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Hockey Legend Balbir Singh Sr Passes Away

Chandigarh: Three-time Olympic gold medal-winning hockey legend Balbir Singh Sr died here on Monday after battling multiple health issues for over two weeks.

He was 96 years old. He is survived by his daughter Sushbir and three sons Kanwalbir, Karanbir, Gurbir.

“He died at around 6:30 this morning,” Abhijit Singh, Director Fortis Hospital, Mohali, where he was admitted on May 8, told PTI.

He was undergoing treatment at Fortis Mohali and was in a “semi-comatose condition”.

Balbir was hospitalised on May 8 with high fever and breathing trouble. His COVID-19 test came negative.

He was part of the Indian teams that won gold at the 1948 London Olympics, Helsinki 1952 and Melbourne 1956. His record for most individual goals scored in an Olympic men’s hockey final remains unbeaten.

Balbir had set this record when he scored five goals in India’s 6-1 win over Netherlands in the gold medal match of the 1952 Games.

He was the head coach of the Indian team for the 1975 men’s World Cup, which India won and the 1971 men’s World Cup, where India earned a bronze medal. He was also conferred with the prestigious Padma Shri in 1957.

One of the country’s greatest athletes, Balbir Sr was the only Indian among 16 legends chosen by the International Olympic Committee across modern Olympic history.

Meanwhile, the sporting community mourned the death hockey legend Balbir Singh Sr, calling him a rare role model whose achievements will motivate the next generation of athletes.

India’s only individual Olympic gold medal winner, Abhinav Bindra paid a glowing tribute to the legend.

“Saddened to hear of the demise of one of India’s most celebrated Olympians, Balbir Singh Sr. Athletes and role models such as him come very rarely, and it was an honour to know him, and I hope his example will continue to inspire athletes from around the world!” Bindra tweeted.

Former India hockey captains Viren Rasquinha and Sardar Singh also offered their tributes to the former centre-forward, regarded as independent India’s biggest hockey player.

“Very sad to hear of the demise of legendary Olympian Balbir Singh Sr, 3 time Olympic gold medallist. He was always smiling, so mentally alert and such a thorough gentleman. What a fine role model,” Rasquinha wrote on his twitter handle.

Sardar remembered Singh as someone who always motivated him to achieve laurels for the country.

“It is a very sad for hockey. He was a role model for me and several hockey players in India and abroad. Whenever I used to meet him, he always used to motivate me to win medals for the country,” Sardar told PTI.

“With his death my one life-time wish will always remain unfulfilled now. It was my dream to get a picture clicked with him and his three Olympic gold medals but it is not possible now,” he added.

Another former hockey captain and goalkeeper of current national men’s side, P R Sreejesh and skipper of the women’s team Rani Rampal said the news of his demise was painful.

“I was rather shocked to hear the news of legendary Olympian Balbir Singh Sr untimely demise. My heart felt condolences to his family. I pray that the almighty gives his family the strength to withstand this tragic moment. May his soul rest in peace. #RIP,” Sreejesh wrote.

Rani added: “Pained to learn about the passing of our three times Olympic Gold medalist and legend Balbir Singh Senior sir this morning.

“His contribution towards Indian hockey is unforgettable. He will continue to inspire our generations to come. My deepest condolences to his family. RIP.”

Athletes from other sporting disciplines, including cricket captain Virat Kohli and senior off-spinner Harbhajan Singh too expressed sadness.

“Saddened to hear about the passing of the legend, Balbir Singh Sr. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family in this time of sorrow,” wrote Kohli.

“A doyen of Indian sports Shri Balbir Singh Senior is no more. When you look back at his achievements,you just remain awestruck 3 olympic gold medals,five goals in Olympic final. Manager of World Cup winning team Possibly among India’s greatest sporting icons.May his soul rest RIP,” Harbhajan tweeted.

Track and field legend PT Usha described Singh as an “athlete par excellence and role model beyond words”.

“His bestowed hands may strengthen my passions more. My condolences to his family, friends and fans!” Usha tweeted.

Shooter Heena Sidhu added: “My deepest condolences to the family of the legend Balbir Singh ji. I have come close to meeting him so many times but always missed it. I was a big fan and was hoping to get a picture with him one day. Sadly he now resides in our memories only. Till we meet again.”

Not just sportspersons, politicians too paid their respect to Singh.

“Pained to learn about the demise of Padma Shri Balbir Singh Sr ji, a legendary hockey player, who left indelible imprint on world hockey with his stick,” wrote Home Minister Amit Shah.

CPI leader Sitaram Yechury also expressed grief at the death.

“Balbir Senior watched the tricolour go up in independent India’s first Olympics in London in 1948 when India beat England 4-0 in the finals. He was a hockey legend. Condolences on his passing,” tweeted Yechury.

(With Agency Inputs)

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