Millennium Post

The fall of another Titan

Leaves fall in December. But is December also the season when the giants fall? After Ravishankar who died on the 12 December, it was Leslie Claudius, hockey legend and one of India’s last surviving heroes from the Golden Age of hockey, died in Calcutta on Thursday at the age of 85, after some battle with liver ailment. He was not keeping well lately and had been in and out of the care of hospitals for some time now till he gave away to his cirrhosis. Claudius was no ordinary achiever. Safe to say, he was an unparalleled legend of hockey, of the kind that they do not make anymore. His last great honour was the naming of a London tube station after him during the 2012 Olympics. In an act of reverence for hockey legends, 12 of London’s tube stations were named after hockey greats during the Olympics. Three of them were from India. Claudius was one. The other two? Dhyan Chand and Roop Singh. Clearly Leslie, the great right half, a position he had made his own through his career for India, was among the giants of hockey.    

He was part of the golden run of the Indian hockey team from 1948 to 60. As part of the team, Claudius won gold in the Olympics of 1948 in London, then in 1952 in Helsinki and then straight thrice in a row in 1956 in Melbourne. In 1960, in Rome, he captained India and only Pakistan got better of the team leaving India with a silver. Except his compatriot Udham Singh, no Indian is ever credited with such a run in the Olympics. The two of them rightly hold the record for being part of a hockey team that won maximum gold medals in a row in Olympics, a feat unsurpassed.

But Claudius’ greatness cannot be matched by feats, awards and medals alone, which he won in many. He belonged to a generation of great athletes when India was a nascent sporting nation. He belonged to an age of gentility and sportsmanship and not money, sponsorship and instant fame. He was as much a gentleman off the field as he was on it, without for a second compromising on his gamesmanship. He was connected with the game that he loved and that made him the legend he was much through his retired life. He was also an icon of Anglo Indians in India.

Claudius’ death would perhaps create no new void in Indian hockey which has now made mediocrity its permanent home, far away from the days of its global glory, but his death will only amplify the sense of loss of a time and people that can never ever come back again.
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