While everyone in Indian Athletics is discussing about the awe inspiring world junior record and gold medal won by young javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra at World U20 championships in Bydgoszcz (Poland), on Saturday, a small group athletics enthusiasts are getting ready to celebrate the country’s best ever middle distance star Sriram Singh on Monday, the 25th July, the occasion—40 years of existence of his amazing National Record in 800m (1:45.77).
Sriram Singh was born on 14 November 1948 at Badnagar in Rajasthan. Trained under the revered coach Ilyas Babar, Sriram taken part in three Olympic Games at Munich (1972), Montreal (1976) and Moscow (1980).
Being a middle distance runner in my heydays, Sriram was my “idol” all the way like Sachin Tendulkar for the cricketers! I was a school student when Montreal Olympic Games staged way back in 1976. When I tuned the transistor radio, my only luxury those days, heard the voice of a commentator says “the Indian (Sriram) Singh finished second with a time of 1:45.86 behind the American (Richard) Wohlhuter”. I could not believe what I heard that time as it was an amazing time by our standard for that event even today!
Before entering the Montreal Olympics, Sriram’s best time for 800m was 1:47.3 – clocked a month earlier at “Trials” in Patiala. Sriram finished fourth in the semis, clocking 1:46.42, to qualify for the final.
On 25th July 1976 Sriram Singh was leading the finalists with a fast first lap (50.85 secs) but could not maintain his tempo thereafter and faded away on the home stretch. Cuban Alberto Juantorena shot in to lead in the next-to-last curve and from then on he was never headed. His winning time 1:43.50 was a World Record and he attributed it to the fast first by the Indian. Ivo Vandamme from Beligum got the silver (1:43.86) and Wohlhuter completes the podium in 1:44.12. Sriram finished seventh with a time of 1:45.77 – it was an Asian continental Record that stood nearly 18 years until South Korea’s Lee Jin-Il clocked 1:44.14 at home in 1994.
Several Indians trying to better Sriram’s mark at times. When Charles Borromeo clocked 1:46.81 in 1982 to win the Asian Games gold everyone thought he would be breaking the record, but he could not accomplish it during his career. Ghamanda Ram in 2005, Pankaj Dimri and Francis Sagayaraj in 2010 also clocked impressive timings that were closer to Sriram’s, yet no one touch him so far.
Interestingly Jinson Johnson came very close to it when he amazed everyone in Sree Kanteerava Stadium, Bengaluru, on the last day of qualification period for this year’s Rio Olympic Games (11 July) as he become the second Indian to dip under 1 minute 46 seconds barrier (1:45.98) to gain a ticket for the Brazilian capital.
Sriram Singh’s mark is the long surviving record in Indian athletics history. Other oldest “living” marks in our list of national records include Shivnath Singh’s marathon record of 2:12:00 (Jullundur, 28 May 1978) and Gopal Saini’s steeplechase record of 8:30.88 (Tokyo, 5 Jun 1981) among men and P.T. Usha’s 400m hurdles record of 55.42 secs from the Los Angeles Olympic Games (8 Aug 1984) for women.
AGEING of INDIAN RECORDS--
Milkha Singh’s 400m record (45.73 secs) set during the Rome Olympics in 1960 survived 38 years and 59 days till Paramjit Singh clipped 3/100th of a second during the Open Nationals at Kolkata in 1998.
Gurbachan Singh Randhawa’s time in 110m hurdles (14.09 secs) clocked during the Tokyo Olympics finals in 1964 lived for 36 years and 336 days before Gurpreet Singh improved it by 2/100th of a second in 2001.
Triple jumper Mohinder Singh Gill had his 1971 mark of 16.79m in record books for 36 years and 46 days until Renjith Maheswary erased it with a fine leap of 17.04m at Guwahati in 2007.
Hari Chand’s 10,000m record (28:48.70) registered in Montreal Olympics of 1976 survived 31 years and 327 days till Surendra Singh bettered it with 28:22.79 in 2008.
Long jumper Yohannan’s Asian Games gold winning performance (8.07m at Teheran in 1974) was among the long lived national marks (29y-186d) that Amritpal Singh bettered with just 1 cm in 2004.
Among the women’s marks—
When Razia Sheikh officially erased Elizabeth Davenport’s national record in javelin throw (47.38m in 1964) with 47.70m in Playmakers’ athletics meet at Delhi in 1986, the previous record had an age of 21 years and 321 days. In fact Razia recorded a better mark (48.58m) the previous year (July 1985) at “Trials” in Patiala. However the Athletics Federation of India took a decision of not considering marks created in “Patiala Trials” since that year and hence it was not ratified as a national record. Interestingly Davenport’s previous record also achieved during a trials in Patiala!
Valli Satyabhama’s gold winning performance in SAF Games marathon at Chennai-1995 (2:38:10) lived up to 19 years and 28 days when O.P. Jaisha improved it with 2:37:29 in last year’s Mumbai Marathon.
In high jump, Una Lyons cleared 1.52m in 1940 at Mumbai (then Bombay) that survived almost 17 years. But 2 days before its 17th anniversary Vasantha Kumari added 3 cm to that mark in Bangalore.
In shot put, Punjab’s Manpreet Kaur tossed the iron ball to 17.96m in last year’s Open Nationals at Kolkata – that not only fetch her a “ticket” to the Rio Olympics but also improved the previous national record stood in the name of Harbans Kaur for 17 years and 296 days!
Indian All-Time Top-10 in Men’s 800m:
1:45.77 (7) Sriram Singh, OlyG, Montreal 25-Jul-1976
1:45.98 (1) Jinson Johnson, NGP, Bengaluru 11-Jul-2006
1:46.26 (1) Pankaj Dimri, ISAC, Patiala 6-Aug-2010
1:46.67 (1) Ghamanda Ram, ONAC, Hyderabad 9-Nov-2005
1:46.77 (2) Francis Sagayaraj, ISAC, Patiala 6-Aug-2010
1:46.81 (1) Charles Borromeo, AsiG, New Delhi 26-Nov-1982
1:46.81 (1) Sajeesh Joseph, FedCup, Patiala 17-Aug-2014
1:47.06 (1) Rajeev Ramesan, BMC, Solihull 28-Jun-2008
1:47.24 (3) Manjit Singh, ISAC, Patiala 6-Aug-2010
1:47.52 (2) K M Binu, AsiGP, Hyderabad 18-May-2002