It was March 25, 1927, when Leslie Claudius was born in Bilaspur. An affectionate footballer, Leslie had imagined the least to become one of the legendary hockey names in India. He and noted player Udham Singh are the only two Indian players to win four Olympic medals in field hockey.
The legend has helped India win three consecutive golds and a silver in the most celebrated Olympics, viz. 1948, 1952, 1956. Under his captaincy, the national hockey team clinched silver in the 1960 Summer Olympics, Rome, Italy. Lucky enough, Claudius was born at times when Indian hockey tasted golden days. Apart from these accomplishments, he is remembered for being the first to earn 100 caps, and competed for India in addition to the Olympics, on their European tour of 1949, Malaysian tour of 1952, Australian and New Zealand tours of 1955, and Asian Games in 1958. The 1960 Olympics didn’t pause his game and he continued to impress the audience with remarkable performances domestically and retired finally after the 1965 season. In 1971, the Government of India honoured him with the Padma Shri civil award making Claudius the sixth Indian hockey player to receive the adoration.
Why did he go for Hockey instead of Football?
Surprisingly, Leslie’s first love wasn’t hockey but football and was eligible to play for Bengal and Nagpur Railway. But fate has other plans for him. He was noticed by hockey player Dickie Carr. Carr was part of the national team in the 1936 Olympics, our last representation under British rule, and confirmed gold in a tough face-off against Germany. After being spotted by Carr, Leslie represented Bengal and Nagpur Railway in hockey in place of football.
Sculpted India’s image in Olympics
He became the first hockey player to participate in four Olympics. The last match was against the arch-rival Pakistan in 1960 and India placed second after a mettlesome match. After his withdrawal, he continued playing domestically and was conferred Padma Shri by the Government of India in 1971. He also provided services as the team manager at the 1978 Asian Games.
The continued legacy
An Anglo-India, Leslie, took his heavenly abode after a long battle with liver cirrhosis at the age of 85 on 20 December 2012. He was survived by his wife and three sons. His son, Robert, represented India internationally at the 1978 World Cup in Mexico.
Udham Singh and Leslie are the two names who’ve paved their way in the Guinness Book of World Records for claiming the most number of Olympic medals in hockey. At the time of the 2012 Olympics, the Bushey tube station was renamed after Claudius in the special ‘Olympic Legends Map’.