Sriram’s record stays unmatched


It was at Montreal in 1976 that Sriram ran the race of his life, in the 800M final of the Olympic Games. After setting a scorching pace, the Indian finished seventh behind a world-record breaking Cuban Alberto Juantorena but the national record he set on that day – 1:45.77 – stands even today, mocking at generations of young athletes.

It was the best time in Asia till 1994, when South Korean Lee Jin-il bettered it but for an Indian, even coming close to that mark has proved a hard act. Jinson Johnson came the closest with his 1:45.98 last year but missed out on breaking the oldest standing Indian record.

At 69, Sriram is still sprightly and a smile breaks out on his face when asked about his feats. “Johnson came close last year, there is another youngster coming up as well (referring to Amoj Jacob). They are improving, they are coming up, they will do well,” he says, speaking on the opening day of the Asian Championships here.

An unassuming individual, Sriram’s story is one of hard work and total dedication to his sport. It also highlights the importance of the coach-athlete relationship. Ilyas Babar was the man who moulded the champion and Sriram’s eyes light up at the mention of the name.

“An athlete should have complete faith in the coach, it is very important. I trusted Babar saab to the hilt and followed his instructions to the T. Without faith in your coach, you can’t achieve anything,” says Sriram, who had won a 400-800 double at the Asian Championships in 1975 and the 800M at the 1974 and ’78 Asian Games.

India has been reliant on foreign coaches in recent times but Sriram said it was vital to develop our own coaches. “Who produced Milkha Singh? Who groomed Sriram Singh? Who coached P T Usha? All were Indian coaches. What is the improvement foreign coaches have brought? If we spent the same money on Indian coaches, we will do well. We should train our coaches, update them with the latest technique and knowledge, develop our sports science. If we can do this, we will come up,” he says.

So can anyone break his record? “It is possible but the coaches need to motivate the youngsters, tell them, ‘see Sriram Singh has done this, you can also do it.’ Exposure to competitions is also important. Sadly, I didn’t have the opportunity to take part in any race abroad before I competed in Montreal. Today we have the facilities and finances. We should utilise them well.”

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