The marathon runner who made Hitler wait

Pandit Nehru once said that it does not matter whether you win or lose in sports, but what is important is that you play the game in the spirit of the game.

It is all right as a principle to follow. But there is little doubt that winning the game is the right recompense for one’s talents and one’s tough journey towards excellence.

It is a matter of some pride that India achieved its best-ever medal tally of six, albeit without a gold at the just concluded London Olympics. Two silver and four bronze medals make up the Indian tally, double of what the country won in 2008 Beijing Games. India finished 55th on the medals table, an improvement from the 65th position at Beijing.

Delhi boy Sushil Kumar came close to winning the gold in men’s 66 kg freestyle but lost to Japan’s Tatsuhiro Yonemitsu 1-3. Reports have said he could have won gold but for dehydration and exhaustion following an upset tummy.

Other medal winners were army shooter Vijay Kumar (silver) and Gagan Narang (bronze), Yogeshwar Dutt (bronze) in wrestling, Saina Nehwal (bronze) in badminton and Manipur’s M.C. Mary Kom (bronze) in boxing.


True to Nehru’s words of “playing the game in the spirit of the game,” army man Ram Singh Yadav refused to give up in the marathon and reached the finishing line, bagging the 78th position in 2:30:06 hours. Finishing in the gruelling marathon is something only true sportsmen would try and achieve. They know there are no medals to win, but the spirit of the game matters.

By his indomitable spirit, the 31-year-old Ram Singh in fact ended India’s 32-year drought at the Olympic marathon. The last Indian to qualify for the Olympics was Shivnath Singh, who finished 11th in the 1976 Montreal Games but could not finish in the 1980 Moscow edition.

The medal winners in London are from white, black, brown and yellow races, proving that no race is inferior to the other.

Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler wanted to prove “Aryan supremacy” in the 1936 Berlin Games. But in a telling rebuff to the haughty racialist, black skinned Jesse Owens, the Afro-American, won as many as four gold medals in the athletic events.

‘Great’ delay

But in the same Games, a diminutive Indian spiritedly held his head high against Hitler. He was the indefatigable Marathon runner C.S.A. Swami, who later became the sports editor of Indian Express in Bombay. The following episode was narrated to me by Swami in 1972-73 when I had a brief stint with the paper.

It was the last day of the Berlin Olympics. Hitler was to review the closing ceremony that was to follow the final event — the marathon. The gold, silver and bronze winners of the event were waiting for the medal ceremony. So was Hitler, impatient to preside over the closing ceremony that cannot begin without the completion of the marathon. Swami, the never-say-die sportsman, was still scampering to complete the course. He still had a few hundred metres to cover. The clock had struck the hour for the closing ceremony. The organisers were nervous and restless that the delay might annoy der Führer. It was a big relief for them when the unfaltering Indian finally crossed the finishing line. The closing ceremony began after a considerable delay.

Asked how he felt having delayed the proceedings, the proud Indian told the world media, “I feel great. After all, I made Hitler wait!”

(The writer, a former deputy editor with PTI, is a New Delhi-based freelance journalist.)

Published on August 14, 2012
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