Running against time
Baba Fauja Singh is a living legend. Adorning billboards in cities like London, Toronto and New York, he has proved that "Impossible is nothing". Defying age, the 93-year-old has smashed several world records and entered the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s oldest and fastest 90-plus marathoner.
The slender 1.8-metre, 50kg man with a flowing white beard and yellow turban has been in the news ever since he took to running marathons four years ago.
Last year, in Toronto, he had all major international dailies featuring him on their sports pages after he set the world record for a nonagenarian marathoner.
After living for the first 81 years of his life in a Punjab village as a marginal farmer, he moved to England about 12 years ago to live with one of his sons.
In England, being homesick, speaking no English and having endless hours to kill, he tried to find solace in the passion of his youth — running — that fulfilled him mentally and physically.
Initially, he ran from one gurdwara to another and then graduated to taking part in short-distance races of five or 10 km. In 1999, after a break of over half a century from the sport, he lined up for his first Flora London Marathon at the age of 89. He took six hours and 54 minutes to reach the finish line, and the following year clocked the same time to set a world record for a 90-year-old.
Calling himself a late developer, he states that his talent blossomed at an age when his peers took to the walking stick.
Fauja Singh does not just run for himself. He was in New York last year to run for "Sikh identity" as the community had become a target of hate crime after the September 11 attacks. Recently, he was in Chamkaur Sahib to participate in a special marathon organised to mark the tercentenary of martyrdom of the Sahibzadas.
One of his goals, he says, is to promote understanding of Sikh culture. He completed his world-record run on the same day that Sikhs in Toronto held a parade to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the installation of Guru Granth Sahib.
Fauja Singh does not run for money either. Whatever he gets in prize money he hands it over to charitable organisations like Bliss, which works for the welfare of premature babies. "It’s the very old helping the very young," says the legendary Baba.
He also runs for the British Heart Foundation. And the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)has been using him as a symbol of vegetarianism. "Fauja Singh: Age 93/Champion International Marathon Runner/Father of Six/Grandfather of 13 —Vegetarian", reads an advertisement on a bus queue shelter in Toronto, where he clocked 5hrs 40 min to set a world record in 2003.
In 2004, he was called upon to run with the Olympic torch procession through the streets of London on its round-the-world tour.
His diet includes grains, green vegetables, yogurt, tea and ginger. He avoids fried foods, including Punjabi delicacies like samosas and pakoras.
Doing his daily workout without fail, including a jog-cum-walk of 8-10 miles, and staying relaxed are the secrets of his success.
He takes "nutrition balls", made from groundnuts, herbs and spices mixed into a paste with water for breakfast. Once having walked for up to an hour to activate his joints, he takes plain yoghurt and two glasses of water.
Till midday, he carries on walking and jogging — to the gurdwara, running errands for neighbours, meeting friends — without stopping to rest. Lunch consists of dal curry and one chapati with a glass of warm water.
"Ginger in curries is good as it keeps your joints flexible and fights colds. If I get hungry I snack on dried, crumbled chapatis mixed with sugar and eaten as a sort of breakfast cereal. A golden rule is never to overeat," he says.
Fauja also meditates for about 15 minutes daily. He takes a warm bath to relax and massages his muscles with baby oil at night. He spends his Sundays with his coach, Harmander Singh, and runs as fast as he can for an hour with the man who is half his age.
Brazilian sporting heroes Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Kaka are being forced to share the limelight with previously little-known marathon runner Vanderlei de Lima and a retired amateur Greek basketball player.
The notorious attack on De Lima by a spectator during the Olympic Games marathon in Athens in August has brought him the sort of fame he is unlikely to have achieved if he had gone on to win the race.
His favourite pastime of fishing has taken a back seat as De Lima has paraded with presidents and been swamped with offers from around the world to run, give speeches or appear in advertisements.
It has also brought celebrity status to his rescuer, Polyvios Kossivas.
The pair were given a standing ovation as they shared the stage at the Brazilian Olympic Committee’s (COB) annual awards ceremony in December.
"God put him there," said De Lima about Kossivas after being voted Brazil’s sportsman of the year. "I consider him more than a brother. He’s my angel."
Kossivas, 53, was merely a spectator at the Athens Olympics until his involvement in the most amazing incident of the games.
Rank outsider De Lima was leading the marathon with around six km to run when former Irish priest Cornelius Horan ran across the course and bundled him into the crowd.
Kossivas, who at the time was merely an anonymous, bearded, middle-aged man, intervened, helped to free De Lima from his assailant and pushed him back on to the course, shouting: "Go, go".
De Lima, who lost about 20 seconds in the incident, still managed to go on and win the bronze medal behind Italian Stefano Baldini, doing his now famous aeroplane celebration down the back straight of the stadium where the race finished and winning a standing ovation in one of the most moving moments of the games.
Horan, who had also interrupted the British Formula One Grand Prix last year by running on to the track, was later given a 12-month suspended jail sentence and fined 3,000 euro.
Kossivas, a one-time amateur basketball player, remained anonymous until the Brazilian newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo tracked him down in Athens a month after the games.
Almost immediately, COB president Carlos Artur Nuzman invited Kossivas and his family to Rio de Janeiro to take part in the awards ceremony.
Kossivas gratefully accepted and, at the start of December, flew over to Rio de Janeiro where was given VIP treatment throughout his stay and his every move was documented by the media.
He was taken on to the pitch at the Maracana stadium before a Brazilian championship match, visited an Ayrton Senna exhibition in Sao Paulo, the famous statue of Christ, a samba school and the Copacabana beach.
He then returned to his homeland, where he remains an ordinary citizen.
De Lima, meanwhile, is trying to maintain some semblance of normalcy in his life in the face of his new-found fame.
