Two stars who took part at the 1980 Olympics are still in awe.
Chennai: Football fans who have thronged Russia for the 2018 World Cup might forget the country after some time but the East European giant would always remain in V. Baskaran’s memory because it’s where he led India to their last Olympic gold in 1980.
It was a depleted Olympics all right; it was an Olympics nevertheless. And, India’s eighth Games gold became Baskaran’s calling card. Seldom does a function he attends get over before someone qualifies him as the last Indian captain to win the Olympic gold in hockey. He is happy to have led India all the way in Moscow but he is never proud to be the last Indian to do so. Baskaran is desperate for someone to take over the mantle.
The Olympian recalled the splendid support his team got from the local people 38 years ago when Moscow last welcomed the entire sporting world home. “The country was the USSR then. Although we had beaten the hosts in the semi-final, Russian fans took us to their hearts. We enjoyed overwhelming support in the final against Spain in a jam-packed stadium,” he added.
Baskaran still remembers the warmth of volunteers at the 1980 Games. “There was tension in the air because the Olympics was staged during the height of the Cold War but there was nothing but love for Indians at Moscow. A Russian medical student was our team’s liaison officer and she would never stop talking because she wanted to improve her English,” he said.
The former India coach said he was thrilled to see a modern Russia stage the World Cup. “When I went there in 1980, Moscow was full of old Soviet style apartments and buildings. Now I see no difference between Russia and other western European countries. What makes the World Cup special is the party atmosphere it creates in the host nation,” he added.
“I have always been a fan of Brazil and I would like them to lift their sixth trophy in Moscow on July 15,” he said.
Like Baskaran, N. Amarnath can also never forget Moscow because he was part of the Indian basketball team that got an unlikely spot at the 1980 Olympics. “We were ranked fifth in Asia that time and we got a chance to participate in the Olympics after the top four pulled out to express solidarity with the USA. I had goose bumps when I entered the court wearing India’s jersey,” he added.
According to Amarnath, the organisation of the Moscow Olympics was exemplary. “Everything went on well. The opening ceremony was dazzling, with the highlight being the lighting of the cauldron.
“I was thrilled when a basketball player, Sergey Belov, lit the cauldron after climbing a plank, which was raised from nowhere by around 10,000 people. The closing ceremony was also moving as the Games’ mascot Misha shed a tear while bidding farewell to all athletes,” he said.