BEST INDIAN ATHLETE??
If a question is asked to same people at different point of time, then there are more chances that you will get different reply on each occasion. Well, a similar question is – Who is the greatest Indian athlete of all time? In current situation, thanks to Bollywood, the answer is pretty clear, but surely- had this question been thrown into public domain at a different time, then it would have been different. So, our search for best Indian Athlete goes this way-
Rarely does it happen that all 3 medal winners broke Olympic record in a single race. In case of Milkha Singh at Rome, the bench mark was even higher as Milkha had also shattered the Olympic record. To finish 4th in such a competitive race is a medal in itself, a fairy tale ended with Gold to Otis Davis. Still, even after 53 long years, Milkha stands as the only Indian athlete who has broken the Olympic record. Surely his dream run and dominance in Asia with limited resources of that time makes him strongest among the nominees.
PT Usha, famously called ‘Udan Pari’ was the pioneer of women’s athletics and gave much awaited confidence and respect to Indian girls. She did what Vishwanathan Anand has done to Indian chess with the theme- ‘If I can do it, so you can’. No girl before her dreamt of running among the world’s best with head held high so much. A whole crop of inspired female athletes, Ashwini Nachappa-Shiny Wilson-Jyotirmoy Sikdar-KM Beenamol emerged afterwards, brought more medals in Asian games than their male counterparts. Usha won 3 Golds and a sliver in one Asian game a record still unbeaten and sadly lost Olympic medal only in the photo finish by 100th of a second, a race won by great Moroccan runner Nawal El Moutawakel. She is without an iota of doubt, ‘Cinderella of Indian sport.’
4X400 meter of Women has brought more constant cheers to Indian faces, as we have most medals and dominance at Asian meets in this event in particular. 4X400 brought to track girls from all corners of India in previous three glorious decades. In Asian games, we are current Gold medalist with a proud hat trick to show. It is the only team event of the track and field, besides 4X100. If team event is to be considered then our achievement in this event is matchless. We are like Spanish soccer team in this contest where we have equally strong bench lineup of eves.
If winning a medal at world’s highest stage is the criteria, then Anju Bobby George is the lone option. She returned from Paris World Athletics Championship with bronze medal in her neck, India’s top most honour achieved in track and field at International level in either Olympics or World Athletics championships. (Its colour could be upgraded as both jumpers ahead of her then have been proved positive in recent dope tests by IAAF.) This Kottayam girl has won what no other Indian has achieved at International level. Surely, she is a candidate, tough to be beaten.
On track, Gurbachan Singh Randhawa, somewhat contemporary to Milkha was fantastic fifth in Olympics at Tokyo’64 in 110 meter hurdles. He broke 4 national records in one National meet at Delhi and 2 years later at Jakarta Asian Games in 1962, he won the Decathlon Gold, an ultimate test of 10 athletic events. He was adjudged best athlete of the games, a feat untouched and can only be dreamt of. No wonder, why so many Indians believe that he is the greatest and most complete talent to grace the occasion so far. Another talent, Sriram Singh came 7th in 800 meters at Montreal, the race which he led up to 2/3rd of the way. Winner of that race, Alberto Juantorena of Cuba, world record holder then, still carries high regard for him. His run of 1:45.77 stood as Asian record till 1994 and is still untouched in India. Movie on Paan Singh Tomer caught Indian imagination through powerfull national award winning performance by Irfaan Khan and put back his memories to mind. In London’12, Vikas Gowda finished 8th in discuss and Krishna Poonia’s 7th place produced impressive show in the final. Gowda is training in USA whereas Krishna is laboring hard to attain greater glories. They both are young and certainly, we can pin our hope on them for a good result in the future.
Athletics is considered ‘Mother of all sports.’ In Olympics, among all sports, it is called ‘Jewel in the crown’. It’s hard to imagine a nation producing players in different disciplines of sports without doing well in track and field. Reason is simple because to be good in any sports, first you have to be a good athlete. Along with football, it is the cheapest and simplest sport to understand with not much rules, technicalities, paraphernalia and special type of grounds. The divide between the rich and the poor nations is most blurred here.
Well, search for best male and female athlete leaves us with more options to choose from and it is tough to tick at one. It’s more open and let it be so for the fans.