Greatest Indian runners of all time

Milkha Singh
Milkha Singh is one of the greatest athletes to have represented India
Vidhi Shah

India is embarking on a running revolution of sorts. Today, the country hosts around 300 marathon events across the length and breadth of the country annually. But, where do all of these budding runners get their inspiration from?

Well, it is from the legendary runners that Indians have had in the past. Sportskeeda lists the greatest Indian runners of all time.

#1 Milkha Singh

Unarguably the greatest male athlete in independent India, Milkha Singh was one of the first sportspersons to bring the nation into the international limelight with his accomplishments. After participating in the 1956 Olympic Games held in Melbourne, Milkha Singh’s first gold medals came forth at the Asian Games two years later in 1958 in the 200-metre and 400-metre race when he clocked 21.6 seconds and 47 seconds respectively.

However, the real glory that he fetched for independent India was at the 1958 Cardiff Commonwealth Games where he became the first athlete to win a gold medal for the nation when he raced to the finish line in the 400-metre race with a timing of 46.16 seconds. But the runner was stopped in his tracks when it came to the Olympics in Rome a couple of years later where he narrowly missed out on the bronze medal by just 0.1s despite his exceptional performance.

But that did not deter the ‘Flying Sikh’ as he went on to compete in the 1962 Jakarta Asian Games and claimed a double-gold in the 400-metre and 4x400-metre relay events. A living inspiration for athletes not only in the country but across the globe, Milkha Singh has just one unfulfilled wish, “My last desire before I die is that I want an Indian male or female to win an Olympic gold medal for the country. I failed to win it in Rome Olympics in 1960. But I want to see an Indian athlete doing it,” he was quoted as saying in the recent past.

#2 Norman Pritchard

Norman Pritchard competed in the 1900 Paris Olympics and won two silver medals.

Born in Calcutta in 1877 to British parents, Norman Pritchard was the first Asian athlete to win an Olympic medal. He represented the country of his birth, India, at the Summer Olympics at Paris in 1900 and won two silver medals at the Games.

The first one came in the 200-metre race where he finished second behind American athlete Walter Tewksbury, while the second silver medal came in the 2000-metre hurdles event wherein the great Alvin Kraenzlein claimed the gold.

An avid footballer, he also has been credited for scoring the first hat-trick in an open football tournament while representing his college St. Xavier's. Post his Olympic performance, Norman shifted base to Britain in 1905 before migrating to the United States where he pursued a new career as a silent film actor under the screen name of Norman Trevor.

He appeared in several Broadway shows and quite a few Hollywood movies which included Beau Geste (1926) and Dancing Mothers (1926). He passed away in Los Angeles in 1929.

#3 PT Usha

PT Usha won 101 medals in a career that lasted 15 years

Nicknamed the ‘Payyoli Express,’ PT Usha failed to make an impact at her first Olympic appearance at the 1980 Moscow Games. However subsequently, she burst onto the scene with her winning effort at the 1982 Delhi Asian Games wherein she claimed the silver in both the 100 and 200-metre races.

The very next year, she set a new Asian record in the 400-metres at the Asian Track and Field Championships in Kuwait and brought home her first gold medal. In her second Olympic outing at Los Angeles in 1984, she missed out on the bronze medal in the 400-metre hurdles by the skin of her teeth falling short by 1/100th of a second. Coming back stronger than ever at the 1985 Jakarta Asian Track and Field Championships, she won a record six gold medals, the most by any athlete in an international meet.

The next year at the Asian Games in Seoul, the talented runner returned with a haul of 4 golds and 1 silver medal. In the 1998 Asian Championships, she was part of the gold medal-winning 4x100m relay team which set a new national record of 44.43 seconds.

The ‘Golden Girl’ of Indian athletics won a total of 101 international medals in a stellar career spanning 15 years and as a recognition of her achievements was awarded the Padma Shri award.

#4 Anil Kumar Prakash

Anil Kumar Prakash holds the national record for the 100-metre distance

Regarded as the “fastest Indian of all time,” Anil Kumar Prakash’s record over the 100-metre distance still stands, alongside one of the quickest timings in the 200-metre sprint as well. He first embarked on the record-breaking spree in 1997 when he overcame Rajeev Balakrishnan’s 100-metre record at the National Open Championships in Gandhinagar to become the fastest man in India.

Then in 1999 at the International Circuit Meet in Chennai, he won the silver medal behind Chintaka de Zoysa and with the 10.33-second effort in the 100-metre dash he managed to set a new national record.

In 2000, he went on to post a record 10.21s run, but in the absence of doping control mechanisms, the AFI did not recognise the feat. At the Asian Athletic Championships held in the Jakarta the same year, Anil Prakash won the silver medal in the 100-metre event.

Prakash bettered his own national record in the 100-metre sprint by three seconds in 2005 at the National Circuit Athletic Meet, thus re-affirming his status as India’s fastest athlete.

#5 Lalita Babar

Lalita Babar in action at the Rio Olympics

An accomplished middle and long distance runner, the 27-year old Lalita Babar was a marathon athlete before switching her focus on to the 3000-metre steeplechase in order to clinch medals at international meets. The 3-time Mumbai Marathon winner did accomplish her wish – at the 2014 Asian Games, she won the bronze medal initially with her timing of 9:35.37, but was upgraded to the silver medal following the disqualification of the gold medallist Ruth Jebet.

With that effort, she also broke the national record which was then held by Sudha Singh. She is also the reigning Asian Champion after her gold medal win at the event held in Wuhan with her timing of 9:34.13, which is her personal best, set the national record and also the Games record. She once again bettered her national record in 2016 at the Federation Cup National Athletics Championships in New Delhi with her time of 9:27:09.

In the 2016 Rio Olympics, she ran a stellar race in the heat with a time of 9:19.76 and became the first Indian in 32 years to make the cut to the finals of a track event. However, she could not sustain the same run on D-day and finished 10th with a time of 9:22.74.

She has showcased enough prowess already to be regarded as one of the greatest runners in India.

Edited by Staff Editor


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