Formidable champ, forgotten legend

Formidable champ, forgotten legend

Canadian journalist Patrick Blennerhassett pays tribute to India’s greatest living Olympian hero Balbir Singh Sr, who lives a life of obscurity

Imagine you’re the most decorated athlete in India, a country of more than a billion people. You were largely responsible for your homeland’s first Olympic gold medal as an independent nation after a violent, murderous Partition, yet you walk the streets anonymously, and your contributions have been all but forgotten. What if your statistics, awards, and accolades spoke for themselves, but no one was speaking for you?

This is the life of Balbir Singh Sr. As India’s most decorated living Olympian, a man well into the twilight of his life at 91, Singh Sr. lives in complete obscurity—despite his three gold medals, which should make him a national hero.

In November of 2014, Canadian journalist Patrick Blennerhassett set out for India. In investigating the mystery of Singh Sr.’s anonymity, he found himself delving into the incredible true story of a forgotten life. Spanning nine decades, Singh Sr.’s personal saga is a stunning encapsulation of India in the twentieth century and beyond: the bloody race riots of Partition; the historic 1948 London Olympics following the Second World War; and the brutal murder of Sikhs across India after the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984. The result is the book ‘A Forgotten Legend: Balbir Singh Sr., Triple Olympic Gold & Modi’s New India”, available online as well as at bookstores.

Balbir Singh Sr is a field hockey player, and member of three Olympic gold medal winning teams, in London (1948), Helsinki (1952 as Vice Captain), and Melbourne (1956 as Captain). His Olympic record for most goals scored by an individual in an Olympic men’s hockey final remains unbeaten – he set it when he scored five goals in India’s 6-1 victory over the Netherlands in the gold medal game of the 1952 Olympic Games.

Singh Sr was also the Manager and Chief Coach of the Indian team for the 1975 Men’s Hockey World Cup, which India won, and the 1971 Men’s Hockey World Cup, where India earned a bronze medal.

In unraveling the story of Singh, readers will travel from Helsinki to Melbourne, from Kuala Lumpur to post-Communist Era Moscow, from Berlin, Barcelona, Amsterdam, and modern-day Vancouver to the very heart of Indian life—the booming hyper-modern cities of New Delhi and Chandigarh.

With a longstanding love for investigative journalism and forgotten history, Blennerhassett has published two novels and won a Jack Webster Fellowship Award in 2007. An award-winning crime and economics reporter, he completed schooling in journalism and spent time as a government public affairs staffer with the Canadian Ministry of Health. In pursuit of information for this book, he has carried out extensive research on Singh Sr. and India, having completed more than 30 interviews and gathered an extensive array of photographs, clippings, and archived newspaper stories related to Singh Sr.’s life and contemporary Indian politics.

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