Gurbachan Singh Randhawa- A forgotten Hero
I was thinking about some of the outstanding athletes India has produced. Many a name crossed my mind. Suddenly a towering figure touched me and I decided to write an article on him. He possessed 4 national records at the time, was the first Asian to qualify for the finals of the 110m Hurdles in Tokyo, was voted the best athlete at the 1962 Asian Games, and was an Arjuna Award and Padma Shree winner.
His name is Gurbachan Singh Randhawa.
Born on June 6th, 1939 in Amritsar in a Sikh family, he was an athlete of high acumen from a very early age. His father and all his three brothers were sportsmen. He trained at the Khalsa College, Amritsar and the Government College, Lahore. He was an all rounder in athletics, be it throwing events, jumping events or races. He was a leader in all the disciplines. His coach, judging his outstanding talent, advised him to participate in the decathlon.
At the early age of 18, he shattered the 6,000 point mark and later touched the 6,500 mark. It made him eligible to participate in the Rome Olympics of 1960 in the decathlon event. Much of the limelight was taken up by Milkha Singh, who came 4th in 400 meters after breaking the Olympic record.
Gurbachan, somewhat inexperienced, couldn’t live up to the expectation. He gave all of his energy on day one of the two-day event. Eventually, high temperature caught up with him after day one of the event and he couldn’t finish the event the next day.
It could have shattered an ordinary figure, but young Gurbachan was a man with a difference. He mustered the courage and concentrated hard on the decathlon again. In the 1962 Asian Games, he crossed the 6,600 mark. It gave him the gold medal. But that was not enough. He was also adjudged ‘Best Asian Games Athlete’ in the same Games. But soon after the Asian Games, he heard his inner voice and quit the decathlon. It shocked many, but he was adamant. He started concentrating on the 110 meters hurdles. He was consistently clocking a timing of 14.3 second in that particular event. It was among the top ten timings in the world then.
At the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, he competed only in the 110 meters hurdles. He was prepared to take a medal out of the pack of 37 competitors. He won his heat and in the semi- finals, he was the fastest loser to qualify. By then, he had improved his timing to 14.1 seconds and a hope for a medal was running high.
On the day of the final, nature showed its fury. It started raining in Tokyo and the temperature dipped to 14 degrees with humidity up to 96 percent. The athletic track was drenched and conditions were worse than expected. Gurbachan ran his heart out and lastly finished ahead of only three other competitors. All three athletes who came 3rd, 4th and 5th clocked the same timing and the result was declared by photo finish. It was heartbreak for India whose Milkha Singh came 4th in Rome and missed the medal. His 5th place in that event was the best performance by any Asian athlete in that Olympics.
Till date, we are searching for a medal in athletics at the Olympics. Gurbachan Singh Randhawa was a member of the ‘Dream Team of Indian Athletics’ in the 1960s. He has no regrets from life, but to be honest, he has not got the accolades from the nation, one that he truly deserves. It’s a pity that he was awarded with Padma Shree as late as 2005.