. Ganesh, Krishnamurty Perumal, Ajitpal Singh, Harbinder Singh, Harcharan Singh, Kulwant Singh, Mukhbain Singh, Virinder Singh, Aslam Sher Khan, Vece Paes, V J Philips, Ajit Singh.