New Delhi: Leslie Claudius, 85, does not get to watch too many competitive hockey matches these days but he is well aware of the huge changes that the game has undergone in the last few years.
The legendary right half, whose name figures in the Guinness Book of World Records for winning three Olympic gold medals and a silver, was in the capital on Sunday with four other hockey gold medallists from Bengal to attend the Hockey India (HI) felicitation ceremony.
The others are Keshav Dutt, Jaswant Rajput, Gurbux Singh and Bir Bahadur Chhetri. A total of 34 former gold medallists, described as “golden greats”, were honoured by HI though only 26 could attend the function.
“I conveyed my best wishes to Indian coach Michael Nobbs and the boys for the Olympics but I know how difficult their job would be in London,” said Claudius. “The game has changed. Now the game is much quicker and players are big and strong. In our time, the players were shorter and we mostly depended on skills. There are at least half a dozen teams, who are capable of winning the gold this time,” he observed.
Incidentally, Claudius also played his inaugural Olympics in London in 1948, the first in the post-war period. “It was an easy tournament for us. The toughest match was against the Netherlands in the semi-final, which we won 2-1. In the final, we overwhelmed Great Britain 4-0.”
Both Claudius and Gurbux described HI’s plan of honouring the former gold medal winners a “heart warming gesture”. “We are happy they have remembered us. It matters more than the money they gave us,” said Gurbux. HI gave all the former players Rs. two lakh each.
Nobbs said he was happy to see so many former gold medal winners were there to see his team off to Europe for Olympic preparatory matches. “I am sure it will boost the morale of the boys,” he hoped.
The Australian said that his team was also capable of bringing back the glory days of Indian hockey but for that the boys would have to eliminate the mistakes they commit on the pitch. “The difference between a top side and ordinary side is that a top team doesn’t make stupid mistakes,” he said.