Arguably one of the most talented and versatile athlete India has seen so far, Gurbachan Singh Randhawa is considered to be the ‘Indian Jim Thorpe’. He once set four National records in two days – throwing the javelin 210 feet, winning the 110 metres hurdles in 14.2 seconds, sailing over six feet six inches in high jump, besides winning the decathlon event.
A precocious talent, Randhawa started winning medals in high school and by the time he reached college he was the best athlete of Punjab University. At the age of 21, he won the National title in decathlon at the Delhi Nationals in 1960 and a couple of years later he won the decathlon gold at the Asian Games in Jakarta. After his victory he was plagued by a shoulder injury and he switched over to running the 110 metres hurdles under the guidance of a Hungarian coach, Kovacs.
At the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Randhawa clocked 14.2 secs in the heats to qualify for the semi-finals, which were scheduled on October 18. He recalled in an interview, “It was raining and those days there were no synthetic tracks. So it was heavy going for us. To the surprise of all, I was able to achieve 14.00 secs in the semi-final and qualified for the Olympics final.”
The finals were held within 45 minutes after the semis and Randhawa again clocked 14.00 secs to finish fifth in the race. It was his finest hour as he was the third Indian athlete to reach the Olympics finals after Rebello and Milkha in Post-Independent India.