GS Randhawa – Versatile Athlete

Has Indian sport produced a more versatile athlete than Gurbachan Singh Randhawa? One would think not for he excelled in a number of disciplines associated with the sport. His talent was spotted early and he won a number of events at the school and college level. He was the star athlete of Punjab University in the late fifties excelling in the hurdles, the high jump and other track and field events.

But on the advice of his coach he decided to concentrate on the decathlon. Under the circumstances it came as no surprise when at the Delhi national meet in 1960 he broke Cheema Muthiah’s national record with a tally of 5793 points. He proved his versatility by winning the high jump, javelin and 110 metres hurdles events breaking four national records over the span of two days. At the Jakarta Asian Games in 1962 Randhawa proved himself to be the best in the continent in the tough ten event discipline.

His tally of 6739 points gave him the gold with silver medallist Shosuke Suzuki of Japan trailing by almost 550 points. Randhawa later set the national record of 6912 points a mark that remained unbeaten for 12 years. A shoulder injury after Jakarta forced him to switch from the decathlon to the 110 metre hurdles. By 1964 he was the top hurdler in the country and was given the opportunity of competing extensively in Europe before the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and this made him ready for the big occasion.

The line-up for the 110 metres hurdles was an impressive one. A total of 37 competitors from 23 nations were vying for the eight places in the final. There were five heats to decide the finalists with the first three from each heat and the fastest loser qualifying for the semifinals. In his heat Randhawa was in lane four which was an advantage as he could keep an eye on his rivals on both sides. He started slowly but covered a lot of ground between the fifth and the eighth hurdles and almost caught up with American Hayes Jones and Frenchman Marcel Duriez.

Randhawa finished fourth in 14.3 seconds but the suspense ended when it was announced that he had qualified for the semifinals as the fastest loser. In the semifinals Randhawa was pitted against England’s John Parker, Duriez, Anatoly Mikhailov (USSR), Giorgio Mazza (Italy), Lazaro Betnacourt (Cuba), Davenport (US) and Valentine Chistyakov (USSR). Randhawa had clocked better timings than three of his rivals and was confident of making the final.

It was tough competition but Randhawa ran a well judged race and finished second in a time of 14 seconds which was also the national record. The final was to be staged just 45 minutes later just enough time for a quick massage. The line-up for the final consisted of two Americans, one Soviet, a Frenchman, three Italians and the lone Indian. Once again Randhawa was off to a slow start but made up along the way and surged ahead of Duriez. Up front were the Italians Girogio Mazza and Giovanni Cornacchia but they were struggling to keep the pace. Duriez who had made up tripped on the final hurdle and that gave Randhawa a slight advantage allowing him to catch up with him at the tape.