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A day of stardom for Kshetrimayum Thoiba Singh at Seoul Olympics 1988

Sanasam Yaiphaba Singh *



2nd September 1988 was a fateful day for Kshetrimayum Thoiba at Seoul Olympic Games. It showcased the glimpse of a life history of a distinguished Olympian. It was an eventful match between India and South Korea in which India won the match by a goal margin of 3-1.

The big hockey stadium was fully crowded. It was because of the fact that enthusiastic young students and aged men and women besides the regular sports lovers particularly hockey were seen in the stadium to cheer and to boost the moral of the Korean team.

The Korean audience had a strong conviction that their National team would win the match as their team had seen rapid improvement in the international events winning the Asian Games, Seoul 1986 by defeating Pakistan that also being held at Seoul, the capital of the country.

The Indian team also had a strong determination to win the match lest India would not qualify for quarter final match because India had already lost the first match against Soviet Union by 1-0.

South Korea and India were in Group B which consisted of 6 countries including Soviet Union, West Germany, Canada and Great Britain. Both the teams had already lost to Soviet Union though both India and Korea tied against the European giants, West Germany and Great Britain respectively. South Korea formed Hockey Association in 1949 and the first National championship was played in the same year.

It is said that a game similar to modern hockey was played in Korea during the era known as the Three Kingdoms and the game was revived in 1947. Since then hockey was played and popular mainly in their schools and colleges. Their style of playing hockey was in favour of their own continental technique.

The Indian team was all mentally and physically prepared to play the match with all their full strength. When the players entered the stadium and lined up to respect the National Anthems of their respective countries being sung just before the start of the match the audience applauded with cheers during the ceremony.

It was Thoiba, the Indian player that drew the attention of the audience as his physical appearance was in no way different from their Korean counter parts. It might be surprising and astounding situation for them to see Thoiba in Indian team because of his similarity and appearance with the Koreans.

They talked amongst themselves on seeing his mongoloid look in the Indian team. There was a sound of murmuring in their language and among the audience. But at that time he did not pay much attention to their reaction as he had to concentrate on the game.

The excitement of the Korean spectators grew when Kim Young-Joon scored the first goal against India. Soon the Korean supporters were seen jumping, dancing, raising their flag and screaming happiness while their team was leading the match.

Interestingly many of them were seen continually commenting by pointing their fingers on Thoiba Singh, shirt No.13 of Indian team on seeing his performance for Indian team against their team.

The Indian players were Rajinder Singh, Pargat Singh, Ashok Kumar, Mohinder Pal, Somya Meneypanda, Vivek Singh, Surjit Kumar, Baladalaiash, Mohammed Shahid, Sebastian Jude Felix, Balwinder Singh, Mervyn Fernandes , Thoiba Singh, Gurdeep Kumar, Jagbir Singh and Mark Patterson.

The 2nd half was a crucial time for the Indian team not only to equalise the goal but also to score at least one more goal to win the match. It was a must win match for India to stay in the tournament and entertain any hope of advancing further.

Thoiba Singh’s moment came in the 55th minute of the match when he managed to penetrate the defence wall of the Korean team and scored the 2nd goal of the match to bring India back into the reckoning.

The equaliser from India, thanks to Thoiba, only goaded the hugely partisan spectators to get more vocal in their support for the Korean team, but this did not dampen the Indian players and thy shot into the lead when Sebastian Jude Felix sounded the board to make India lead by 2-1. It was, however for India to have a bit relief in its way to win the game, and on other hand Korean might have been seriously thinking of equalising the goal.

The Korean audience was continuously encouraging their players with the full hope of equalizing and scoring more goals. In contrast to their expectation Thoiba Singh, an Indian player whose physical appearance was very much alike to that of their players scored one more goal at the last minute of the match which dashed all hopes of the Korean spectators.

Thoiba Singh was considered an able successor of Zafar Iqbal who brought skill and artistry to India’s left wing. The main attraction of the crowd at that point of time was on Thoiba Singh who scored two goals to defeat the Korean. When Thoiba returned to the Olympic village the Korean people still talked among themselves by looking and pointing their fingers at Thoiba.

Thoiba at that time thought of what was happening with him and why they were talking and looking at him. A member of Korean Hockey team was one of the best friends of Thoiba whose name was Kim. It is said that sports bring peace, harmony and love among the players and countries. They met at the Olympic village while they were coming back after the match. They talked with each other and went to the market for shopping.


* Sanasam Yaiphaba Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer, a PhD Scholar at Manipur University is a resident of Wangkhei Thangjam Leikai, Imphal and can be reached at yaiphabafff(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was posted on February 20, 2021.


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