New Delhi: The nostalgia was palpable and the applause resonated a new-found vigour. The Olympics send-off ceremony for the Indian hockey team here on Sunday turned into a nostalgic affair as Hockey India (HI) chose the occasion to facilitate the game's 34 stalwarts who have an Olympic gold to their name, or as the HI called them 'Golden Greats'.
The 16-member Indian Olympic squad, led by skipper Bharat Chetri, leaves for the European tour of France and Spain on Monday night, and the boys couldn't feel more motivated to see the legends gather and wish them luck.
Leslie Claudius, Balbir Singh, Keshav Dutt, Jaswant Rajput, Raghubir Lal, Harpal Kaushik, Mohammad Shahid, Rajinder Singh, Cedric D'Souza, Sylvanus Dung Dung and Harbinder Singh were among the other Indian hockey legends who graced the occasion. SM Ali Syed, Balbir Singh Senior, Nandy Singh and Charanjit Singh could not attend the function citing health reasons while Allan Sheofield, Darshan Singh, AS Rana and Gurdev Singh were not in the country.
As a gesture of recognition to their achievements and contribution to Indian hockey, HI presented them with a cash award of Rs. 2 lakh each and a memento in the presence of Sports Minister Ajay Maken, Indian Olympic Association president VK Malhotra and Arun Jaitley.
Evidently moved by the gesture and seeing his old team-mates, the 1980 Moscow Olympics gold medallist MM Somaya said, "It was wonderful to have received the honour after so many years. By this function, HI provided us a platform to meet old friends and former team-mates," he said.
The Sports Minister, while speaking on the occasion, seemed to be in awe of the legends. "Of my 17 months as the Minister of Sports, this is my best day; in fact, one of the best days of my life," Maken said, inviting a thunderous applause. "All the hockey stars have descended here today. There is a sense that we are close to getting our glory days back, and there can't be a better way to wish the Olympics team than have all the greats present here," he added.
Coach Michael Nobbs was equally touched by the presence of the legends and promised that he and his team are committed to give their best in London. "India has been the greatest hockey team of many, many years. We wish to continue on the same tradition you have left for us. We are totally committed to this challenge. It is a great responsibility and we hope to live up to it. It means a lot to the players to be representing India," a confident Nobbs said.
"A special word for Mr. Narinder Batra [HI's secretary general] as he has been inspirational in rebuilding Indian hockey,” the coach concluded.
The team leaves on Monday night, and after a series of international matches in France and Spain will fly directly to London - a week or so before the Games open.