Prithipal Singh (28 January 1932 – 20 May 1983) was an Indian field hockey player nicknamed the King of short corner by hockey commentators. He participated in the Olympic field hockey three times and each time he scored the highest number of goals as a single player. Singh was a player with sharp reflexes, and the tremendous strength in his long and powerful arms produced firmest and sticking shots which unfailingly fetched him goals and often the winners. The Evening Post, New Zealand commented in 1961 that to face the fury of Prithipal’s hit is to risk one’s life. Another author commented that if Arjuna was the Maharathi of the Mahabharata war, Prithipal was the Maharathi of the International Hockey game. The first-ever Arjuna Award to a hockey player was conferred upon him in 1961, which was later followed by the Padma Shri in 1967. Singh won Olympic medals in Rome (1960 silver), Tokyo (1964 gold) and Mexico (1968 bronze).
Early life and education
Singh was born on 28 January 1932 in the city of Nankana Sahib (now in Pakistan). His father Sardar Wadhawa Singh Chandi was a school teacher as well as an agriculturist. Prithipal spent his childhood in the land of Nanak and took his early education at Nankanaa Sahib. After partition, the family had to move to East Punjab and Prithipal completed his M.Sc degree (in agriculture) in 1956 from Agriculture College Ludhiana. Prithipal Singh was to teach there later when the College amalgamated into the newly created Punjab Agricultural University. Singh also excelled in his studies and won merit scholarships for academic excellence. From 1950 to 1956, Prithipal represented Agricultural College Ludhiana Hockey team and was awarded “Roll of Honors” for his all-round achievements in sports and education.
In 1950-54, Singh represented College Hockey team four times and he was selected the Captain of the team in 1955. He participated in the various national hockey tournaments from Punjab and won laurels in every match. After completion of his M.Sc in 1956, he joined Punjab Police as an Inspector and started playing from Punjab Police. In 1958, he played in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Zanzibar and part of the Indian national field hockey team. In 1959, he participated in the Munich festival held in Germany where he was judged the best full back player in the world. The same year he toured the all the European countries.
During the Rome Olympics held in Rome in 1960, Singh carried out two hat tricks in the matches against Denmark and the Netherlands. He remained the top scorer in the Olympics and was also judged the best full-back player. In the international hockey tournaments played in Ahmdabad in India, in the final match with Germany, Singh scored the clinching goals and thus defeated West Germany. He represented Indian Wanderers Hockey in 1961 that toured New Zealand and Australia and participated in the Asian games held in Indonesia in 1962. He had to resign from Punjab Police in 1963. He joined the Indian Railways Police and started playing for their team. Within two years, he was awarded the Railway Minister’s Medal for being the Best Railway Sportsman.
Politics dictated the IHF selection committee which excluded Singh from the Indian field hy team in 1963. There was loud uproar in the Indian press which protested in unison: “Has Prithipal become so bad (unwanted player) after resigning from the Punjab Police? The Indian Railway Police, however, began winning national tournaments.
While playing for Indian Railways, Singh won a vital link under the leadership of Charanjit Singh. He was included in the Indian field hockey team headed for the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, which regained the Olympic title at Tokyo after defeating their arch-rivals Pakistani team. Commenting on the performance of Indian team at Tokyo, Melville de Mellow wrote: “All played brilliant hockey, but as always some were superb: Prithipal Singh, who scored 11 of India’s 22 goals in the tournament will be remembered particularly for he was like the Rock of Gibraltar“.
Singh participated at Asian Games held in 1966 in Bangkok as a team member of the Shankar Laxman squad. This squad won the Gold Medal at the tournament. In 1967, Singh skippered India against the visiting German and Dutch teams. In the same year Singh captained the Indian team to Madrid, Spain and won the tournament and the gold medal for India. In 1968, Singh was selected as the Captain with Gurbakash Singh as the joint captain for the 1968 Olympics held in Mexico. At that tournament, India won the bronze medal, although Prithipal Singh again remained the top scorer in the Olympics.
In the first half of the final match between India and Pakistan at Tokyo Olympics,the scoreline was 0-0.In the 6th mnt of second half the thunderous penalty shot of prithipal Singh was taken on foot by Pakistani defender.Mohinder pal scored from the resultant penalty stroke and India took the lead. In later half, the Pakistani team started resorting to rough game and show of force to scare the Indian players in order to win the match. Around the middle of second half, there was a free wielding of hockey sticks. One Japanese newspaper published a picture on its front page showing one Pakistani player swinging his stick towards his Indian opponent. In the same picture, Singh was shown as holding one Pakistani player by the throat and striking his stick into his ankle with right hand. One Pakistani forward nicknamed ‘Bola’ who was notorious for his rough game and greatly feared by the European players feared Singh and ceased approaching him. Pakistani player Munir Dar shouted at ‘Bola’ urging him to be aggressive and neutralize the Indian goal, but ‘Bola’ is reported to have shot back at Munir Dar: “Cant do it now man, your dad Prithipal is pitched ahead!”. Thus, India defeated its rival and won the gold medal. Of Indias total 22 goals scored in the Tokyo Olympics, Singh scored 10.
Awards and recognition
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From 1950 to 1956, Singh represented Agricultural College Ludhiana Hockey team and was awarded Roll of Honors for his all-round achievements in sports and education in 1955. The Indian Government acknowledged his prominence in the field of Hockey and the first-ever Arjuna Award to a hockey player was conferred to him in 1961 by the Indian President, Rajendra Prasad.The sports writers for various Newspapers and Sports Magazines declared him the all-time best full-back hockey player.
In 1963, Singh resigned from Punjab Police and joined the Indian Railways Police. Indian Railway Police acknowledged his talent and performance in hockey field. Singh was awarded the Railway Minister’s Medal in 1965 for being the Best Railway Sportsman. He was awarded the Padma Shri in 1967 by the Indian President Zakir Hussain for his meritorious contributions to world hockey.
Singh retired from active hockey after 1968 after the Mexico Olympics. For some time he was made chairman of IHF selection committee. In 1974, he was as an observer with Indian Hockey team to Malaysia to participate in Malaysian World cup Tournament. The Indian team won the World Cup for India. Singh also was member of the National Institute of Sports Patiala and also member of the governing body of Lakshami Bai College of Physical Education Gwalior. He was appointed the Director of Sports, Punjab Agricultural University Ludhiana as well as the Director of Student Welfare since 1968. He had actively participated in all activities relating to Student Welfare till his death in 1983. He was also the Director of Sports, PAU. Many believe that Singh coached the secrets of an iron grip and was the inspiration behind four times World Armwrestling champion and two times World Martial Arts Breaking Champion Jay Ranade, when he worked for Singh at Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana, in weight lifting coaching.