Leslie Claudius: Legend who leaves behind a legacy

Kolkata: On an afternoon in Kharagpur, a frail diminutive teenager was watching a practice game between BNR players when former India captain Dicky Carr, who was leading one of the two sides found his team was a player short.

Noticing the young man`s rapt attention, Carr threw a hockey stick and asked him to come and play; the rest, as they say, is history.

Leslie Walter Claudius is no more but his three gold medals and one silver at the Olympic Games is something that will inspire generations but will be hard to match.

He was small in size but lion-hearted in effort wielding the stick from the right-half.

Having got a hockey stick from the fellow Anglo-Indian Carr, Claudius, then an accomplished left-half in football, went on to make a mark in the stick game as he cemented his place in the side after the 1948 London Games.

"I was speechless, as Dickie who was my hero. I stammered `Yes sir, yes sir` and found myself with a hockey stick for the first time in my life. It seems I played well and he liked my style and I was asked to stay back. I discovered hockey came naturally to me and my game kept on getting better and better," Claudius had told in an interview earlier.

Born in Bilaspur in 1927 to a middle class Anglo-Indian family, Claudius took an early interest in sport so as to land him a job.

He took up football and soon became an accomplished player and as he had hoped he got a job in the Bengal Nagpur Railways (BNR) security force at Kolkata at the young age of 18 and later was transferred to Kharagpur.

Kharagpur, in fact, wrote his destiny.

After switching to hockey on `Sir` Carr`s insistence, Claudius joined the Port Commissionaire in 1947 as a centre-half.

His performance at the Aga Khan Tournament at Mumbai in 1948 won him wide acclaim and the selectors for the national hockey team to the 1948 London Olympics immediately asked the 21-year-old to present himself for the trials.

Even though he had a fractured thumb, Claudius sailed through the trials and landed at London later that year.

It was just the beginning in his long illustrious career as he won two more Olympic golds in Helsinki 1952 and Melbourne 1956.

His three-Olympic gold medal was a world record before Udham Singh joined him in the list after getting the 1964 Tokyo Games gold.

Claudius narrowly missed to hold the record alone when his captained side missed the Rome Olympics gold by a solitary goal in 1960.

He returned a heartbroken man, more so after his team lost to Pakistan -- that was for the first time they went down to the arch-rivals rivals, something that led to his quitting of international hockey subsequently.

Claudius however continued to play for Bengal and the Customs -- which he joined in 1949 -- for another five years at the national level.

Meanwhile, he got married and had four sons -- with one of them, Bobby, representing India in the 1978 World Cup in Mexico as many saw him to carry his father`s legacy.

But fate had something else in store.

Bobby died in a road accident shortly after returning from Mexico as Claudius was shattered.

"Bobby was even better than me in hockey," Claudius once said.

Claudius lived with his son Brandon -- a widower -- in second storey flat on the McLeod Street, a locality largely populated by Anglo-Indians.


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