'He was the hockey God'

Hockey fraternity on Thursday mourned the death of legendary Leslie Claudius with players across all generations terming that the passing away of triple Olympic gold medallist marked the end of an era.

Dhanraj Pillay, former India captain: For me, he was the hockey God. It’s difficult to imagine Indian hockey without him. He was not only a fine player but what stood him apart was his good nature.

Ashok Kumar, member of the 1975 World Cup-winning Indian team: It was only a month ago, I visited Kolkata with other Olympians as there was a friendly match. We went to see him at the hospital. He was full of energy. He had promised to take us to his club, Calcutta Customs, one evening. He was very hopeful of getting over the phase and he was responding well to the treatment as well.

Keshav Dutt, Claudius’s team-mate at the 1948 London Olympics: I first met him before the partition in Bombay.  Later on, we went on to play together at the Calcutta Port Trust. He went on to become my rival when I joined Bagan. But we became good friends off the field, an association that lasted till his death.

Gurbux Singh, Olympic gold medallist and Caludius’ team-mate: A frail figure, he was not muscular built and quite an unassuming character. A simpleton. But my respect for him grew, the more I got to know about him. One would be amazed to see his dribbling skills, agility on the field. He was a crowd-puller. His greatest asset was his uncanny anticipation. Indian hockey was at its peak at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. It was our best-ever team.”

Mariamma Koshy, Hockey India President: We had the good fortune of being able to honour Leslie Claudius along with the other Golden Greats before the Olympic Games earlier this year. His death leaves a void that will be hard to fill.

P K Banerjee, former Indian football team captain:  He was a brilliant and one of the finest sons of India. Not only a great hockey player but a first class gentleman and human being. I still vividly remember the time we spend together in 1960 Rome Olympics. Myself, Claudius and Milkha Singh had led the respective contingents of football, hockey and athletics. He was blessed by the Pope himself at the Vatican City.  I still remember the special day.

Bharat Chetri, Indian hockey player: That was my first meeting with him (Claudius had come all the way to Delhi to send off the London Olympics-bound Indian hockey contingent). But he was very friendly as we discussed a lot about hockey. He was very emotional as we were going to the same place where India had won the gold in 1948. It makes me really sad and makes us realise that we may not get those glorious years back. It’s really a sad day for Indian hockey.

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