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One of the Greatest Sports teams of all time at the Berlin Olympics. The Nazi Games.
The Magicians at the Berlin Olympics of 1936

The Berlin Summer Olympics of 1936 is best remembered for Hitler and his Nazi racism. It is also remembered for the outstanding performance of sprinter Jesse Owens on track, winning four gold medals, much to the chagrin of the Fuhrer.

Not as well remembered, is a greater blow on the field, that which punched holes into the theory of racial supremacy then prevalent in Hitler’s Nazi Germany. The sport was field hockey and the team in question was the Indian field hockey team led by team-captain Dhyan Chand, also known as the wizard of hockey. If Jesse Owens rubbished Hitler's racist beliefs with four gold medals on the track, India's Magicians underlined their supremacy on the field.

The greatest teams are those that perform at ethereal levels and are much greater than the sum of its parts. The world discovered its greatest team, The Dream Team, as late as 1992. Led by the inimitable Michael Jordan and equally charismatic Magic Johnson, the United States of America's array of NBA superstars was possibly the finest lineup of players ever assembled at any point in history. Boasting of 10 all-time great players, the team had an aura that was more powerful than the Olympic Games itself.

Less well known today outside the sport of field hockey and outside India and half a century before the arrival of The Dream Team, there was another dream team. They were known as The Magicians. That one squad ranks as the best of all time, rising above all others and sparkling in its own splendour and greatness. This was the field hockey team of Dhyan Chand, The Magicians of the Thirties and they evoke admiration even today. The lineup that dazzled Adolf Hitler himself and humbled the mighty Germans in the Berlin Olympics in 1936 has had no equal.

The mystique surrounding The Magicians has its origins in the 1928 Amsterdam Olympic Games; as Dhyan Chand and his Indian team danced their way to gold, the world became conscious for the first time, of the unique talent the country, still a British subject nation, possessed for this stick and ball game. Till then, India was seen only as an exotic land of the occult, of snake charmers, rope trick mendicants and practitioners of black magic. After that it came to be known as a land of hockey wizards and The Magicians played all around the world delighting spectators just like The Dream team would do half a century later.

Like all great teams, the 1936 squad was led by the greatest player in the history of the sport: Dhyan Chand (29 August 1905 – 3 December 1979). He could proudly rub square shoulders with Don Bradman (cricket), Pele (soccer) or any other legend that ruled his or her sport, having scored more than 400 goals (highest goal scorer in history of hockey) during his international career. The team also boasted of at least five-six other match-winners and had an unblemished record. Over the years, the aura might have become larger than life; but the truth is during its playing days, the team actually inspired dread.

Few teams in any field sport, can throw up a goal-difference of 37 (38 scored, one conceded) in just five games? That is precisely what Dhyan Chand's mesmerisers did in the 1936 Berlin Olympics and such was their dominance. More significantly, in terms of sheer impact and awe-inspiring ability, fewer teams have held rivals, historians and tale-spinners in such thrall as those intrepid magicians. In the 1936 Berlin games, India beat Hungary 4-0, United States 7-0 and Japan 9-0. In the semifinals there was a 10-0 massacre of France. No team had scored a single goal against India in their relentless march to the finals.

Arguably, it was the greatest forward line ever, spearheaded by the Wizard himself; to his left was younger brother Roop Singh, someone Dhyan Chand himself rated higher than his own self; to his right was AIS Dara, an instinctive goal scorer. Together, they formed a fearsome troika that could unravel defenses through sheer speed, cunning and team-work. Flanked on either side by Ahmed Sher Khan and Syed Mohammed Jaffer (regarded as the best left-winger of all time), it was indeed an attack to die for.

Holding sway in the midfield were men like Mirza Nasiruddin Masood, Ernest John Goodsir-Cullen and Babu Narsoo Nimal. Bengal's Joseph Galibardi and Carlyle Tapsell manned the backline while Richard Allen guarded the goal; they didn't have much work to do given that India hardly ever lost the ball.

For The Magicians, the burning urge for excellence was a voluntary pursuit. To reach perfection, they honed skills on their own, anytime from sun-up to sunset. Legend has it that Dhyan Chand dribbled on rail tracks to perfect close control. As preparatory camps were not practical, teamwork was magically instinctive, with players automatically falling into position.

The Indian hockey team set sail for Germany in the ocean liner 'Aitheneaver' to participate in the Berlin Olympics. The journey lasted 15 days. It was a long journey and the team needed to practice before the Olympics. So they practiced hitting and losing hundreds of balls from the deck of the ship.

The run-up to the Games was not exactly satisfactory. A 1-4 defeat to Germany in a practice game rang alarm bells in the Indian camp. Following a team meeting, it was decided to bring in Ali Iqtidar Shah Dara from India ( who had earlier been refused leave) and who arrived just before the semifinals where they thrashed France 10-0.

India met Germany in the final on August 15, 1936 in the Reichssportfeld. The final started at 11:00 am before a record crowd of 40,000 spectators, the biggest ever to witness a hockey match in the Olympic Games. One of the spectators was Adolf Hitler himself. India scored first and then another. Then Germany scored. This was the only goal scored against the Indians in the entire tournament. In response, Dara and Roop Singh tore the German defense to smithereens with deft passes and natty stick play. The Indian attack carried on relentlessly and soon India were up by six goals.

The Germans now decided to play rough. Going for Dhyan Chand, the German goalkeeper broke one of his teeth. Coming back after receiving first aid, Dhyan Chand threw away his boots and went barefoot. He instructed his team to go easy on goals and monkey around a bit. "We must teach them a lesson in ball control," he said. As the stunned crowd watched, the Indians repeatedly took the ball up to the German circle and then back passed to dumbfound their opponents. India ultimately prevailed over Germany 8-1 in the finals to win its third successive Olympic gold medal.

The Fuhrer was very impressed by Dhyan Chand's performance in the finals. At a dinner party after the finals, Hitler offered to elevate Dhyan Chand to the rank of a Colonel in the German army if he migrated to Germany. Dhyan Chand politely turned down the offer. The mesmerized, though not so happy, Fuhrer could not stop German admirers from erecting a statue of Dhyan Chand or naming a street in honor of Roop Singh his brother. The ultimate tribute was paid to him by a sports club in Vienna, which built a statue of Dhyan Chand with four hands and four sticks. To those Viennese, no ordinary man with two hands and one hockey stick could have played so well.

Every age produces its own genius. But the only hockey wizard of the 20th Century has been Major Dhyan Chand, the king among center-forwards and an all-time field hockey great.

India's record in the 1936 Olympics at Berlin was as follows :
Played: 5
Won: 5
Goals For: 38
Goals Against: 1

The following were the members of the 1936 Indian Olympic Team :

Dhyan Chand (captain)
Richard J. Allen (goalkeeper)
Ali Iqtidar Shah Dara
Lionel C. Emmett
Paul Peter Fernandes
Joseph Galibardy
Ernest John Goodsir-Cullen
Mohammed Hussain
Syed Mohammed Jafar
Ahsan Mohammed Khan
Ahmed Sher Khan
Mirza Nasir-ud-din Masud
Cyril J. Mitchie
Babu Narsoo Nimal
Joseph Philips
Shabban Shahab-ud-din
Gurcharan Singh Garewal
Roop Singh
Carlyle Carroll Tapsell

Sources: Archives, Times of India, The Hindu
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