Balbir Singh
Balbir Singh Image Credit: PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Ram Nath Kovind have expressed their grief at the death of legendary hockey player Balbir Singh.

Balbir, a three-time Olympic gold medallist, died this morning at a private hospital in Mohali. Balbir, 96, was undergoing treatment at Fortis Mohali and was in a “semi-comatose condition”. He was hospitalised on May 8 with high fever and breathing trouble. But, his COVID-19 test had come negative.

“Sad to hear the passing of hockey legend Shri Balbir Singh Sr. A three-time Olympic Gold Medalist, Padma Shri awardee and one of India’s greatest athletes, his legacy will continue to inspire future generations. Condolences to his family, friends and admirers,” said President Kovind on Twitter.

Offering condolence to his family, Prime Minister Modi said: “Padma Shri Balbir Singh Sr. Ji will be remembered for his memorable sporting performances. He brought home lots of pride and laurels. Undoubtedly a brilliant hockey player, he also made a mark as a great mentor. Pained by his demise. Condolences to his family and well wishers.”

Balbir was part of the Indian teams that won gold at the 1948 London Olympics, Helsinki 1952 and Melbourne 1956. His record for most individual goals scored in an Olympic men’s hockey final remains unbeaten. He had scored five goals in India’s 6-1 victory over the Netherlands in the gold medal match of the 1952 Helsinki Olympics.

Sports personalities also paid their respects.

India cricket captain Virat Kohli expressed his grief on the passing of the legend and wrote on his Twitter handle: “Saddened to hear about the passing of the legend, Balbir Singh Senior. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family in this time of sorrow.”

Olympic gold medalist Abhinav Bindra referred to Balbir as a role model and tweeted: “Saddened to hear of the demise of one of India’s most celebrated Olympians, Balbir Singh Sr. Athletes and role models like him come very rarely, and it was an honour to know him, and I hope his example will continue to inspire athletes from around the world.”

India hockey goalkeeper P.R. Sreejesh also took to social media to condole the demise of the legend and said: “I was shocked to hear the news of legendary Olympian Balbir Singh Sr untimely demise. My heartfelt condolences to his family. I pray the almighty gives his family strength to withstand this tragic moment. May his soul rest in peace.”

Indian cricket team head coach Ravi Shastri also paid his last respects and wrote on his Twitter handle: “Balbir Singh ji - A true giant and a half in his field. Hockey legend out and out. Condolences.”