Olympic Torch relay in the streets of New Delhi in June 2004 (© Getty Images)
MonteCarloThe IAAF World Athletic Series will for the first time in its history venture into the Indian sub-continent, when on Sunday 3 October 2004 the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships are hosted in the Indian capital of New Delhi.
The decision to award this event to New Delhi follows the IAAF's policy of increasing the ‘universality’ of our sport, and with 59 Member Federations provisionally entered the 13th edition of the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships looks set to top all but the Brussels 2002 event for the largest number of competing nations.
As we build-up to the Championships, we wish to offer a taste of the Athletics history and culture of this vast land of over a billion inhabitants, beginning today with a general historical overview of Indian Athletics.
Athletics, Football (soccer) and Cricket are among the most popular "imported" sports in India, thanks to the former British Raj.
Evidences were found about the practice of athletic sports in the late 19th century Indian states. Athletic events were conducted regularly in the various provinces of India and they were particularly popular in Bengal, Bombay and Madras.
In 1900, at Paris Olympic Games, Norman Gilbert Pritchard (born 23rd June 1875 at Alipore, near Calcutta) had won two silver medals in 200m flat and 200m intermediate hurdles races. To date they remain the only Olympic athletic medals won by an Indian, notwithstanding the British claim that they are part of its tally citing Pritchard’s English parentage.
Pritchard had won the Bengal province 100 yards sprint title for seven consecutive years from 1894 to 1900 and set a meet record of 10.0 in 1898-99 besides winning the 440 yards run and 120 yards Hurdles.
He had been to England in the early 1900 and joined the London Athletic Club on June 12 of that year to participate in the Club’s athletic meeting scheduled for the very next day. Pritchard won the 440 yards hurdles that day and two weeks later he garnered the 100 yards and 120 yards hurdles titles too.
In early July, he had participated in the British AAA Championships in which a few American athletes on their way to Paris Olympics also participated. Many sources tell that Pritchard entered the AAA meet as a member of the Bengal Presidency Athletic Club but what ever his status he won a silver medal behind the popular American athlete Alvin Kraenzlein.
Pritchard went to Paris in 1900 along with the British Olympic Team’s athletes and participated in five events, 60m, 100m and 200m sprint races as well as 110m and 200m hurdles events. The official programme was highly confusing as his name appeared with different affiliations as "England" for the 100 metres and "British India" for the hurdles.
Pritchard got a silver medal in 200m sprint race behind Walter Tewksbury of USA in an estimated time of 22.5 and finished second for another silver in the now defunct 200m hurdles race behind the versatile American superstar Alvin Kraenzlein. His time in the hurdles event was estimated as 26.0. The estimations in times were necessary as only the winners were timed officially during the above Games.
Norman Pritchard returned to India after the Paris Games and served as Secretary of the Indian Football Association for a period 1900-02, and later migrated to the United States and became a silent movie actor.
1920 – official representation
The ‘official’ representation of British India in the Olympic Games came only in 1920 when three athletes and three wrestlers participated in Antwerp with the help of Sir Dorabji Tata.
Four years later the first national athletic championship was conducted in Delhi under the name of "Indian Olympic Games" and the All India Olympic Association was formed. Seven athletes were selected to represent the nation in 1924 Olympic Games at Paris.
Road race tradition
According to the Young Men of India (March 1924), there was a 10 miles road race held during the first nationals (at Delhi) won by M.R. Hinge of Bombay in 57:29.6, followed by Srinivasa Rao (Baroda) and Babulal Jain (Central Province).
Hinge was selected to represent India at the Paris Games of 1924 where he finished 29th among the 30 runners who have completed the full marathon race (58 started!).
The marathon was included in the biennial Indian championships in 1938 at Calcutta. Amar Singh of Patiala won the inaugural race in 2:59:17.6, and retained the title in the next edition at Bombay in 1940.
Chotta Singh of Patiala had won the national title a record 8 times (1942-53). He went on to win the inaugural Asian Games title at Delhi in 1951 clocking 2:42:58.6.
New Delhi had been a key venue for marathon races in India like the Rath Invitational Marathon which attracted some foreign participation. The Indian capital also regularly organized mass road races like Olympic Day Run and charity events like "Race Against Time."
Several other cities of India like Thane, Pune, Allahabad, Jamshedpur, Chennai and Thiruvananthapuram have been organizing marathon races annually on regular basis with cash awards to the top finishers.
The year 2004 saw the Indian metropolis of Mumbai organize the Standard Chartered International Marathon. The also witnessed the first national half-marathon race for women in 1984 during the open nationals. The winner of the above race at 1:23:09, Asha Aggarwal, joined Sunita Godara and Rigzen Angmo to win several half and full marathon races conducted annually in the south east Asian cities of Hong Kong, Bangkok, Singapore and Penang. Asha won the Asian championship marathon at Jakarta in 1985 clocking 2:48:53.
Global Athletics involvement
In the global competition, Shivnath Singh's 11th place finish in the Montreal Olympics in 1976 remain as the best in the Marathon by an Indian to date. Shivnath clocked 2:16:22 for his 11th place among the 67 participants of which 60 completed the race.
Several trackstars like Milkha Singh (4th in 400m at 1960 Rome Olympics), P.T. Usha (4th in 400m hurdles at Los Angeles’84), Gurbachan Singh Randhawa (5th in 110m hurdles at 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games), Sriram Singh (7th in 800m at Montreal’76) preceded the Indian athletics scene before Anju Bobby George took a bronze medal in women’s Long jump at the Worlds in Paris Saint-Denis last year.
Anju’s medal in the World Championships has given a timely boost to the athletic enthusiasts in the nation, a mood of optimism which will both assist and grow with the privilege of staging the 13th IAAF World Half Marathon Championship in New Delhi at the beginning of next month.
Ram. Murali Krishnan for the IAAF