He was invited to open Brazil’s official Independence Day celebrations on September 7, where he sat alongside President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
The shy, modest, 35-year-old athlete also appeared on television chat shows and met the Brazilian soccer team as they were training before a World Cup qualifier.
He has been deluged with offers to do advertisements — mainly for cars or cellphone operators — but has turned down most of them.
IN THE NEWS
He is one of the most lethal strikers in football today. Whether playing for Brazil or Barcelona, he has hardly put a foot wrong in recent months. No wonder FIFA named Ronaldo Assis de Moreira, better known as Ronaldinho, the world player of the year.
Who can forget his stunning 35-metre lob in the 2002 World Cup, that sailed over the head of England goalkeeper David Seaman into the goal? He was undoubtedly one of the best players of the tournament and a key member of Brazil’s winning squad.
As if to show that his astounding goal was no fluke, Ronaldinho scored his first league goal for Barcelona against Sevilla in 2003 with a ferocious 25-metre shot.
In 2004, he scored a hat-trick in Brazil’s 6-0 drubbing of Haiti in August. He struggled early in the Spanish season with an ankle injury, but ‘found his feet’ later to score a last-gasp winner for Barcelona against AC Milan at the Nou Camp in the Champions League. At the same venue, he inspired Barcelona to a 3-0 win over arch-rivals Real Madrid.
By winning the coveted FIFA award, Ronaldinho has emulated the legendary Rs of modern Brazilian football — Romario, Ronaldo and Rivaldo. Incidentally, all have represented Barcelona in the Spanish League and the Champions League.
The resurrection man
He was as solid a ‘wall’ in front of the stumps as Rahul Dravid is today. Despite an unorthodox style, Vijay Samuel Hazare played several heroic innings. His batting was governed by three ‘Ds’ — dedication, determination and discipline.
It is futile to compare stars of different eras, but several veterans who watched him as well as modern heroes in action believed that had Hazare played today, his batting records would have posed a challenge even for Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar.
During Hazare’s days, playing opportunities were few. Yet Hazare made the most of them. In the 1943 Pentangular, he scored 248 for the Rest against the Muslims, breaking the record of Vijay Merchant (243), set in 1941. Merchant then made 250 not out for the Hindus against the Rest.
In the final, replying to the Hindus’ 581 for five declared, the Rest rallied from 62 for five to 362. Hazare and his brother Vivek were involved in a big partnership. Hazare contributed 266 while Vivek’s share was just 21. Even after his brother’s departure, Hazare continued to slaughter the Hindus’ attack. From 295, he went pass the 300-mark with a six which crashed into the sight screen at the Churchgate end. This earned him the distinction of being the only Indian to score 300 or more on two occasions in first class cricket.
Hazare was presented a purse of Rs 15,000 for his magnificent performance. His knock of 309 was all the more commendable because his 10 partners scored merely 78 runs.
On his maiden tour to Australia in 1947-48, Hazare scored a century in each innings of the Adelaide Test. To score 116 and 145 against the fearsome duo of Keith Miller and Ray Lindwall was indeed a great performance. There were many other stupendous knocks in the 30 Tests he played. Apart from the Padma Shree in 1960, Hazare, a Roman Catholic, received several awards, including the C.K. Nayudu award.
Hazare was accused of being a defensive batsman. In his defence, he said: ‘‘.... Practically throughout my career I had to bat when the side was in trouble and I could never allow myself the liberty of having a go at the bowling.....’’ To silence his critics, he scored a century before lunch on three occasions.
Hazare was not a perfectionist in stance, grip and technique. He held his bat inside his legs, kept legs quite apart and his right had was at the bottom of the handle and left on top. There was slight crouch in his stance. But all these ‘flaws’ did not affect the flow and fluency of his strokes.
In an interview with Illustrated Weekly, Vijay Merchant was asked who was the better batsman — he or Vijay Hazare. ‘‘There is no doubt that Hazare is the best in the country’’, he replied.
Hazare was a true gentleman cricketer. It was said that he was ‘‘the man who smiles shyly and keeps discreetly to a corner in pavilion gatherings; the man who hurries away if he is being praised; the man who keeps himself in the rear, until he is crouched over his bat; his lips lifting with the beginning of a snarl, as he comes down on some bowler’s special, and pushes it down to short leg’’. Indeed, even after retirement, he spoke only when spoken to.
Kudos to bowlers
In the recent Test series against Australia, South Africa and Bangladesh, our bowlers have come up with commendable performances.
We lost the series against Australia, but it was primarily due to poor batting. The win in the last match was entirely due to the bowlers, especially the spin duo of Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh. The performance of young Irfan Pathan was very encouraging in the first Test against Bangladesh in which he took 11 wickets.
The Bangalore spin wizard, Anil Kumble, has been outstanding as he reached one milestone after another in a short time. Kudos to Kumble for becoming the highest wicket-taker in Tests, beating the record set by the great Kapil Dev about a decade ago. He has given match-winning performances many a time. One hopes he achieves more laurels for the country.
Brig H.S. Sandhu (retd)
Congratulations to Anil Kumble for becoming the highest Test wicket-taker for India. He has surpassed the decade-old record of Kapil Dev of 434 wickets. Kapil achieved the milestone in 131 Test matches whereas Kumble has done it in 91 Tests. He is also the first Indian to have taken all 10 wickets in a Test innings against Pakistan.
He deserves all praise for his fine performance.
Subhash C. Taneja
We had pinned great hopes on our young hockey players but they lost badly in the Champions Trophy tournament. The old mistake of keeping the ball with themselves unnecessarily was the reason for the poor performance.
They were also not accurate in passing, trapping and hitting. I hope the experience will go a long way in improving the team and enabling them to compete with the top hockey-playing countries.