Hari Chand's 10,000 metre record has endured 28 years
The Olympic Games are known for the courage and dedication of the vast number of participants.
Not all of them win. But, as per the Olympics motto, not everyone loses either. There are some special personalities who leave their mark by just their participation.
India introduced a couple of such gladiators. One of them was Hari Chand.
This 5' 2" athlete was arguably one of the shortest to take part in the track and field events of the Olympics Games. He was an amazing athlete whose workload measured between 200 and 250 km per week. His lack of inches contrasted with his range of performance on the track and considering the fact that he had to take almost twice the number of strides to cover the same distance as a taller man, his performances become more creditable.
He was indeed a special gift to Indian athletics and he made sure that he would be remembered for years by listing a record that has stood the test of time for 28 years.
It was at the Montreal Olympics in 1976 that he clocked 28:48.72 for the 10,000 metres to become the first Indian to come under 29 minutes for the event.
It was one of the finest efforts made by an Indian runner and a large number of people in the stadium are reported to have rooted for him. Hari Chand put the stamp of confirmation of his class two years later when he won the gold in both the 5,000 and 10,000 metres in the Asian Games in Bangkok.
There were some special incentives available to this fine athlete, who, though lacking in inches, stood tall by performances.
One was his background. In fact, the secret of his success is often traced to his family's vocation. Hari Chand came from a juggler's family, with the grandfather cast in the role of a hero. The old man used to perform superb gymnastic feats. The athlete must have inherited something of the flexibility and willpower of his grandfather.
The other factor that spurred his ambitions was the presence of Shiv Nath Singh, a near perpetual rival. Both ran barefoot and naturally had strides of different dimension. The two made very fine competitors and Hari Chand derived great satisfaction when he beat Shiv Nath in a major competition in Seoul to set an Asian record.
That victory proved to be memorable in more than one sense - he was promoted to the rank of an inspector in the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force.
The improvement by Hari Chand in the 10,000 metres is also said to have made Shiv Nath Singh shift his attention to another event, the marathon.
Hari Chand's tenacity and his willingness to work hard made him one of the finest distance runners of the country during his time. And he was duly rewarded too, though not in the financial sense of these days.
He was honoured with the Arjuna Award and the Mahajara Ranjit Singh Award instituted by the Punjab government.