Sriram Singh: India's crowning glory at Montreal
By Ramu Sharma, Indo-Asian News Service
New Delhi, July 25 (IANS) The 1976 Montreal Olympics will remain one of India's best efforts in track and field events.
India fielded a very small team and almost all of them returned class performance.
Hari Chand, Shiv Nath and Suresh Babu, among others, performed very well.
But, leading the field among the Indians was half-miler Sriram Singh - the Asian Games champion. He had already been noticed in the Munich Olympics four years earlier and in Montreal was in peak form, having outrun all the top half milers in the Asian Track and Field meet earlier in Seoul.
With Alberto Juantorena of Cuba as the pre-race favourite, very few were prepared for the classic competition that took place in the event.
Recognised as one of the top 800 metres runners in the world and a possible medallist in the Olympics, Sriram cleared the earlier rounds comfortably, improving with each race to become the third Indian to qualify for the final of an Olympic event.
And what a final it proved to be. It was the fastest half-mile ever in the world and winner Juantorena breasted the tape with a new Olympic and World record of 1:43.5. He was able to return such a fast timing because of the hot pace set by Sriram. After the race, he walked up to the Indian and thanked him for his effort.
According to P.K. Mahanand, who has captured this moment in his book on great Asian athletes, Juantorena told Sriram: "I owe a lot to you for my world and Olympic record."
Sriram's seventh place time of 1:45.77 was a fantastic effort and earned him recognition from all over the world. On the basis of this, he was declared "Asia's best athlete" and presented the Adidas Golden Shoe.
Recognition also came to his coach, Illyas Babar who had specially flown to Montreal to be with Sriram Singh at the moment of his glory. Babar was nominated the "Best Coach of Asia" and also presented the Adidas Golden Shoe.
The Babar-Sriram association was a very a long and fruitful one. Babar introduced Sriram as a potential Olympic medal winner during the Services Championships in Delhi in 1970. Though Sriram had established himself a year earlier by winning the national title, he was still recognized as a big time star in his event.
The hero then was B.S. Barua, the 1966 Asian Games winner and also the Services titleholder. But the Championship in Delhi changed all that.
Sriram Singh outpaced Barua to displace him as the new champion. Then within months came the Asian Games where Sriram came second to Jimmy Crampton of Burma with Barua finishing fourth. After this Sriram did not look back, winning the Asian Games title in 1974 and 1978 and in-between setting the track ablaze in Montreal.
Sriram dominated the Asian scene for over four years and was the undisputed national champion from 1969 to 1980, finishing his career with the Moscow Olympics.
A dedicated athlete, Sriram Singh could perhaps have gone much further but for a health problem. He was subject to attacks of asthma that often hampered his training schedule. For all that, he will remain one of India's top athletes.
--Indo-Asian News Service